Arizona football preview: Wildcats hit up Sin City
Head coach Rich Rodriguez began Wednesday’s practice with a 30-minute team meeting. Though the Wildcats are coming off the 35-0 victory over NAU last Friday, the second-year Wildcats football coach wasn’t too pleased with their effort in practice on Tuesday.
UNLV (0-1) might have lost at home to NAU 17-14 last season and might be expected to finish near the bottom of the Mountain West Conference this season, but the Rebels are still a large, physical team that matches up well with Arizona (1-0).
“Our focus needed to be on correcting some things after practice [Tuesday],” Rodriguez said after practice on Wednesday. “I don’t have too many team meetings, though.”
Rodriguez, who usually leaves long team meetings to his position coaches, sat his team down to make sure its focus was where it needed to be. On defense, it will be on stopping UNLV running back Tim Cornett.
The Rebels senior was held to just 80 yards on 20 carries last week in UNLV’s 51-23 loss to Minnesota, but the chance that happens two weeks in a row is doubtful. Cornett is just 620 yards shy of passing Mike Thomas as UNLV’s all-time rushing leader with 3,149 yards.
“We don’t have anyone in our program like [Cornett],” Rodriguez said, “so not tackling a guy like that is going to be a big concern for us at the beginning of the game.”
Arizona’s win over the Lumberjacks last week was the second shutout by the Wildcats’ defense in two years. In the last 20 years, Arizona’s defense has only shut out six opponents, including the two most recent.
The last time the Wildcats shut out back-to-back teams was in 1975, when then-head coach Jim Young led his team to a 9-2 record and No. 18 national ranking.
The chance that Arizona pulls off a second consecutive shutout is unlikely. NAU missed two field goals last Friday and is one of the few teams the Wildcats will play that is smaller than them.
“Man, 1975 is a long time,” junior safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant said with a chuckle. “As a defense we take pride in putting up a shutout, but in practice leading up to the game it’s not something we worry about too much. As long as we execute what we’re supposed to do and they have less points than us, then we’re good.”
On offense, Arizona’s spread option shouldn’t have too much of a problem scoring. The Rebels gave up an average of 36 points in 2012, but with nine returning starters on defense, they should be more comfortable with defensive coordinator Tim Hauck’s 4-3 system.
Arizona’s all-American junior running back, Ka’Deem Carey, will return against UNLV after being suspended by Rodriguez for the first game. That being said, Rodriguez announced Wednesday that senior running back Daniel Jenkins will get the start on Saturday.
Quarterback senior B.J. Denker will make his third career and second consecutive start. Rodriguez also mentioned that backup redshirt freshman Javelle Allen had a great week of practice and could see playing time this week — if Denker struggles or the Wildcats have a commanding lead at the end of the game.
Rodriguez did not allow the media to interview players after Tuesday’s practice, but Bondurant said it was an aberration.
“It was just one of those practices. They happen,” Bondurant said. “But he told us what we needed to work on. And we had our team meeting before practice and made up for it [Thursday in practice], and we know we just got to turn it up.”
—Follow Luke Della @LukeDellaDW