Wildcat Preview: Nevada

The similarities between Arizona and Nevada are striking.

They boast two of the country's most prolific offenses and are led by two of the nation's leading rushers, and they also share a big resemblance defensively - being they really don't play any.

In what is shaping up to be a high-scoring New Mexico Bowl, Arizona and Nevada square off in Albuquerque on Saturday.

The Wildcats and Wolf Pack each had high hopes for one of the more prestigious bowl games with the way their seasons started.

Arizona (7-5) got as high as No. 22 in the poll after opening 3-0, which included a 59-38 victory over then-No. 18 Oklahoma State on Sept. 8. The Wildcats were then quickly brought back to earth with a 49-0 loss to third-ranked Oregon in their fourth game, and any chance of appearing in their first Rose Bowl was dashed with an 0-3 start in Pac-12 play.

Nevada got off to a 6-1 start to become bowl eligible but also finished 7-5.

"There's no question we should have won nine games," coach Chris Ault said two days after Nevada concluded the regular season with a 27-21 loss to then-No. 25 Boise State on Dec. 1.

Ault was then quick to point out why his team fell short of expectations, adding, "it's playing with a defense that's inconsistent."

The Wolf Pack are allowing an average of 32.5 points and are 13th-worst in the FBS against the run, giving up 213.2 yards per game. One of their biggest weaknesses is on third down, as they let opponents convert 47.2 percent of the time for the nation's 12th-worst mark.

As bad as Nevada's defense is, Arizona's might be worse.

The Wildcats rank 103rd out of 124 FBS schools in scoring defense at 34.3 points per game and are fifth-worst in total defense with an average of 485.7 yards allowed. Thirty of the 52 touchdowns Rich Rodriguez's 3-3-5 defense gave up came on the ground, which is tied for the ninth-most.

Both defensive units now face the daunting task of trying not to get embarrassed.

The Wildcats are seventh in total offense at 521.8 yards per game and average 37.3 points, while the Wolf Pack check in just behind them in both categories, averaging 502.8 yards and 37.0 points.

The run game is what powers both squads.

Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey averages an FBS-best 146.4 rushing yards and has 20 touchdowns on the ground. The sophomore was a first-team all-Pac-12 selection after establishing a school record with 1,757 rushing yards.

"He runs as angry, I guess you'd say, as any back in the country," Rodriguez said after Carey set a Pac-12 record by rushing for 366 yards in a 56-31 win over Colorado on Nov. 10.

While Nevada will likely have its hands full trying to tackle Carey, Arizona faces a similar challenge in trying to contain Stefphon Jefferson.

Jefferson's average of 141.9 rushing yards is second only to Carey, and with 1,703 yards, the junior is 30 away from breaking Chance Kretschmer's school record set in 2001. A first-team all-Mountain West Conference selection, Jefferson has already set a school mark with 22 rushing touchdowns, with six coming in a 69-24 victory over Hawaii on Sept. 22.

"(Jefferson) has learned to get through the adversity in a game even if you're not getting the yardage," Ault said. "He hung in there and continued to prosper as the year went on."

Jefferson isn't Nevada's only rushing threat as sophomore Cody Fajardo has amassed 981 yards - sixth-most among FBS quarterbacks - while running the pistol offense. Colin Kaepernick's successor has also passed for 2,530 yards and totaled 28 touchdowns (17 passing, 11 rushing).

While Fajardo's running ability forces defenses from keying on Jefferson, Arizona quarterback Matt Scott's dangerous arm prevents teams from stacking the box in an effort to stop the run.

In directing the spread offense, Scott ranked third in the Pac-12 with 3,238 passing yards and had 24 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. Eight of those picks came in three losses, though, and the Wildcats are 6-2 when he has one interception or fewer.

Scott seems to have a good shot at limiting his turnovers considering Nevada has four interceptions all season - tied for the fourth-fewest in the country.

The senior's favorite target is sophomore Austin Hill, who is 12th in the FBS with 1,189 yards and has 73 receptions and nine touchdowns. Senior Dan Buckner has caught 59 passes for 751 yards and five scores.

These teams haven't met since Arizona's 26-7 win in 1941, which evened the series at 1-1-1.

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