Three ways to win, three ways to lose: Arizona vs UNLV
Freshman linebacker Ryan Dunn (25) scores a touchdown during UA’s 58-13 win against UNLV on Sept. 7, 2013 at Sam Boyd Stadium. The two teams meet up again for the season opener in a nationally televised game on ESPN on Friday.
Three ways UA will win
Arizona freshman quarterback Anu Solomon gets the start against UNLV in what could be a storybook debut.
The dual-threat quarterback is from Las Vegas and played with four of the Rebels at Bishop Gorman High School. Solomon went 57-3 and won four state titles as a starter in high school.
If Solomon can replicate some of that success, the Wildcats will beat the Rebels again. Last year against UNLV, UA quarterback B.J. Denker ran the ball 17 times for 63 yards and passed for 81 yards, going 8-for-21, not exactly stellar numbers.
If Solomon has a good game or at least a solid game, Arizona will likely be too much for UNLV.
Arizona locks down Davis
Like Arizona, the Rebels also feature a quarterback making his NCAA football debut, junior college transfer Blake Decker.
Fortunately for him, Decker has a preseason All-American in senior receiver Devante Davis to throw the ball to. Last season Davis caught 87 balls for 1290 yards.
Last year, the Biletnikoff Award Watch List member had three catches for 84 yards in UNLV’s 58-13 loss to the Wildcats, his second-lowest number of catches in 2013.
Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not, but he’s a serious threat to an Arizona secondary will be missing, at least from the starting line up, its two top leaders in interceptions from a year ago.
Senior safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant had four picks last year, including one for a 52-yard touchdown against the Rebels and lost his spot in the starting lineup for disciplinary reasons. Shaquille Richardson, who had three interceptions, is now a Pittsburgh Steeler.
UNLV lost Tim Cornett, their all-time leader in rushing and will likely lean heavily on Davis.
Wildcats run over Rebels
Since Arizona has one of the best receiving corps in the country, many of its foes will focus on trying to stop the passing game.
UNLV is very likely to do that, since a freshman will be starting for the Wildcats. Over-committing to stop the pass would open up room for Arizona to run.
Last year, the Wildcats ran all over the Rebels. Ka’Deem Carey ran for 171 yards, Daniel Jenkins for 79, Jared Baker for 66 and Denker for 63.
The Wildcats don’t have a Carey this season, but if they approach close to the 397 rushing yards they tallied last year, they’ll cruise to an easy win. Without a leading running back set, the Wildcats will likely send wave after wave of backs at the UNLV defense, which lost six starters from last year.
Three ways UA will lose
It’s not a secret that Ka’Deem Carey is no longer on the Arizona football squad, and you can bet UNLV is going to dare the Wildcats to run on Friday.
The only returning running back with notable experience as a Wildcat is redshirt junior Jared Baker, who rushed for 130 yards last season and is coming off an ACL tear suffered late last year.
Of the nine running backs listed on Arizona’s roster, eight of those backs have never recorded a single regular season carry as a Wildcat.
That lack of inexperience could prove fatal for the offense if a consistent running game can’t be established early on.
By now you’ve probably heard Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez has tabbed redshirt freshman Anu Solomon to start the season opener. Solomon will be the first freshman to start at quarterback since Willie Tuitama in 2005.
One scenario is Solomon could see UNLV drop into exaggerated pass protection for large portions of the game, considering Arizona has a dynamic group of receiving threats. In that kind of situation, he’ll have a considerable amount of time to make decisions but tighter windows to fit the ball through.
UNLV will dare Solomon to beat them with his arm and see if the redshirt freshman has the poise to take care of the ball and make sensible decisions.
If he doesn’t live up to his reported calm demeanor come game time, Arizona will have to rely on inexperienced running backs to get the job done.
Wazzu part two
There is always the scenario where Arizona comes out flat and plays similar to last season’s embarrassing 24-17 home loss to Washington State.
The Cougars scored 10 unanswered points to open up that game and scored the game-winning touchdown with just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter. It was the kind of game where the defense allowed long, time-consuming drives and struggled to contain the opposing quarterback.
UNLV wide receiver Devante Davis’ big-play ability could prove troublesome for an Arizona defense that will have six new starters throughout the defense, including at least one player at every main positional group (defensive line, linebacker and defensive back).
If those new starters aren’t ready to play from the outset, UNLV could surprise the team with a quick score or two.