Gimino: Arizona can't overcome injuries, ASU - Tucson News Now

Gimino: Arizona can't overcome injuries, ASU

TEMPE, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Arizona's season began with Scooby Wright at middle linebacker and ended with sixth-stringer Sir Thomas Jackson in his place.

Arizona's season began with Anu Solomon at quarterback and ended with a sick third-stringer taking snaps while Solomon sat with his second concussion.

Arizona's season began with Nick Wilson as one of the best running backs in the Pac-12 and ended with him dealing with multiple injuries and carrying the ball a scant 18 times in the final six games.

By the time the sun was setting on UA's regular season, dipping behind Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday, the Wildcats were pulling all kinds of crazy plays out of third-string quarterback Brandon Dawkins, getting a wild coast-to-coast, sideline-to-sideline, 95-yard catch-and-run from Trey Griffey, and getting another touchdown catch from Tyrell Johnson, who, fitting the theme of the season, had missed the majority of the games because of injury.

Who the heck were these guys?

Arizona, which at halftime appeared to be strapped to the table, ready to have its heart ripped out by a maniacal Arizona State, used its misfits to rally from a 31-10 deficit to within one possession twice in the second half. But, at the end, the Sun Devils had too much, and Dawkins threw a couple of late interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, as ASU won 52-37.

And now, and only now, does Arizona get its bye week, having completed a 6-6 regular season.

"Twelve straight weeks, 100 straight days -- 16 straight weeks counting camp," said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez.

"Guys are a little beat up, banged up. We were hurt before coming in. It's not an excuse. I'm just telling you what it is."

And, oh, starting receiver Samajie Grant left the game after the first series. Starting safety Jamar Allah couldn't play. Rodriguez said four special teams starters got hurt during the game.

"Just looking around and throwing guys in," Rodriguez said. "They competed. We had a chance."

Among the craziest things to ever happen in this rivalry, coming back from a 21-point halftime deficit with a third-string quarterback would have ranked right near the top. Arizona outscored ASU 13-0 in the third quarter, and it was still anybody's game, at 38-30, when Arizona took possession with 4:08 left.

Then, ASU freshman safety Kareem Orr picked off a pass from Dawkins on third-and-6 and returned it for a touchdown. On the next possession, ASU cornerback Lloyd Carrington piled on, also returning an interception for a score.

If you have been following along all season, you know about the injury problems, the 12 consecutive games without a bye. You'll have to decide for yourself: Chalk 2015 up to bad luck? Was the 2014 Pac-12 South title a fluke? Is the truth somewhere in the middle? I view it as this: Arizona, right now, is an eight-win program. That's the baseline.

When the Cats plays hard, play well, believe, and put themselves in position to receive good luck, then a 10-win season, like what happened last year, can happen.

When injuries hit as hard as they did this year -- and to the team's three most important players (Wright, Solomon and Wilson) -- then 6-6 happens.

Rodriguez got emotional at times in his postgame press conference.

"The reality is, it's been a challenge since week 1," he said.

"It's been one of those years when you have bad luck. I told the team in the locker room, if nothing else, they showed they had a little bit of competitiveness, I guess is the right word ... heart, competitiveness, they showed some of that today.

"You have guys in there who at the beginning of camp weren't on the two-deep or didn't think they would be ready to play, and they're out there battling. We're not playing well at time, but we'll be all right. We'll recruit, we'll develop, and these young guys will come back and get better. ...

"We have to get better. We know that. This is not fun. Being 6-6, it's average. And nobody in our program wants to be average. But we're not going to stay there."

Backup quarterback Jerrard Randall got the start but was so ineffective that Dawkins -- a redshirt freshman with eight career passes -- got the call. Talk about the toughest of spots -- on the road against your rival, trying to mount a comeback against the most aggressive defense in the Pac-12.

Dawkins was sacked eight times, threw the two late picks, but managed to complete 16 of 30 passes for 305 yards, while also leading the team in rushing with 78 yards (despite all the negative sack yardage) while suffering from some sort of stomach virus.

"I finally got to go out there and how out a little bit," Dawkins said. "But it's still not the result we wanted."

So, this is the way the season ends -- not with the result Arizona wanted.

It was a fitting end, in a sad kind of way. The injuries started just a couple of days into camp when projected starting center Carter Wood suffered a season-ending setback. That storm only grew in intensity. It poured.

A bowl game, probably, awaits. The Pac-12 has seven contracted sports, and nine eligible teams (possibly 10 after next week's games). The Wildcats likely will fill an at-large spot beyond the league's seven guaranteed spots.

By the time the postseason rolls around, Arizona should get back Wright, who should be healed soon from his foot injury. With a month or more to prepare, he'll be in great shape and ready to play. At the end of the season, he'll be as healthy as when it began.

It's everything in between that, save for an upset of No. 10 Utah last week, was a disaster for Arizona.

"I hope we have one more game," Rodriguez said, "and hope we play our best game of the year."

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