Arizona quarterback Matt Scott and the importance of failure
UA fifth-year senior leads Wildcats to an improbable 49-48 win in the New Mexico Bowl
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —The final assignment of Matt Scott’s Arizona college career was an essay in one of his classes about the importance of failure, a feeling he knows all too well.
As of Tuesday’s practice, Scott hadn’t finished the assignment yet.
After his performance in Arizona’s 49-48 win against Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl, he should have plenty of material when he finally goes to finish that paper.
As Scott sat at a podium, set up in a weight room at University Stadium, donning his No. 10 Arizona jersey for the final time, all he’s been through in his Wildcats career came to a head.
“I’ve been through a lot,” said a teary-eyed Scott, who finished with a New Mexico Bowl-record 402 yards of total offense. “It’s been a tough time for me. My career could’ve gone a couple different ways but you know I decided to stay, compete and try to get better. I didn’t quit.”
He sat behind Willie Tuitama for a year as a freshman, and three more years behind Nick Foles after Scott lost the starting job to him in Scott’s sophomore year.
As a fifth-year senior, the starting quarterback job was finally his.
And if Scott’s performance against the Wolf Pack on Saturday was any indication, it was worth the wait.
Through 58:12 in the game, Arizona looked well on its way to its third straight bowl disappointment (fourth if you count last year’s lack of a bowl).
Trailing by 13 points with 1:48 remaining, and zero timeouts left, the Wildcats looked down and out, starting from their own 25-yard line.
“Those last two drives, you had to be almost flawless to execute it,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said.
Scott had 291 passing yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and on a 52.6 completion percentage at the time — far from perfect.
The first play of the drive, running back Ka’Deem Carey fumbled the ball, but UA receiver Garic Wharton prevented Nevada from taking it away.
Not quite “flawless”, coach.
Flawless might not describe what happened throughout Saturday’s game.
“Holy s**t!” would suffice.
On the next play, Wharton came up with the ball again, this time on a 14-yard completion.
Then, Scott completed a 12-yard pass to Tyler Slavin.
After one incompletion and a defensive pass interference from Nevada’s Bryson Keeton, the Wildcats were on Nevada’s 27-yard line.
A rush from Carey, completion to Slavin and another pass interference later, Arizona was at the 2. And Scott found his best receiver, Austin Hill, for a 2-yard score, bringing the game to within six after a John Bonano extra point.
That drive took 1:08 off the clock, so with 40 seconds remaining, the Wildcats needed an onside kick recovery.
And they got it.
A perfectly placed Bonano kick bounced off the face, according to UA linebacker Marquis Flowers, of a Nevada defender and Flowers pounced on the ball to give Arizona back the ball at the 49-yard line.
“When we got it,” Scott said. “I couldn’t really believe it.”
In quick and immediate succession, Scott found Wharton for 28 yards and Hill for 21, bringing the Wildcats to the 2-yard line with 22 seconds on the clock.
Arizona rushed to the line, and Scott hiked the ball, immediately finding Slavin on the right side on a quick slant toward the middle of the field.
After a Bonano PAT, and a Flowers interception, Arizona closed the game out on top.
And Scott closed his career in style.
“Matt played great,” said Carey, who ran for 172 yards and three touchdowns. “I just kept saying in the backfield, ‘come on Matt, this is it. Just make those big plays I know you can make.’
“That’s just an amazing way for him to end his career,” center Kyle Quinn added. “For what he’s been through in five years here. It’s just a perfect way for him to go out. He played his ass off all game and he’s just a warrior. He’s a competitor and he’s a winner.”
In those last two, game-deciding drives, Scott went 8-for-9 with 91 yards and two touchdowns. On the game, he had 382 yards and three touchdowns, plus 21 yards and a score on the ground, and was named the Offensive MVP.
After his three most recent games were a struggle against UCLA, Utah and ASU — he only completed 50.5 percent of his passes with three interceptions (all in the loss to the Sun Devils)— he bounced back in a big way.
Failure is important to Scott, and he said it shaped him into the player that was able to rally his teammates to an unprecedented come-from-behind win on Saturday.
“Matt Scott was flawless,” Rodriguez said. “That is why we won the game.”