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Remembering the Arizona vs. Nevada 2012 New Mexico Bowl: Two years later

To open the 2012 bowl season, Arizona and Nevada put on a show that capped the first year of Rich Rodriguez's tenure with an exclamation mark.


To spark your memory

Here's a recap with words, but to get this across more succinctly: Arizona, trailing by 13, scored on an Austin Hill touchdown catch with 46 seconds left and needed an onside kick and quick score to win.

Then, this happened:

What's familiar?

Cody Fajardo and Austin Hill.

Fajardo, still Nevada's quarterback, was the successor to Colin Kaepernick at Nevada and in that 2012 bowl game helped the Wolf Pack jump ahead 21-0 after just more than 10 minutes of play. In the end, he put up 256 pass yards, three passing touchdowns, two interceptions and 140 rushing yards with another score on the ground.

Jumping to today, Hill is only two games removed from his eight catches, 175 yards and two scores back in December of 2012. He missed all of last year with a torn ACL.

Linebacker Cody Ippolito is also familiar, though in that game he was not the contributor he is today. He made a brief appearance by getting into it with defensive tackle Tevin Hood. That was an ominous start to the game.


What's different?

Coaching turnover: The biggest change comes in Nevada's leadership. Pistol offense magician Chris Ault decided to retire from Nevada following the 2012 season and was replaced by Brian Polian. The 2012 season didn't go as expected, with the Wolf Pack finishing with a 4-8 record. As Bill Connelly's 2014 season preview touches on, strength of schedule has a lot to do with the issues, and Nevada did improve as the year went on.

Has the defense improved from last season? The defense is expected to again struggle this season, especially against the run, and that's bad news against an Arizona squad that has been most consistent in the run game so far -- be it Nick Wilson or Terris Jones-Grigsby taking the carries. It doesn't help that Nevada seemed to get worse as games wore on last season, according to Connelly.

Nevada ranked 117th overall in Def. F/+. The Wolf Pack were poor in the first half (74th in first-quarter S&P+, 93rd in the second) and horrid in the second (116th in the third quarter, 122nd in the fourth). They were 103rd in tackles for loss, 93rd in sacks, and 89th in passes defensed. They prevented big plays in the passing game, but they couldn't stop you from running the ball.

Of course, Nevada this past week held the WSU Cougars to 38 yards on 18 carries, an average of just 2.1. But from another perspective, Mike Leach's offense strayed away from challenging the run defense, as it's apt to do.

Is this a different Pistol offense or not? Nevada wasn't using Fajardo so frequently in the run game last season. Injuries piled up last season, and he's not expected to take as many hits these days. From Connelly's preview:

When Polian took over, he and offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich vowed to keep the same offensive structure in place. This made sense; despite Rolovich's long exposure to pass-happy systems, he had spent 2012 as Ault's offensive coordinator. Plus, in Fajardo Nevada had one of the nation's best rushing quarterbacks.

But there's a line here. You don't want your quarterback taking too many hits, and you don't want to become too predictable. In 2012, Nebraska had a lot of success in passing frequently on standard downs, stealing free yardage and keeping the Huskers ahead of schedule. It seemed as if Rolovich attempted something similar last fall in Reno.

Including sacks as passes, Fajardo attempted 38 passes per game and rushed only 12 times per game.

All that said, Fajardo has been quick to keep the ball himself this year. In Nevada's season opener against Southern Utah, he passed it 41 times and rushed 15. But in the win against Washington State this past week, he passed it just 21 times to 16 carries.

There's not a basketball game to overshadow this showdown: Arizona fans quickly turned their attention from an early bowl win to a top-10 showdown between Sean Miller's basketball team and the Florida Gators. That similarly went in Arizona's favor after a late rally.