Rick Scuteri-US PRESSWIRE
Nevada's workmanlike running back Stefphon Jefferson is central to the Wolf Pack's offense. The Arizona defense must contain him without leaving Cody Fajardo free to pass.
Right behind Arizona's nation-leading rusher and consensus All-American Ka'Deem Carey is Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson. The Wolf Pack running back is averaging a hair below 142 yards per game out of Chris Ault's Pistol offense, second only to Carey's 146.4.
Jefferson's had a standout season for 7-5 Nevada. He scored 22 rushing touchdowns; only Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon had more. Jefferson notched six games with multiple scores on the ground, including an outburst of six in a romp at Hawai'i. He tacked on a seventh touchdown via reception in that game.
Those unacquainted with him, great ready to hear the name Jefferson called often on Saturday's broadcast, much like in the Ridgemont vs. Lincoln classic.
The Pistol was devised with a workmanlike, reliable ball carrier like Jefferson in mind, and Ault and offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich are unafraid to call his number frequently. With 341 carries on the year, only Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell has had a heavier workload than Jefferson.
Jefferson is the sixth top 20 rusher the Arizona defense will have seen this season.
David Fluellen, Toledo: 20 carries, 72 yards, one touchdown
Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State: 23 carries, 123 yards
Kenjon Barner, Oregon: 20 carries, 86 yards
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: 31 carries, 142 yards, two touchdowns
Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: 24 carries, 162 yards, two touchdowns
Franklin's output is misleading; the Bruin senior was gashing the Wildcat defense, but was pulled early with UCLA cruising. Otherwise, for the many woes UA has suffered on that side of the ball, star running backs haven't decimated the Wildcats.
Jefferson's average per carry is a not-unimpressive five yards. That is the fewest among the parade of top flight backs the Wildcat defense has faced, however. Moreover, Nevada has allowed 72 tackles for loss this season. UA can contain Jefferson in the backfield before big plays develop.
Blitz packages will be central to slowing the Wolf Pack's multifaceted run game. Quarterback Cody Fajardo will tuck the ball and run, a vital component of the Pistol offense. Disrupting the exchanges between Fajardo and Jefferson becomes a game changer, which plays into the nuances of defensive coordinator's Jeff Casteel's system.
Defining the 3-3-5 stack defense is a variety of blitzing packages. Desert Swarm it isn't, but the defense has shown improvements bringing pressure. However, the team's most capable blitzers are Marquis Flowers and Tra'Mayne Bondurant, who are also vital contributors in the middle of the field.
The pitfall of pursuing Jefferson and Fajardo in the backfield too aggressively is leaving a thin secondary further exposed.
While the aforementioned crew of upper echelon running backs were not the Wildcats' undoing (save Franklin), the Wildcats were often hurt in the air by those same offenses.
Stopping the pass has been a vexing issue for UA throughout 2012. At 295.9 passing yards surrendered per game, the Wildcats rank No. 116.
Facing a triple option offense that rarely passes like its neighbor to the north will this bowl season would be an appealing prospect for Arizona. Alas, Fajardo can and will throw. He spreads the ball among four receivers with at least 42 receptions, anywhere from 433 to 768 yards, and all with multiple touchdowns.
The most troublesome for the UA secondary could be tight end Zach Sudfeld. At 6-foot-7, his size of reminiscent of other tight ends who abused the Wildcats this season, Stanford's Levine Toilolo (five receptions, 141 yards, one touchdown) and UCLA's Joseph Fauria (five receptions, 82 yards, two touchdowns).
Fajardo can also go to another big target in 6-foot-3 receiver Brandon Wimberly, the team's leading overall receiver with 63 catches for 788 yards.