By Anthony Gimino
Special for Tucson News Now
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Just about the first thing you saw as you walked into the Arizona locker room was quarterback Anu Solomon sitting in front of his locker.
He was the first to take questions from the media and the last. Sitting. Answering. Trying to take the fall for a 38-30 loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl on Wednesday.
"I tried to put everything on my shoulders, thinking I could do everything by myself," Solomon said after a two-interception performance that included taking a sack in the final seconds, allowing the clock to run out and preventing the Wildcats from taking a final shot at the end zone.
Arizona did, too.
It's the nature of the game, though, that the quarterback gets too much credit and too much blame, no matter what happens, and Solomon wasn't running from that responsibility, wasn't escaping into the shower, wasn't issuing a "not now" when it came time to account for what went wrong inside University of Phoenix Stadium.
"I'm going to work every day starting tomorrow," Solomon said. "I'm not going to let my teammates down again."
On the last play, Solomon did the one thing he absolutely could not do: Be tackled in bounds. With the ball at the Boise State 8, he rolled right before being wiped out by Boise State's Kamalei Correa for a 2-yard sack. Out of timeouts, Arizona could only watch the final seconds tick off the clock as the Broncos stormed the field in celebration.
So ended one of the wildest and memorable seasons in Arizona football history: 10 wins, the Hill Mary, the missed late field goal against USC, the miracle fumble recovery and game-winning 47-yard kick against Washington, the win at No. 2 Oregon, hanging on to knock off rival Arizona State, the Pac-12 South title.
Arizona played eight games that were decided by eight points or less -- and won six of them.
"I'm really proud of how we played this season," said senior defensive lineman Dan Pettinato. "This season has been awesome; it's been everything we worked for all summer. … I'm not going to let it get to me. I'm proud of everyone on this team."
For almost all of the season, Solomon didn't play like a freshman. And, then, after 13 games of experience, he did. He threw late over the middle. He badly underthrew a receiver for an interception that led to a Boise State 22-yard touchdown drive. He threw another interception that was returned 16 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, allowing Boise State to cling to its lead during a quarter in which it gained only 2 yards on offense.
He threw the ball away when he shouldn't have (intentional grounding) and didn't throw the ball away when it was the only option he needed to consider in the final seconds out of timeouts.
So much for that solid decision-making that marked the strength of his debut season.
Coach Rich Rodriguez, by his own admission and easily verifiable through history, is hard on quarterbacks. So, for whatever public criticism Solomon takes, it will be lollipops and flowers compared to what happens inside the meeting room. Is that thing soundproof?
Rodriguez also likes competition at all positions, so while having a second-year starter at quarterback would be a luxury RichRod hasn't had at Arizona, the supposition is that Solomon will have to earn his way again this spring, when Brandon Dawkins, fresh off a redshirt season, will be among those with a chance to make a case.
Solomon, against Boise State, completed 28 of 49 passes for 335 yards, with the two interceptions. He also was sacked eight times.
Sophomore receiver Cayleb Jones -- who had eight catches for 117 yards, including a 43-yarder in the final seconds that put the Wildcats inside the 10 -- said Solomon shouldn't have to shoulder the burden of the loss to Boise State.
"Absolutely not," Jones said.
"But that's just the type of person he is. He is always going to take the blame for stuff like that. But Anu is a great leader, and I have respect for him. … Today, we just didn't capitalize. We had opportunities."
Ultimately, the comeback was incomplete. The Broncos played the first 10 minutes of the game with a passion as if the Wildcats had kicked their dogs, embarrassing Arizona and its defense by taking a 21-0 lead. So, there was ample blame to spread.
The fight that it took to climb back was a microcosm of the Cats' season, but it wasn't enough.
Rodriguez and his staff wondered last fall, when Solomon was redshirting, if football meant enough to him. The answer: The easy-going exterior belied the fire in the belly. Arizona knows that now. Solomon wasn't at his best late in the season, playing through an ankle injury that forced him out of two games at halftime, but he established his presence as a tough-guy leader.
Now, he needs to get stronger physically and work on being a bigger threat in the run game.
As he said in front of his locker Wednesday night, that work "starts tomorrow."
Tomorrow is now today. The 2015 season has begun.