Everything Friday night went as planned.
Ka'Deem Carey sat out for a violation of team rules coming from his domestic dispute from this offseason. The quarterback start went to B.J. Denker, and it appears it'll be his job to lose. At the same time, the passing game might lack, well, passing. The defense looked improved enough to keep an NAU offense from scoring, or even threatening. The Lumberjacks missed two 40-plus-yard field goals and were intercepted three times.
The gist? The Arizona Wildcats could be a complete flop this season, but in Friday's 35-0 win against NAU at Arizona Stadium, they looked poised to avoid that fate.
Last year was perhaps a fluke. In basketball terms, it was like Sean Miller's second year, when Derrick Williams' blossoming prematurely made it appear the program had arrived. Truly, it was still a few years off.
The 2013 opener went as planned -- and could have been a lot worse.
In past years the Lumberjacks often made the Wildcats stretch their necks out of the offseason, but there was little doubt Arizona was in control Friday, no matter their issues. Denker threw only 13 passes and completed nine for just 87 yards and a touchdown. But he showed nice placement at times -- a first-quarter loft to Garic Wharton that set up the first touchdown -- and didn't make mistakes. He put in 71 rush yards to complement backup running back Daniel Jenkins, who rushed for 139 yards on 12 carries. Ninety-one of those yards came on a 91-yard scoot in the first half that made it 14-0.
Broken plays made it less of a game than it might've been otherwise.
Tra'Mayne Bondurant scored a 23-yard touchdown on a pick-six in the second half to make it 21-0, his first of two interceptions. Denker scored on a 30-yard burst halfway through the third, and backup quarterback Javelle Allen added another long score on a 61-yard rush in the fourth quarter.
The defense has few issues early on, a good sign since the Wildcats will need to lean much more on that side of the ball in 2013. A vanilla defensive look by Arizona saw NAU put together 15 first downs, but again, they rarely threatened. The Lumberjacks converted 4-of-19 third downs, not a great number, but did push for 4-of-5 fourth-down conversions on the day.
Arizona out-gained NAU 393 to 270, and that's considering a lopsided time of possession that went 40 minutes to 20 in favor of Northern Arizona.
It's hard to say where the Wildcats truly stand, but it's never the worst situation to nitpick a shutout. The lack of a passing game is to be expected and certainly the biggest concern -- special teams is second -- but it's also harder to determine what Rich Rodriguez has in his pocket when there were only 13 throws attempted.
Big-play-ability was a big part of the season opener.
Interceptions and big runs did a less athletic NAU team in. That will need to be duplicated against bigger, faster squads if Arizona wants to see bowl eligibility. But RichRod has been here before. He turned Denard Robinson into a nationally known entity at Michigan, and Shoelace was no hotshot in terms of passing the ball.
They won't do it traditionally. They won't do it in the same way as last year's team did. But so far, so good.