FACTS & STATS: Site: Sam Boyd Stadium (36,800) -- Las Vegas, Nevada. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: Arizona 1-0, UNLV 0-0. Away Record: Arizona 0-0, UNLV 0-1. Neutral Record: Arizona 0-0, UNLV 0-0. Conference Record: Arizona 0-0, UNLV 0-0. Series Record: Arizona leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: All eyes will be on the backfield to see if All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey makes his debut when the Arizona Wildcats take on the UNLV Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Last week Arizona easily dispatched of FCS foe Northern Arizona, 35-0, but the real storyline was the absence of Carey. The junior running back led the nation in rushing last season, but was suspended from the season opener per team policy. Carey will more than likely be back in this contest which will strengthen the Wildcats' offense and Carey's own dark horse Heisman Trophy candidacy.
As for the Rebels there was much less intrigue surrounding them as they traveled to take on Minnesota last week. Coming off a 2-11 campaign, the Rebels looked outmatched against the Golden Gophers and fell in a 51-23 decision. Wins have proved difficult to come by in recent years for UNLV. With the 2-11 finish a year ago the Rebels have now had two wins in seven of the last nine seasons, including the last three straight.
During the 2001 season these squads met for the first and only time. Arizona played host in that contest and earned a 38-21 win over the Rebels in Tucson.
Without Carey the Arizona offense was actually more of a tamed unit. Normally the Wildcats play at a torrid pace, racking up yards and plays as quickly as any team in the nation. However, against NAU the Wildcats had just 393 yards of total offense, running 47 plays, the fewest in a game under Rodriguez. The 14 first downs earned were the fewest by the Wildcats since 2009. Obviously much of the slowed tempo can be accredited to the lopsided score. With Carey returning the Wildcats should get back to the type of production they had last season when they ranked seventh nationally in total offense (526.2 ypg).
Filling in for Carey in the opener was the tandem of Daniel Jenkins and Javelle Allen. Jenkins took on the feature role and rushed for 139 yards on 12 carries, including a 91-yard touchdown run. Allen piled up 67 yards and a score on just two carries.
Taking over for departed starting quarterback Matt Scott was B.J. Denker. The senior had no trouble in running Rodriguez's offense as he had 71 yards on 13 carries while also throwing for 87 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-13 passing.
Rodriguez's offensive scheme has always been built on running the ball and without Carey it continued to prove its effectiveness. With Carey, opposing defenses will have a tough time.
The weakness of the Wildcats last season was the defense. The Wildcats ranked 118th nationally in total yardage allowed (499 ypg). While some of that can be blamed on the fast-paced rhythm of the offense allowing for additional opportunities for their opponents, the Wildcats still need improvement in the area.
The showing against NAU was a good start as Arizona allowed just 270 yards of total offense while forcing three turnovers. The Wildcats also shut out the Lumberjacks, marking the first time they have blanked an opponent since last season's opener against FCS foe South Carolina State. Arizona allowed 35.3 points per game a year ago.
Tre'Mayne Bondurant was all over the field making plays against NAU as he tied for a team-high with seven tackles, one for loss, while also recording a pair of interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Tevin Hood had just three tackles but recorded one of three sacks by the Wildcats, who finished with 11 tackles for loss as a team.
UNLV hung around with Minnesota, and actually held a 6-3 lead at the end of the first quarter, but the upset wasn't to be. There was some solace to be taken in the loss however. After averaging just 367.9 yards per game last season, the Rebels totaled 419 yards with 21 first downs.
Sophomore Nick Sherry dropped back to pass quite a bit in the contest. Sherry completed 35-of-50 pass attempts for 226 yards and two scores but he was also intercepted twice.
In terms of running the ball, the Rebels had great success with the tandem of Tim Cornett and Shaquille Murray-Lawrence. Cornett, the returning starter, had 80 yards and a score on a a team-high 20 carries. Murray-Lawrence was the more exciting runner as he picked up 108 yards on just four carries. As a team the Rebels ran for 193 yards.
The trio of Maika Mataele, Devante Davis and Jerry Rice Jr. led the team in terms of catching passes. Davis had a team-high 77 yards on seven catches and also scored a touchdown. Mataele had a team-high nine receptions but only totaled 43 yards while Rice had six catches for 35 yards.
The progress made on the offensive side was mirrored by a solid showing by the UNLV defense, at least in terms of yards allowed. The Rebels only surrendered 320 yards of offense to the Golden Gophers, although the 5.2 yards per play average certainly points to some continued weakness. UNLV also failed to make plays in critical situations as Minnesota converted on 8-of-14 attempts on third down and scored on all four of its red zone trips, including three touchdowns.
The special teams and offense didn't help in keeping the Golden Gophers off the board as UNLV allowed a 98-yard kickoff return and a pair of defensive touchdowns to Minnesota.
Peni Vea was the most productive defender in the game in terms of tackles as he led UNLV with nine stops. Mark Garrick had three tackles, including one of just three for loss by the Rebels.
Even though the yardage total that UNLV surrendered wasn't outrageous, a deeper look at its week one performance shows that there is still a ton of work to do on that side of the ball. That is terrible news for a team that is about face an offensive juggernaut at full strength, assuming Carey gets back on the field for Arizona.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona 45, UNLV 20
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