The time is running out for some of Arizona’s players, as tt has been four years since the Wildcats last won a bowl game. For Arizona’s seniors who did not redshirt, they will get one final chance to come away with a postseason victory.
That final chance will come early Saturday morning as Arizona takes on Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl. It won’t be easy as the Wildcats will be going against one of the best offenses in the West, and maybe the country. Nevada is averaging 37 points per game. It averages 260 yards on the ground per contest, while running the pistol offense, which is somewhat similar to Arizona’s own offense.
The Wolf Pack are led by a two-man tandem of Cody Fajardo and Stefphon Jefferson. Fajardo, the quarterback, runs the offense using both his arm and his legs. He has rushed for 981 yards on the season and passed for 2,530 yards with 28 total touchdowns.
Jefferson leads the rushing attack having gained 1,703 yards on the season with a 141.9 per game average. That number ranks him second nationally, behind Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey. Jefferson has also punched it into the end zone 22 times on the ground, which is also good for second in the country.
On the receiving end of Fajardo’s passes is senior tight end Zach Sudfeld, who is a player that the Wildcats will need to watch out for. One of the better tight ends that Arizona has faced this season, Sudfeld has amassed 553 receiving yards and six touchdown catches on just 43 receptions. Often used as a safety valve, he is a player that Nevada may look to early in order to open the field.
On the defensive side of the ball, Arizona will see an easier matchup. The Wolf Pack defense has given up 39.6 points on average in the five games that it lost this season, as opposed to the 27.4 mark that it posted in seven victories. The Wildcats have only scored less than 34 points on two occasions this season and still managed to come away with a victory in one of those: a 24-17 win over Toledo.
The Wolf Pack are starting three inexperienced linemen on the defensive front. However one of them, Brock Hekking, has had a breakout year. The sophomore has 70 tackles including 8 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Behind the linemen, Nevada has three experienced linebackers in Albert Rosette, Jeremiah Green, and Deandre Boughton. Rosette leads the team with 128 tackles while Boughton and Green are fourth and fifth with 68 and 61, respectively.
Nevada also has some experience in the secondary behind Duke Williams, Khalid Wooten, and Marlon Johnson. The three seniors patrol the secondary with Wooten being the most dangerous playmaker of the group. He has a team high two interceptions, one of which he has returned for a touchdown.
The game should come down to which defense can stop the opposing offense first. Both teams are likely to score a lot of points and rack up record rushing totals.
The Wildcats’ seniors are getting one last chance to win a bowl game. Coming off a loss at the conclusion of the regular season, there is little doubt that Arizona will come out with the feeling that is has something to prove.
Players to watch:
#17 QB, Cody Fajardo – The dual threat quarterback could possibly be the most dangerous weapon for the Wolf Pack. The Wildcats have had trouble with running quarterbacks in the past, but have done a better job this season.
#25 RB, Stefphon Jefferson – The second leading rusher in the country, Jefferson will be given the ball plenty of times throughout the game. Until Arizona can prove that it will stop him consistently, he will be the go-to guy for Nevada
#51 LB, Albert Rosette – Rosette is the leader of the defense and will be instrumental to the Wolf Pack success if he can key in on Ka’Deem Carey and stop the run. It will likely be his main priority.
#2 CB, Khalid Wooten – If a big play is going to be made in the game for Nevada’s defense, it will include Wooten. He has the ability and will be waiting for a mistake to be made that he can capitalize on. A big play could change the outcome the game.
#44 TE, Zach Sudfeld – The big tight end has numerous talents and has the most receiving touchdowns for Nevada this season. With Arizona’s struggles against opposing tight ends this season, it is easy to see how Sudfeld could make a few big plays.
Keys to the game:
1. Contain the run: With Nevada running the ball as effectively as it does, the Wildcats will want to stop the run game early and force Fajardo to throw the football. He is only a sophomore and can still make mistakes if Arizona gets enough pressure
2. Win turnover battle: Speaking of mistakes, it is always important to win the turnover battle, but when facing a team like Nevada, who can score instantaneously, it is even more important to create more than you lose. An interception or a fumble could turn the tide quickly.
3. Keep a balanced attack: Nevada’s defense is spotty at times and Arizona can light up the scoreboard if it can keep the Wolf Pack guessing. The combination of Matt Scott’s arm and Ka’Deem Carey’s legs could keep Nevada off-guard and allow Arizona to score with ease.
4. Fundamentals: With the pressure of a big game, it is easy for players to forget the little things. Remembering the fundamentals could help push either team to an advantage.