LAS VEGAS — Arizona rolled up 306 yards on the ground against Northern Arizona in a 35-0 win last week. And that was without Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s leading rusher last season with 1,929 yards.
Saturday night against UNLV, the junior all-American makes his return after being suspended for the team’s season opener, reportedly as discipline stemming from a pair of off-field incidents during the offseason.
“They have gifted athletes. Carey is the marquee guy, he led the nation in rushing, it’s a tall order,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. “I think we’re a pretty good tackling team, but that gets exposed playing an offense like Arizona with their skilled athletes. We’ll get to find out if we’re as good tackling as I think we are.”
UNLV comes into the game on the heels of a mistake-riddled loss at Minnesota, where the Gophers used a pair of special teams touchdowns and an 89-yard fourth-quarter interception return TD to blow open a close game. The Gophers, who led 16-13 at halftime, won 51-23.
“Obviously every first game for every team in America, there’s a lot to correct; we were certainly no exception to that,” Hauck said. “We’ve had good work, a good week of practice and I think our guys are really hungry to play again.”
Here are five things to watch when UNLV hosts Arizona:
DINK AND DUNK WITH DENKER: Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez started B.J. Denker last week, and while he was efficient against NAU, it also came against an FCS opponent that wasn’t expected to put up much of a battle. Denker has yet to be named the “official” starter, but gets the nod again. He faces a staunch UNLV defense that limited Minnesota’s Philip Nelson to 10 completions on 22 attempts and just 99 yards while intercepting him once and forcing a fumble on second-and-goal at the 1 late in the second quarter.
CAREY ON: Carey makes his season debut against a rushing defense that allowed Minnesota to tally 221 yards rushing. Last season, the Rebels ranked 106th against the run, allowing 207 yards per game. Carey, who is expected to have another big season in Rodriguez’s quick-hitting offense, might be looking to prove himself and could take it out on the Rebels.
CRUISING CORNETT: Don’t mind UNLV senior running back Tim Cornett if he takes the hype on Carey a little personal. Cornett— the leading active FBS running back with 11 career 100-yard rushing games — rushed 20 times for 80 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown run, against the Gophers. He is not only looking to add to his 100-yard game tally, but is 621 yards shy of becoming UNLV’s all-time rushing leader. Last year in seven home games, Cornett averaged 109 yards and scored six times.
NOT SO SPECIAL: Arizona and UNLV’s special teams units looked bad in their season openers. For Arizona, returner Nate Phillips muffed two punts — both recovered by the Wildcats — and Drew Riggleman had two punts that traveled less than 20 yards and kicker Jake Smith missed a 28-yard field goal. For the Rebels, it was a bit more disastrous as Minnesota’s Marcus Jones returned the second-half kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and Ra’Shede Hageman blocked a field goal attempt that Martez Shabazz picked up and ran back for a 78-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Placekicker Nolan Kohorst made just 1 of 3 field goal attempts, and was 2 of 3 on extra points.
THE LOOKAHEAD FACTOR: After dominating the Lumberjacks in Week 1, there is no telling how Arizona will respond against a UNLV team that has just six wins since 2010. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas don’t give their hometown Rebels much of a chance, the Wildcats are 10 1/2-point favorites, but it wouldn’t behoove Rodriguez’s troops to overlook a UNLV team that generally plays well at home, where it beat one bowl team (Air Force) last season and came close to defeating two other postseason entries (Minnesota and Nevada).