Where: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Line: Arizona -8.5
Tomorrow is quite the day for an Arizona Wildcat fan, as the Arizona football team (7-5) takes on the Nevada Wolfpack (7-5) in the New Mexico Bowl to finish off their season, followed by a #5 Florida v. #8 Arizona hoops showdown at McKale Center later that evening. For the Arizona football game, I breakdown some key things to take into consideration as the Wildcats head into tomorrow’s game:
1. Strength of Schedule and Common Opponents
Both Nevada and Arizona have the same record, yes, but Arizona clearly had the stronger schedule this season. The Wildcats are nationally ranked #35 and had the 7th toughest schedule this year, while the Wolfpack are ranked #74 and had the 120th toughest schedule.
Though the teams do not have any common opponents, Nevada has played teams that have common opponents to Arizona. The most telling connection would be Nevada’s loss to San Diego State, who lost to Washington (who Arizona beat).
2. Option Offenses Featuring Top Notch Backs
While Arizona runs the read-option and Nevada runs the pistol, both offenses center around reading the opposing defense, confusing the opposing defense and making them miss. Helpful to this concept for both teams is the fact that they feature two of the top backs in the nation. Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey leads the nation in rushing yards (1757 yards and 6.4 per carry), while Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson is 3rd nationally (1703 yards and 5.0 per carry).
For both of these studs, it does not hurt that both have a quarterback that can run the ball well, forcing defenses to respect at least two solid rushers on any given play. Arizona’s Matt Scott has rushed for 485 yards and Nevada’s Cody Fajardo has gone for 981.
The numbers on the ground show nationally as well. Arizona ranks 15th in the nation in rushing offense and Nevada ranks 7th. Part of the discrepancy in the rushing statistics is the fact that Arizona has a better passing offense than Nevada does, and therefore utilizes it much more often (more on that below).
Arizona’s Defense gives up 189.8 rushing yards a game (86th) and Nevada gives up 213 (109th)–in other words, great rushing offenses going up against pretty awful rushing defenses. Add to the fact that the weather is projected to be freezing (for us Tucsonans, that’s anything below 40), and tomorrow’s game was meant, for the most part, to be played on the ground.
3.The Passing Game
Though much of the New Mexico Bowl could become a sprinting contest, it won’t be surprising to see either team try and air the ball out on play action if the running game becomes effective. Arizona ranks 29th in the nation in passing offense. Matt Scott has thrown for 3,238 yards with 60% accuracy. His main target, Austin Hill, has brought in 1189 yards in the air.
The Wolfpack ranks 52nd in passing offense behind Fajardo, who has thrown for 2,530 yards with 66% accuracy. Brandon Wimberly leads the receiving core with 788 yards.
Though Nevada’s passing numbers do not look as effective as Arizona, do not be shocked if they give it a shot, and If Arizona’s defense cannot handle Jefferson, don’t be shocked if they do it often. The numbers do not support the Wildcats’ effectiveness of stopping the ball in the air–they rank 115th in the nation in defending the pass.
4. Matt Scott
The outcome of tomorrow’s game could depend on Scott’s performance. It doesn’t take any numbers for any Arizona Wildcat fan to know that Scott has simply not been the same since upsetting USC at home. He was awful at UCLA and left the game with a concussion, out completely against Colorado, sloppy against Utah and off against ASU. For whatever reason, something just hasn’t been right. Hopefully the couple weeks off have given Scott the time he needs to refocus and get back on track.
5. The Overall Skinny
Though it is hard to predict what will happen in any bowl game where 1) both teams have had several weeks off since their last competitive football game and 2) both teams feature good offenses and not so great defenses, Arizona should be ok if they come into the game prepared and ready to play. The Wildcats have proven against much tougher defenses than Nevada–or the defenses of Nevada’s opponents–that their offense is the real deal. Add Arizona’s passing attack and the Wolfpack have a lot more to worry about than the Wildcats do.
If Arizona loses tomorrow, their biggest enemy will have been themselves.