Nevada is playing in its 7th consecutive bowl and is 2-5 in the post season after losing last year to Southern Miss in the Hawaii Bowl 24-17. The Pack did play here in November, a 31-24 win over NM and this will be their 4th meeting vs UA, but 1st since ‘41. UN played 4 bowl caliber teams this year all vs conference foes going 1-3 getting outgained 473-424 and outscored 42-32. This matchup features the #1 and #2 rushers in the FBS. Arizona returns to the post season after a year absence under new HC Rich Rodriguez (2-4 in bowls at Michigan and WV). The Wildcats have played my 11th toughest schedule, while the Pack my #120.
When you prepare for Ault’s Pistol offense you have to defend the entire field. UN comes in with my #35 off avg 37 ppg and 503 ypg. QB Fajardo (981 rush yards) excelled in his 2nd year drawing many comparisons to Pack legend Kaepernick after leading Nevada to the FBS’s #11 ranking in total offense and #7 in rushing offense. RB Jefferson finished #2 in the FBS in rushing (50 yards shy of #1). When Fajardo squares his shoulders he has a rocket for an arm and has a solid receiving group including JUCO surprise Turner and Mackey semifinalist Sudfeld. The OL, nicknamed “The Union” returned 3 starters from last year avg 6’3” 301 and paved the way for 260 rush ypg (5.2) while allowing 18 sacks (4.8). The defense has been a disappointment, finishing #106 in my rankings, allowing 33 ppg and 431 ypg. The DL is the team’s thinnest position avg 6’3” 268 led by Hekking who was #2 in the MW with 8 sacks. Nevada is allowing 213 rush ypg (5.1) and the DL has 75% of the team’s sacks. The Pack allowed 327 ypg (6.0) in their last 4 but 2 of those were vs the #1 and #5 rush offenses (option teams). The LB’s are led by Rossette who moved from the DL and he leads the MW in tackles (10.7 per game) including a UN record 25 tackle performance vs AF. The Pack have my #96 pass eff defense allowing 218 ypg (56%) with a 24-4 ratio led by S Duke Willliams (#2 tackler) and CB Wooten (14 pbu). Nevada has my #61 ST’s ranking finishing in the bottom 3rd of the FBS in kick coverage but Wooten was #4 in the FBS in PR averaging 16.4.
The Wildcats have my #9 offense under new HC Rodriguez, avg 37 ppg and 522 ypg. A big part of the immediate success was QB Matt Scott who opted to RS in ‘11 to become the clear-cut starter this year with the departure of Nick Foles. Despite a concussion in the tail-end of the season that saw him miss 1.5 games, Scott proved to be a perfect fit for the new scheme. The biggest surprise to the offense, however, had to be the performance from RB Ka’Deem Carey, who leads the nation in rushing heading into the post season including putting up a Pac-12 record 366 rush yards a month ago vs Colorado. Austin Hill has been equally impressive, leading the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving td’s while former Texas transfer Dan Buckner has chipped in significantly. The OL avg 6’6” 289 and paved the way for 230 ypg rushing (5.4) while allowing 18 sacks (3.7%). The 3-3-5 defensive alignment has my #85 ranking allowing 34 ppg and 486 ypg due to the struggles up front by the 6’3” 263 lb DL that has allowed 190 ypg rush (4.4) while chipping in on just 5.5 of the team’s 16 sacks (34%). LB Jake Fischer leads the team in tackles with fellow LB Marquis Flowers a close 2nd. The secondary has plenty of talent, however, 4 of the 5 starters are underclassmen which could be a big part of their #75 ranking in my pass eff def (296 ypg, 61%, 22-10 ratio). The special teams unit has my #91 ranking led by PR Morrison (63 yard PR td vs Washington).
This is probably the largest schedule difference as Arizona played my #11 schedule while UN played my #120 on the season. Down the stretch, however, the Wolf Pack were -46 ypg vs the #65 schedule while the Wildcats were -32 ypg vs the #45 schedule. If you like offense, this one maybe one of the more entertaining games of the bowl season. The Pack will keep it closer than expected but in the end a healthy Matt Scott will prove to be too much.