Arizona football's best wins of the decade
Admittedly, this was both easy and difficult. Easy in the fact Arizona did not have many monumental victories in the past decade from which to choose and difficult in that Arizona did not have many monumental victories in the past decade to brag about. In fact, outside of the 2014 season in which the Wildcats finished 10-2 in the regular season and won the Pac-12 South Division, there was basically just a handful of wins even worth mentioning. The good news is there were some incredible, heart-stopping moments for fans to enjoy. The better news is the decade is over and hope springs eternal that there are better days ahead for the Arizona Wildcat football program in 2020 and beyond.
The games are ranked in no particular order, although it’s difficult to argue against Arizona’s 2014 Territorial Cup win over the Arizona State Sun Devils to clinch the Pac-12 South as the best win of the decade for the Wildcats. Notably, the Wildcats had three head coaches and a litany of coordinators during the decade, yet the only 10 games to make my “best wins of the decade” list were from the Rich Rodriguez Era. Mike Stoops was on his way out the door during the early part of the decade and current Head Coach Kevin Sumlin has only been in Tucson for the past two seasons. Sumlin’s team did defeat No. 19 Oregon 44-15 in the 2018 season, but even that victory lacked the type of fire of the victories you’ll read below when Rich Rod was calling the shots.
November 28, 2014
#12 Arizona vs. #13 Arizona State (Rich Rodriguez)
UCLA had to lose. Arizona and Arizona State had to win. In what felt like happy hour in Tucson, Stanford was in the process of defeating then-No. 9 UCLA, 31-10, while the Wildcats seemed to be in control of its game against ASU as things were unfolding on this memorable Saturday in the fall. With UCLA struggling, at some point that afternoon, it became apparent that the winner of the annual Territorial Cup would definitely be the Pac-12 South Division champion. The bitter rivals were tied 21-21 at the half, but Arizona scored 14 unanswered points in the third quarter to never trail the rest of the way. The most significant score of the game was the 20-yard touchdown pass from Anu Solomon to Samajie Grant with 8:31 remaining to put the Wildcats up 42-28. A close second goes to the 72-yard touchdown scamper by Nick Wilson in the third quarter that gave the Wildcats a 35-21 advantage. Arizona would hang on from there to win its first and only division title in the conference’s split division era. Solomon threw for 208 yards and two touchdowns, while Wilson was amazing on the ground, rushing for 178 yards and three touchdowns on just 24 carries. Defensively, Scooby Wright had 13 tackles, while Tre’Mayne Bondurant added 11 solo tackles.
October 2, 2014
Arizona @ #2 Oregon (Rich Rodriguez)
The Wildcats improved to a perfect 5-0 on the season by stunning the second-ranked Ducks in Eugene. Back when Arizona used to be an effective team in the third quarter, the Wildcats outscored the Ducks 21-7 in the decisive third quarter to outlast Oregon, 31-24. The teams combined for four turnovers (2 each) and 19 penalties in a wild game that even saw Oregon running back Royce Freeman throw a touchdown pass. Terris Jones-Grigsby and Nick Wilson powered the Arizona rushing attack with 115 and 92 rush yards, respectively. Meanwhile, Anu Solomon dueled Oregon’s Marcus Mariota as the opposing quarterbacks combined to complete 40-of-63 passes for 563 total yards. As big as this win was, the Ducks would ultimately get the last laugh, handing the Wildcats a devastating 51-13 loss in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Arizona being Arizona, would then carry that hangover into its Fiesta Bowl matchup with Boise State, falling to the Broncos 38-30. Prior to postseason play, Arizona had climbed to No. 8 in the national polls, representing its highest national ranking in the decade. Things haven’t been the same since.
November 22, 2014
#15 Arizona @ #20 Utah (Rich Rodriguez)
Arizona improved to 9-2 on the season and extended its conference winning streak to three games with an absolute beat down of No. 20 Utah in Salt Lake City. Arizona led 21-7 at halftime before blowing the game wide open with 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Anu Solomon only attempted 17 passes in the cold weather conditions, leaving Nick Wilson to carry the load and gain 218 yards on 20 totes. All four of Arizona’s offensive touchdowns came on the ground, led by Wilson’s three scores. Defensively, the Wildcats scored twice on turnovers. First, Dan Pettinato returned a fumble 31 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter, Tre’Mayne Bondurant capped Arizona’s scoring barrage with a 39-yard pick six. The Wildcats defense forced four Utah turnovers and held the Utes offense to just 384 yards.
November 23, 2013
Arizona vs. #5 Oregon (Rich Rodriguez)
On a rainy day in Tucson, and before fans could barely get settled in their seats, there was a tip deflection along the sidelines that was ultimately intercepted by Scooby Wright. Arizona literally never looked back as the Wildcats overwhelmed the fifth-ranked Ducks, 42-16. Ka’Deem Carey was in beast mode, rushing for 206 yards and four touchdowns on 48 carries. Jake Fischer was equally impressive on the defensive side of the ball, finishing with 14 tackles. Quarterback B.J. Denker had one of his most efficient games as a Wildcat, completing 19-of-22 passes for 178 yards, while rushing 14 times for 102 yards. Arizona definitely ruffled the feathers of the Ducks, forcing three turnovers, including two picks off of Marcus Mariota. At the time, it felt like the tide was turning for Arizona football in the still relatively new Rich Rodriquez era. There would be some difficult games still ahead, but the Wildcats were undoubtedly building momentum toward the 2014 season.
