The theme of revenge games continues on Saturday when Arizona (2-0) matches up with Nevada (2-0). The teams last met two years ago in the New Mexico Bowl when the Wildcats mounted a furious comeback, down by 14 points, to win 49-48.
It was Rich Rodriguez's first season at Arizona, and while there are still several key players returning from that game, he believes that there is not much in common from those teams in 2012.
"I haven’t thought a whole lot about it because they got a new staff from two years ago, but how lucky we were to win it," Rodriguez said. "That’s so long ago and so many things have changed other than they have the same quarterback that had like 1,000 yards on us, but we were lucky to win that one."
The quarterback that Rodriguez is referring to is senior signal caller Cody Fajardo. In the 2012 matchup, Fajardo threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns, as well as running for 140 and a score. So far this season, the dual-threat quarterback has seen his numbers drop, but he is still a huge threat that the Wildcats will have to plan for.
"The biggest key is their quarterback," Rodriguez said. "It’s all about making the right decisions and he makes a lot of the right decisions. He has been doing it a long time. You have to tackle well. Sometimes you don’t have to concern yourself with tackling the quarterback, but this time you do when you have a guy that can run like him.”
The rest of the offense won't be as difficult to keep in check as Fajardo, but so far this season Nevada has switched up the way that it plays offense in conjunction with the team that it is playing. Nevada had a strong passing attack in the season opener, but chose to take to a running game plan against Pac-12 foe Washington State.
If the Wolf Pack go to the ground game, Arizona will need to stop two young running backs, Don Jackson and James Butler. Both have split carries this year, with Jackson getting about two-thirds of them. Either running back has big play capability, but has yet to show it. Combined, they have rushed for 265 yards and five touchdowns.
"I really don’t know what they are going to do," Rodriguez said. "Defensively we have been mixing both our pressure and our zone stuff, so we have to be prepared for a little bit of everything.
"They run some unconventional sets and obviously with the quarterback they have, he is a threat to run. We can’t let him explode on us like he did two years ago."
On the opposite side of the ball Nevada has found success stopping opposing passing attacks. The Wolf Pack gave up 389 yards through the air to Washington State, but a closer look reveals a solid defensive game. The defense has also held strong in the red zone, only allowing 16 points in each of its two games.
While Arizona's offense seems to still be learning early in the season, Nevada will be another tough test after the competition from UTSA that the Wildcats saw last week. Rodriguez expects to see plenty of different looks, blitzes, and coverages from his opponent.
"Defensively they are different than they were, but offensively they are doing a lot of the same things, which makes sense because they have some of the same guys that coached it and same players that grew up in the system," Rodriguez said. "They will do a lot of inside blitzes with their linebackers. They will bring six guys up and challenge you a little bit. They will do it against anybody, so they will really pressure you and force you to execute."
Arizona's offense will have to execute in order to put up points against the Nevada defense. It will be another test for the redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon, who had some low points against UTSA a week ago. He will need to bounce back and have a solid game for the Wildcats if they hope to get passed the Wolf Pack.
#17, QB Cody Fajardo: He is the most dangerous player on the offensive side of the ball, though his performance has fallen off early this season due to his lack of targets. Look for Fajardo to try and carry his team to victory.
#53, DE Brock Hekking: The hulking defensive end already has a sack and a half this season and he has shown to be one of the hungrier defensive ends in the past. If Hekking can find a way to break through the offensive line, it could be a bad night for Solomon and the running backs.
#24, CB Charles Garrett: He is easily one of the best players on the Nevada defense. Look for Garrett to shut down whichever receiver he is matched up with. The corner can be a dangerous threat as well with Solomon having yet to throw an interception.
Keys to the Game: