Wildcats welcome Lumberjacks for opener

Arizona will open the season against Northern Arizona on Friday night. Read on to find out which players to look out for, what the keys to the game are, and more.

As Arizona enters the second full season under Rich Rodriguez, the Wildcats will be looking to start the season off on a high note.

In order to do that, Arizona must start with Northern Arizona on 7 p.m. on Friday night.

The Lumberjacks will be in Tucson for the first time since 2011, when the Wildcats used a second-half shutout to roll to a 41-10 victory at the start of former Head Coach Mike Stoops' last season with Arizona.

Some of the key players on both sides of the ball and many new faces will get in on the action during the game as well. One of the most notable players that played against the Wildcats in 2011 will start on Friday, as running back Zach Bauman looks to continue his run towards the NAU record books.

The senior is one of the top runners in Northern Arizona history and one of the best in the FCS this season. Bauman rushed for 99 yards in the last meeting on his way to a 1,435 rushing yards during the season. He followed it up with 1,182 yards last season.

In addition, wide receiver Ify Umodu will be making his second appearance in Arizona Stadium. Two years ago, Umodu caught seven passes for ninety yards, though he did not score. Last year, he was the second leading receiver and led the team in touchdown receptions with seven.

Northern Arizona will start a new face at quarterback Friday night, as Kyren Poe makes his first career start as a signal caller.

The sophomore spent last season as a wide receiver, catching just one ball for five yards. In high school, Poe led Chandler Hamilton to a state championship as the quarterback. He finished his senior season with 28 total touchdowns (15 passing and 13 rushing), throwing for 1,914 yards and rushing for another 834.

Poe will definitely be a main factor in getting the offense going for the Lumberjacks. He has seen the game at the college level, but not as a quarterback. His adjustment time needs to be short if NAU expects to compete.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Lumberjacks will be anchoring the defensive line with all-conference defensive tackle Tim Wilkinson. The big man only played in ten games last season, but racked up 37 tackles, including 6.5 sacks.

While he is not playing against the same quality of competition, Wilkinson definitely has the skill to get in the backfield and cause some problems for Arizona.

The leading tackler for Northern Arizona, cornerback Anders Battle, is also back for his senior season. He had 64 tackles last season and also grabbed an interception. Battle was also tied for the team lead in pass break-ups with six.

Arizona has been working on their own system for the majority of camp, but attention recently turned to the season opener against NAU.

"NAU is a good football team," Rodriguez said. "They have most of their team coming back, and they're going to be fired up and jacked up to come play Arizona.

"We try to focus a lot on us with how we play and how we prepare. Later in the week is when we focus on schemes."

It is likely that the Wildcats will start senior quarterback B.J. Denker, with the option of getting junior transfer Jesse Scroggins and redshirt freshman Javelle Allen some playing time as well.

After having Matt Scott play so well a season ago, the quarterback position is the biggest question mark for the Wildcats.

"The guys we have now are capable," Rodriguez said. "Are they as good as Matt Scott was? Probably not, but I don't think there were many quarterbacks in the country as good as Matt Scott throwing the football last year.

"I think they've all improved to some point. We put pressure on them to see how they respond in practice and they've responded pretty well. They don't go in the tank when they have a bad play."

Whether all three play, or just one, the quarterback situation may be a little clearer after Friday's match-up between Arizona schools.

Friday's game will answer a few questions for Wildcat fans and may bring up a few unexpected ones as well. Either way, football season is finally here.

Players to watch:

#7 – QB, Kyren Poe: The sophomore from Chandler will be playing his first game under center. It could be nerve-racking, or it could be the best possible option for the Lumberjacks. It is always hard to tell how a quarterback will play in his first career start, but Poe's dual-threat ability makes him a serious threat if he can find some confidence in Tucson.

#34 – RB, Zach Bauman: Whether Poe is able to perform in his first game or not, Bauman is going to be the workhorse for NAU. He has had three straight 1,000+ rushing yard seasons and will be looking for his fourth here. If he passes 118 yards on Friday, he will be Northern Arizona's all-time leading rusher.

#5 – WR, Dejzon Walker: The junior isn't the most dangerous of the receiving corps, but he is the most reliable. He led the team in receptions and yards receiving last season, though he only had three touchdowns to show for it. Count on Walker helping convert a few third-downs for the Lumberjacks against Arizona.

#90 – DT, Tim Wilkinson: There may not be another big threat on the defensive line, which could allow Arizona to double team Wilkinson, but he has enough of a presence to garner that sort of attention. If he can prove to be a problem early in the game, it may open up a few more things for NAU's defense throughout the night.

#20 – SS, Lucky Dozier: The senior is the most dangerous player on the defensive side of the ball. He intercepted a team high four passes last season, including two against Montana. Dozier also racked up 57 tackles last season and should be all over the field against Arizona.

Keys to the game:

1. Keep composure: Arizona will be starting or playing many players with little to no experience playing at the collegiate level. It will be important for those players to keep composure and focus on the task at hand.

2. Make big plays: The Wildcat offense needs to stretch the defense with long yardage plays. Driving down the field may prove to be tough drive after drive, but the no-huddle snaps should allow the play makers to move the chains often.

3. Limit big plays: NAU has a few play makers of its own on offense. Poe may attempt to stretch Arizona's defense with the help from Walker and Umodu. If the defense can limit the Lumberjacks' big play potential, then it should be successful.

4. Create turnovers: Arizona can only help itself by forcing turnovers. Short fields and limiting Northern Arizona's points will take the pressure off whichever quarterback is in the game. It is important for the Wildcats to take as many defensive opportunities that are given to them.

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