There were numerous games this season in which Arizona’s offense saved the defense’s performance and Saturday’s New Mexico Bowl was no different.
“We knew we were going to be limited in possessions and possession time because of the offense they run,” Rich Rodriguez said of New Mexico. “They did a great job.
“They controlled the clock, they controlled the possessions. They snuck an extra possession on the on-side kick, which was disappointing.”
Arizona’s passing offense was likely the difference, as the Wildcats were able to put together numerous large gains.
“Anu was seeing the field really well,” Rodriguez said. “Cayleb and the wideouts did a good job of winning some routs. We had some big plays.
“I think we averaged nine yards a play, and we had to. With the limited number of plays and possessions we were going to have, we had to make the most of it.
“I'm probably just as proud of the next to the last drive, to get a couple first downs, eat the clock, run it when you know they're going to run it, was pretty neat. I thought that was a big key for us.”
Defensively, Scooby Wright was the best player and he went off in style as he led Arizona with 15 tackles and two sacks.
“We thought he was going to be a great player when we signed him,” Rodriguez said. “I don't know how many other people did. He not only was that, but he's done everything he can to make himself better every year.
“Scooby Wright is a talented guy that loves football, but he's also one of the hardest working football players that I've ever had the privilege of coaching. Scooby, it's so important to him. He's going to do whatever it takes to have success. That's what he's done at Arizona.”
Still, Arizona was able to take advantage of an aggressive New Mexico defense.
“That's their personality,” Rodriguez said. “They’re going to be aggressive, try to outrun you. They did a good job of disguising some of that early, showing pressure, then bailing out, looking like they're not going to pressure, they come in late.
“Anu was seeing the field really well. That was one of the keys. We had some stuff built in. Anu saw the field really well. You have to do that.
“Outnumbered in the run game, they force you to throw. If you're sharp mentally with your quarterback and wide receivers on the same page, you got a chance to make some big plays.”
Much was made of the fact that Arizona was playing a road game, but Rodriguez believes it was actually a positive.
“I think actually in a strange way, playing a road game with a bigger crowd than maybe it was if you weren't playing the home team maybe helped our guys,” he said.
“I thought our two weeks of bowl preparation was good. We had 12 straight with no open dates. Our guys had a couple weeks to lift, recover a little bit, then two weeks to play. It was a quick turnaround.
“I think all these athletes, they like it when a crowd is into it. I'm sure they'd rather have the crowd be for them. Either way, when the crowd is against them, that can kind of get them juiced up, too. I thought the crowd was in it from the opening whistle till the end.”