By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Featuring two of the top offensive teams in the nation, the
seventh annual New Mexico Bowl kicks off several weeks of postseason college
football action, as the Nevada Wolf Pack tangles with the Arizona Wildcats on
Head coach Chris Ault has been a fixture at Nevada for close to three full
decades, with some time off here and there from the rigors of being on the
sidelines. Ault is currently tied with Mack Brown of Texas for the second-most
wins among active coaches with 233, but given the start that his team posted
to the 2012 campaign, it should be higher than that.
Nevada rattled off six wins through the first seven games, the team's first as
a member of the Mountain West Conference, but following a 42-37 victory over
in-state rival UNLV in Las Vegas in the middle of October, the squad proceeded
to drop four of the last five games. The Pack closed with a narrow 27-21
setback versus nationally-ranked Boise State on Dec. 1.
As for the Wildcats, they are under the direction of first-year head coach
Rich Rodriguez who took over for Mike Stoops. Following stints at Salem
University and Glenville State, Rodriguez became a regular in the postseason
while at West Virginia, but wasn't nearly as successful during his turn at
Michigan where he lasted just three years.
This season, Rodriguez came out of the gate with three straight wins, one of
those against nationally-ranked Oklahoma State, but the team then dropped
three in a row against ranked squads. On Nov. 10, the Wildcats recorded a
56-31 win over Pac-12 foe Colorado in order to become bowl eligible, but six
days later closed the regular season with a 41-34 setback versus bitter rival
Arizona State to fall to 7-5 overall and 4-5 in league action.
"I'm excited for our seniors," coach Rodriguez said of the bowl invitation.
"This is exciting for our team and fans and the Gildan New Mexico Bowl is a
great one to be at. We are thrilled to be playing in Albuquerque."
Nevada's postseason resume' dates back to a 13-6 win over North Texas in the
1948 Salad Bowl, but with the squad's 24-17 setback to Southern Miss in the
2011 edition of the Hawaii Bowl, the Pack is now only 4-7 in such outings. The
program was involved in the New Mexico Bowl previously against hometown
favorite New Mexico back in 2007, and was blanked by the Lobos in a 23-0
While Arizona has never been involved in this particular postseason event, the
team is appearing in a bowl for the 17th time, including the fourth in the
last five seasons. However, the Wildcats have lost two straight postseason
tests and are now 6-9-1 all-time following the conclusion of the regular
season. The most recent of those bowl outings took place on Dec. 29, 2010 with
the team bowing to 14th-ranked Oklahoma State, 36-10, in the Alamo Bowl.
As far as the all-time series between these two teams is concerned, each has
won once and tied in a third meeting. The most recent matchup took place about
two months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, as Arizona captured a 26-7
victory at home. The other two meetings were held back in the 1920s.
The schools are set to play a home-and-home series beginning in 2014 in
Arizona and concluding the following season in Nevada.
What makes the Nevada offense so dangerous is that the group can attack in so
many different ways. In fact, the Pack is the only team in the country that is
averaging more than 240 yards per game both on the ground and through the air,
and most of the credit goes to quarterback Cody Fajardo who has carried on the
tradition of being a willing participant in Ault's Pistol Offense.
Fajardo is listed as being the 11th-most productive player in the FBS with his
319.2 ypg. The signal-caller has completed two-thirds of his pass attempts
this season, en route to 17 touchdowns and just seven interceptions on 336
throws. He did miss some time during the campaign, but still the offense ran
effectively in his absence.
With 981 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, Fajardo is second only to
Stefphon Jefferson in that department. Jefferson, second in the country in
rushing with 141.9 ypg, has scored at least one TD in six straight games and
earlier in the campaign ran for 170 yards and a staggering six TDs versus
Hawaii on the road in what turned out to be a 45-point win. Jefferson now owns
the single-season TD mark at Nevada with 23, all but one of which was
registered on the ground.
When not handing the ball off to Jefferson, Fajardo has a slew of receivers
that he has called upon, four of whom have caught at least 42 passes this
season and combined for 16 aerial scores. Zach Sudfeld has a team-best six
TDs, but it is Brandon Wimberly (63 catches, 788 yards, four TDs) who is
generally the first option.
On the defensive side of the ball, Albert Rosette is the leading tackler with
128 stops, but the performer with even more of an impact is Brock Hekking who
leads the way with 9.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks.
Ranked 101st in the country in sacks with just 1.3 per game, the Wildcats
haven't been able to get much pressure on opposing quarterbacks and that
explains why the team is giving up a hefty 485.7 ypg in total defense (116th
in the nation). Jake Fischer paces the group with his 106 total stops, adding
three forced fumbles and three recoveries, while Marquis Flowers was second on
the overall tackles list (90) and tops with 12 TFL and 5.5 sacks, as he too
had three forced fumbles while logging a pair of interceptions.
But just like the Wolf Pack, Arizona's success is predicated on the offense,
more specifically, tailback Ka'Deem Carey who ended up leading the nation with
an average of 146.4 ypg. A consensus All-America selection by the AP, Carey
had a total of 54 plays of at least 10 yards and 20 plays which were extended
to 20 yards or more. Carey has scored at least one TD in all but one game this
season, the meeting against Oregon when he was held to 79 yards on 21 attempts
in a 49-0 blowout loss.
Carey's coming out party took place last month when he raced for a staggering
366 yards and five touchdowns, adding two catches for another 34 yards, in the
win over Colorado. But just to be fair, the Buffaloes were one of the weakest
defenses in the country this year as they won only one game by a single point.
Matt Scott is set to handle the quarterback responsibilities for the Wildcats
after completing 60.4 percent of his attempts for close to 300 ypg and 24
touchdowns, but he was also picked off 12 times which demonstrates a gambler's
mentality by Scott and his head coach at times. The signal-caller is coming
off a disappointing showing in the regular-season finale as he tossed three
picks versus ASU.
"We're very familiar with Scott," says coach Ault. "Really a good quarterback,
he manages that offense very, very well."
Averaging close to 100 yards per game receiving, Austin Hill has turned his 73
catches this season into 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns, while Dan Buckner
also put up strong numbers for Arizona with 59 grabs for 741 yards and five
"What a great matchup to kickoff college football's post season," says Jeff
Siembieda, the Executive Director of the New Mexico Bowl. "Two of the top
offenses in America, the top two running backs in the country, two of college
football's top quarterbacks and playmakers all over the field. I think we've
got the potential for a great, exciting football game."
Knowing that these two teams are geared to score points, it will be the play
of the defenses that will most likely decide the outcome. Arizona tends to be
a bit more lenient in that respect, so giving the edge to the Pack is not too
much of a stretch.