Arizona football: Wildcats' fate could be in the hands of Nick Wilson
Running back Nick Wilson (28) reaches for the ball from quarterback Anu Solomon and runs the ball downfield on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015 in a game against UCLA. The Wildcats are 11-1 when Wilson racks up 100 or more yards.
No matter who wins Arizona’s starting quarterback job — whether it be Anu Solomon or Brandon Dawkins — there might not be a more important player to the Wildcats' offensive success than the man that will be lining up next to them in the 'gun — running back Nick Wilson.
If Arizona is going to compete for the Pac-12 Conference South title, Wilson will have to impose his will on the conference.
Aside from the quarterback controversy, add in the loss of UA's top receiver over the last two years in Cayleb Jones , there are many question marks on RichRod's offense.
However, where there is a Wilson, there is a way for offensive success.
When Wilson is healthy and effective, an Arizona win is nearly guaranteed.
The Wildcats are 11-1 when Wilson registers at least 100 all-purpose yards in the past two seasons.
When Wilson is on his game, drives are sustained and Arizona avoids long down-and-distance situations, easing the burden on the rest of the offense.
In those same 12 games where Wilson has eclipsed the 100-yard mark, Solomon’s touchdown-to-interception ratio stands at 22 to 4.
When Wilson doesn't rack up at least 100 yards, Solomon's touchdown-to-interception ratio dips to a 26-10 mark.
Essentially, when Wilson is not on his game, things get ugly in a hurry for Arizona.
Aside from Wilson’s 136-yard performance last season in a 56-30 loss to UCLA, teams that beat Arizona usually find a way to contain the running back.
In Arizona’s nine other losses over the last two seasons, Wilson carried the ball 70 times for just 191 yards and two touchdowns. His 2.7 average in those outings pales in comparison to his career average of 5.6 yards per carry.
Of course, Wilson can't produce if he's not healthy, and that has been an issue for him since arriving in Tucson.
Heading into his junior year, Wilson has missed five games due to injury and Arizona is 2-3 in those outings. Not to mention he's been limited in several others.
Injuries are unexpected and can't be completely prevented, but steps can be taken to lessen their likelihood of occurring, like limiting Wilson's workload in the early part of the season before Arizona starts its grueling Pac-12 schedule.
On said schedule is a brutal four-game stretch against UCLA, Utah, USC and Stanford — four of the conference's best teams.
Recent history tells us that if Arizona is going to emerge with a winning record in that span — which could put them in the Pac-12 South title discussion — Wilson will have to not only be healthy, but a dominant force as well.
History also tells us that that might be too much to expect. After all, in Arizona's last seven games of 2015, Wilson missed four of them and was limited in the other three, accounting for just 18 carries combined in those three contests.
And while Wilson eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark seven times as a freshman in 2014, he only did so three times as a sophomore in 2015. Relatedly, the Wildcats won 10 games in 2014 and just seven games in 2015.
So while all eyes will be on the quarterbacks in summer practice leading up to the season opener, perhaps all eyes should be on Nick Wilson and the Wildcats' running game instead.
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