September 20, 2014
Arizona vs. California (Rich Rodriguez)
In the conference opener between two unranked teams, the outcome seemed non-consequential. However, this game proved critical to Arizona’s miracle 2014 season that ended in a divisional title for the Wildcats. Arizona completed an improbable comeback on what has since been dubbed the “Hill Mary” when Anu Solomon heaved a desperation pass from midfield into the hands of Austin Hill as time expired in Tucson. The 47-yard touchdown pass helped Arizona erase an 18-point, fourth quarter deficit as the Wildcats outscored the Bears 36-14 in the final 15 minutes. Solomon passed a ridiculous 73 times for 520 yards and five touchdowns, while Cal’s Jared Goff threw for a mere 380 yards and three touchdowns. Cayleb Jones led Arizona with 186 receiving yards. Scooby Wright was a menace on defense with 18 tackles.
October 25, 2014
#17 Arizona vs. Washington (Rich Rodriguez)
About a month after literally receiving death threats from insane Wildcat fans, placekicker Casey Skowron delivered the game-winner against Washington to keep Arizona’s chances at a divisional title alive. Skowron, who was just 2-for-5 on field goal tries in a 28-26 loss to USC in October, was a perfect 3-for-3 against the Huskies, which included a 47-yarder as time expired to give the Wildcats their eighth victory of the season. Arizona was anything but good against the unranked Huskies, committing three turnovers and only amassing 375 total yards of offense, but did enough of the little things to avoid a humbling loss. Defensively, Jared Tevis led Arizona with 14 tackles and a forced fumble.
September 8, 2012
Arizona vs. #18 Oklahoma State (Rich Rodriguez)
After barely edging Toledo 24-17 to open the season, nobody predicted the Wildcats would put up 59 points on the Cowboys. Heck, few thought the Wildcats even had a chance considering the result of the 2010 Alamo Bowl when Oklahoma State routed Arizona, 36-10. On this night in Tucson, the teams combined to score 60 points in the second half. The problem for visiting Oklahoma State was the fact Arizona scored 36 of those points. Matt Scott was 28-for-41 passing for 320 yards and two touchdowns. Ka’Deem Carey rushed for 126 yards, while Austin Hill had five grabs for 124 yards.
October 27, 2012
Arizona vs. #10 USC (Rich Rodriguez)
Austin Hill had 10 receptions for 259 yards, while Ka’Deem Carey and Matt Scott each rushed for more than 100 yards as Arizona overcame a 21-13 halftime deficit to win by three points. Arizona scored four touchdowns in the second half to defeat the tenth-ranked Trojans and outpace a heroic 493 yard passing effort from future NFL QB Matt Barkley. Johnathan McKnight led Arizona with 11 tackles and a pass deflection. Marquis Flowers had two pass breakups and seven tackles. John Bonano was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goal tries for the Wildcats. Notably, in preparation for this game, I convinced a local bar owner to open early so I could set up my work area and watch the game with some other Arizona alums in exclusivity. The ploy worked, resulting in one of my more enjoyable days covering the Wildcats.
December 15, 2012
New Mexico Bowl: Arizona vs. Nevada (Rich Rodriguez)
Arizona overcame a 13-point deficit in the final 1:48 to stun Nevada, 49-48, and complete an 8-5 season. Following a 2-yard touchdown pass from Matt Scott to Austin Hill to close to within six points, Arizona the recovered the onside kick; an accomplishment that would become somewhat routine for Arizona football in the Rich Rod Era. The comeback Cats would cap the incredible rally on another 2-yard touchdown pass from Scott, this time to Tyler Slavin, with just 19 seconds remaining. The extra point was good and Arizona completed its second-straight eight-win season. Scott passed for 382 yards, Ka’Deem Carey rushed for 172, and Austin Hill had 175 receiving yards on eight catches.
October 28, 2017
Arizona vs. #15 Washington State (Rich Rodriguez)
The Wildcats completed a four game winning streak by going nuts on what was a very good Washington State team in Tucson. Khalil Tate, who broke onto the national scene with incredible individual performances during the winning streak, finished a remarkable stretch of football by rushing for 146 yards and a scored on 13 carries, while tossing two more touchdowns on 10-of-17 passing against the Cougars. Arizona kicked off the winning streak with a mind-numbing 327 rush yards and four rushing touchdowns by Tate, on just 14 carries, in Arizona’s 45-42 road win at Colorado. At this point in the 2017 season, things looked like they were heading up for Arizona after the previous year’s poor 3-9 record. However, Tate and the Wildcats would cool off the rest of the way, dropping four of their last five games, which included a brutal 42-30 loss to rival Arizona State and a 38-35 bowl game loss to Purdue.