Andrew Maurins of Silver and Blue Sports chatted New Mexico Bowl with Arizona Desert Swarm. The Wildcats and Wolf Pack square off on Saturday at 11 a.m. MT on ESPN.
Andrew provided some insight into Nevada's explosive Pistol offense, as well as on running back Stefphon Jefferson. The pairing of Jefferson against Ka'Deem Carey makes for one of the more interesting plots of this bowl season.
Be sure to check out SilverAndBlueSports.com, including Desert Swarm's own Q&A about the bowl match-up.
DS: What similarities do you notice between Chris Ault's Pistol, and the zone-read spread Rich Rodriguez runs? What are the key differences?
S&BS: First, let me preface this with an admission that I haven't watched much Arizona football beyond what I've been able to gather from ESPN3 replays this week.
It appears both teams rely heavily on variations of the zone read, where the quarterback reads a particular defender to determine whether to hand it off to the running back, keep it for a run of his own or drop back into a pass.
The main difference is that the Wildcats usually do it out of a shotgun with the runner to the left or right of the quarterback, while the Wolf Pack does it with the back directly behind the quarterback. I couldn't really tell what Arizona usually does with their offensive linemen (again, limited game-watching time), but I can say that Nevada relies more on pulling blockers and double-teaming defenders to move the ball when they run.
S&BS: I'd say that Fajardo has displayed a more refined passing touch than Kaep had at this point in his career. He puts better touch on his passes (particularly on short- and mid-range throws), but doesn't have the down field range or shear throwing power of his predecessor.
When running, Kaep was deceptively quick with his long strides and often beat defenders who simply took bad angles to pursue him, whereas Fajardo's running style is skewed more towards being slippery and elusive. He won't beat as many defenders in a foot race (though he can still do it from time to time), but he nonetheless has pretty good open field speed for a quarterback.
DS: What team that Nevada played this season measures up most to Arizona?
S&BS: Aside from the obvious "stellar offense, poor defense" parallel to Nevada, there's not any one prior opponent that I can single out as being just like the Wildcats this year.
I think their speed at the skill positions reminds me of South Florida, their offensive balance brings Fresno State to mind and their success at option running plays makes me think of Air Force. The fact that Nevada lost to all three of those teams should make Arizona fans pleased.
DS: Jefferson and Ka'Deem Carey were the top two backs in the nation, which makes for a pretty neat story line. How much do you think that plays into the motivation for Jefferson?
S&BS: Jefferson has never struck me as the kind of player who looks at an opposing team's offense for extra motivation. If you ask him about Carey, he'll probably tell you that's for his teammates on defense to worry about. It's not because he doesn't respect him -- he's just the kind of player who shows up to practice, puts in his work, does what his coaches tell him to do and doesn't concern himself with anything else.
DS: What kind of rusher is Jefferson?
S&BS: "Workhorse" is what comes to mind first. Getting 28 carries per game means your coaches and teammates are relying on you to (often literally) carry the team down the field. Give him the ball inside the five and it's more than likely six points.
He's not going to wow people with blinding speed or brute strength, but what he has in spades is persistence. Jefferson will keep hammering away with whatever running plays his coaches call (sometimes to the chagrin of our fans when he keeps running up the middle for minimal gains). But like the rest of the pistol offense, all it takes is one missed assignment or one broken tackle for him to bust out a big play and change the course of a game.
I think this compilation from the Cal game is a pretty accurate summary of what he brings to most games.
DS: - It's no mystery Arizona's struggled with its rush defense. How do you anticipate Nevada attacking that?
S&BS: Nevada is a run-first team, and that doesn't significantly change from week to week. There's greater balance with the pass this year than in previous seasons, but the offensive staple is still the zone read. There will be play action passes, roll-outs, two-tight end sets, sets with four wide receivers or two running backs and many more variations, but it all comes back to the pistol zone read. It's the sun around which the offense revolves, and like every other team they've played, that's what Arizona can expect to see a lot of.