When the Arizona Wildcats coaches finally called receiver Tyler Slavin’s number at the New Mexico Bowl, he didn’t have his.
He was ready nonetheless.
With a borrowed number and no name on the back of his jersey, the little-used Slavin caught a 2-yard slant pass with 19 seconds remaining in the game. With the extra point, Arizona beat Nevada 49-48 with a stunning comeback that featured Slavin as one of the unlikely heroes.
How about another sophomore receiver, slot Garic Wharton?
He caught a career-high seven passes for 84 yards. Most importantly, he returned Ka’Deem Carey’s fumble 10 yards, also getting out of bounds, on the first play of a drive as Arizona took over trailing by 13 points with 1:48 to play.
How about freshman linebacker C.J. Dozier?
He stopped running back Nick Hale for no gain on third-and-6 from the Arizona 7 with two minutes to go to force a field goal that kept it a two-possession game. That was the last of Dozier’s team-high 15 tackles.
And then there was Slavin.
Slavin had to switch jersey numbers during the game from his usual No. 11 to No. 18, which belongs to injured wideout Terrence Miller. Because of injuries, coaches needed to deploy Slavin on special teams and had to avoid a conflict with another No. 11, freshman defensive back Will Parks.
It’s a penalty to have two players with the same jersey number on the field at the same time.
Slavin didn’t enter the game on offense until late in the game.
“Fresh legs,” coach Rich Rodriguez said with a smile.
Slavin caught three passes, all in the final two minutes as Matt Scott directed two touchdown drives. Slavin had receptions of 12 and 9 yards on the first scoring drive, and then the touchdown catch.
“That’s a memory for a lifetime,” Slavin said.
On the game-winning play, he lined up to the right of the formation, outside of Austin Hill, who was in the slot. With the ball on the right hashmark, Slavin lined up wider than usual to give himself more space.
On the TD pass that happened 27 seconds earlier, Hill and Slavin were in the same formation. They run slant-outs, with Hill making the catch as he broke back toward the sideline.
This time, it was just a slant.
“I just got off the line and the ball was thrown and I caught it,” Slavin said.
What an ending to an up-and-down season for Slavin, who had 19 receptions in the regular season and struggled with dropped passes.
Against Nevada, he might not have played at all if Dan Buckner hadn’t been sidelined again with an ankle problem. Miller has been out since midseason and is trying to get a medical redshirt. Redshirt freshman David Richards saw a lot of time earlier in the game as an outside receiver.
But it was Slavin — even though he continued to be misidentified as Miller 48 hours later in reports of the game — who caught three passes in the final two minutes.
“(Receivers coach Tony Dews) and I talked about it, saying we’ve got to get Tyler in there because our receivers were running a lot of deep routes,” Rodriguez said. “When he got in there, he performed. I was really proud of him. He was the guy that was open. …
“Our execution was not very good for the most part at times. But it was when we really had to have it. Tyler was a part of that in the end.”
Isn’t that what bench players are supposed to do? Be ready.
Wharton had seven catches in the first 11 games … and then 13 in the final two. He had two catches for 42 yards, plus the key fumble return, in the final two minutes against Nevada.
Dozier had 13 tackles in the regular season … and then 15 in the bowl game.
Slavin caught the first touchdown pass of his career.
Scott and Carey get the majority of the headlines, but winning and losing is always a team effort. Everyone has to be ready. Even those with strange numbers and no name on the back of their jersey.