TUCSON, Ariz. – Anu Solomon threw for four touchdowns in his collegiate debut and the Wildcats racked up a school-record 787 yards of total offense on Friday as the Arizona football team posted an emphatic 58-13 victory over UNLV in its season opener.
Friday’s victory moved Arizona to 9-0 against non-conference opponents under head coach Rich Rodriguez.
“Our guys competed well and kept their poise,” Rodriguez said. “Anu did a good job keeping his poise. He didn’t seem nervous. Mentally, he was pretty sharp. It was a good win and we’ll learn from it. We will get a quick turnaround and get ready for the next one.”
Solomon threw for 425 yards on 25-of-44 passing, spreading the ball among 10 different receivers, to set a program freshman record for passing yardage and record just the 16th 400-yard passing game in school history. He also ran for 50 yards on eight carries, keeping a drive alive with a key 31-yard scramble on third down to set up a UA score in the first half.
His 475 yards of total offense rank fourth on Arizona’s single-game list.
David Richards led all UA receivers with five catches, totaling 30 yards, and Austin Hill and Samajie Grant provided fireworks with long touchdown grabs to help the Wildcats pull away early and coast to their second 58-13 victory over UNLV in as many seasons.
In his first game action in 20 months, Hill finished with a game-high 110 yards on three catches, changing the game with a 92-yard catch-and-run to open the second half. The performance was the seventh 100-yard game of his career, and his second in a row dating back to the Gildan New Mexico Bowl win over Nevada on Dec. 15, 2012. After missing the entire 2013 season due to a knee injury, Hill caught his first pass of the night on the Wildcats’ second play from scrimmage.
“It felt great being able to run out of the tunnel with the team,” Hill said. “It was probably one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. We were able to put a great game together and Anu played great tonight. It was a great feeling getting in the end zone and hearing the crowd roar like I used to.”
Grant tallied a career-high 101 yards on four catches, including a 63-yard scoring strike, while Trey Griffey also caught four balls for 52 yards. Davantè Neal and Nate Phillips each totaled two catches, with a touchdown apiece, and Cayleb Jones snagged three balls for 30 yards.
In addition to UA’s aerial exploits, UNLV had no answer for an Arizona rushing attack that rolled to 353 yards on the ground. Led by 124 yards on just 13 carries, good for an average of 9.5 yards per carry, by Terris Jones-Grigsby, Arizona outrushed the Rebels by a 353-119 margin.
Freshman Nick Wilson joined Jones-Grigsby in the 100-yard club with 104 in his collegiate debut, mostly thanks to an 85-yard touchdown run, as nine different Wildcats recorded a carry on the night. Jones-Grigsby added a touchdown of his own, and quarterback Connor Brewer chipped in with a late score in the ground game.
UA has had a 100-yard rusher in 18-consecutive games and 24 of 27 contests under Rodriguez.
“The last time I carried a ball in a game was December 2010, my senior year of high school,” Jones-Grigsby said. “My legs are still shaking. It’s been a long time, but I just want to thank our linemen.”
Overall, Arizona outgained UNLV, 787-371, in total offense, averaging 8.4 yards per play and winning the time-of-possession battle, 31:36-28:24. With seven passes broken up on the night, the Wildcats’ defense held UNLV to an average of 5.2 yards per play and just a 26.7 percent (4-of-15) success rate on third downs.
Arizona scored on 10 of its 14 possessions on the night, including each of its last four. The Wildcats didn’t have a three-and-out in the contest, while the UA defense forced five UNLV three-and-outs. UA’s 787 yards broke a program record of 691 that was established in 1969, and the Wildcats had a pair of 100-yard rushers and 100-yard receivers in the same game for the first time in program history.
Scooby Wright III led UA with eight tackles and a sack, while Jonathan McKnight tallied seven stops in the secondary. Will Parks had two PBUs and an interception for an Arizona secondary that held UNLV to just 22-of-41 for 252 yards through the air.
After a UNLV punt pinned Arizona on its own four, Arizona went 96 yards in three plays and 38 seconds for its first touchdown of the season to take a 7-0 lead with 1:40 left in the first quarter. Jones-Grigsby got the drive going with a 41-yard run before Griffey caught a 16-yard pass from Solomon. Phillips was on the receiving end of a 39-yard scoring strike from Solomon on the next play to get UA on the board.
Parks got the crowd of 50,103 into a frenzy with a thunderous hit to break up a pass on the Rebels’ next play from scrimmage, leading to a three-and-out for UNLV. On the ensuing drive, Solomon connected with Grant for a 63-yard touchdown pass to cap a three-play, 66-yard scoring drive that took just 40 seconds of game time.
The reception was the longest of Grant’s career, and his second-career touchdown catch.
UNLV got on the board with a field goal early in the second quarter, but was answered by a 28-yard field goal by Casey Skowron with 5:52 remaining in the half to make the score 17-3. Solomon highlighted the 11-play drive with a 31-yard run on third down to put Arizona in scoring position.
After UNLV tacked on another field goal at the 3:03 mark of the second quarter, Solomon marched UA on an eight-play, 65-yard drive and capped it with his third touchdown pass of the first half. He found Neal for a 13-yard score, Neal’s first as a Wildcat, to make the score 24-6.
Arizona piled up 393 yards of total offense in the first half, their most in a half since 2011, when they put up 416 against UCLA in the first half of a win on Oct. 20.
Jones-Grigsby carried the ball nine times for 101 yards in the opening half, good for an average of 11.2 yards per carry. Solomon was a judicious 13-of-25 in the first half, connecting eight different receivers for 243 yards and three scores.
After a penalty set UA back to its own eight yard line on the opening kickoff of the second half, Solomon hit Hill with a short pass on the first play scrimmage and the senior wide receiver took the ball 92 yards for the score. The play, which was the third-longest pass play in program history, increased the Wildcats’ lead to 31-6 with 14:40 left in the third quarter.
A methodical, 11-play, 75-yard drive, capped by Jones-Grigsby’s first-career touchdown run, put UA ahead by a count of 38-13 with 8:48 left in the third quarter. Skowron added to the lead with a 49-yard field goal late in the third after a nine-play drive, putting Arizona up 41-13.
UA increased its lead to 48-13 with 43 seconds left in the third quarter when Wilson took off on an 85-yard jaunt for his first-career touchdown, good for the fifth-longest run in school history.
Wilson’s run combined with Hill’s long touchdown reception to mark the first in program history that the Wildcats had both a run and a pass of at least 85 yards in the same game.
Skowron hit a 39-yard field goal with 12:38 remaining to make the score 51-13, and Brewer capped the night with a three-yard touchdown run at the 1:18 mark to give UA the 58-13 win.
The Wildcats will play their second-straight weeknight contest to open the season next Thursday, traveling to San Antonio for a clash with UTSA. The game, which is set for 5 p.m. MST, will be televised on Fox Sports 1 and carried on the Arizona IMG Sports Network.
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