Arizona managed to beat Nevada last year at home by 7, but it was a much closer game than Arizona fans expected. Nevada got the ball back down seven with a chance to tie or go for the win, but Arizona’s defense stepped up and shut them down at midfield. After such a close game last year, expect Rich Rodriguez and the coaching staff to emphasize to the team that Nevada isn’t a team to be taken lightly, particularly when Arizona has to go to Reno for the game.
Arizona enters this game as a 10.5 point favorite. Based only on last week, that line seems a little high – Arizona only managed to beat UTSA by 10 at home and Arizona only beat Nevada last year by 7. That said, Arizona is a better team than it showed last week, and the line reflects that. Nevada, meanwhile, is another team that Bill Connelly ranked outside the top 100 college football teams for 2015. This is a game that Arizona should win fairly convincingly.
Last week, Arizona averaged 4.3 yards per rush. That number – which is inflated by a few scrambles from Anu Solomon – needs to be better. Nick Wilson didn’t get many carries in the first half last week after fumbling, and Jared Baker wasn’t particularly impressive, but I’m mostly concerned about Arizona’s offensive line. While the line improved as the game went on, they weren’t able to open up holes for the running backs early in the game.
Things should get better this week. Left tackle Freddie Tagaloa was out last week, and Rich Rodriguez was hopeful that he would return for the Nevada game. More importantly, the UTSA game was the first game for a unit in flux. Cayman Bundage was starting his first game at center, Zach Hemmila was starting his first game period, and Lene Maiava was starting his first game at right tackle since 2013. With the losses to the line after last season, I’m not going to panic this early in the season. I expect to see the line improve and open up more holes for the running backs this week.
Nevada finally has a new starting quarterback. Cody Fajardo started the past four years, but he finally ran out of eligibility. His replacement is junior Tyler Stewart. Stewart did well last week against FCS opponent UC-Davis, finishing 13 of 20 for 163 yards and a touchdown to go along with 43 yards rushing and another touchdown on the ground. While those are relatively efficient numbers, it will be tough for him to replicate that performance against an Arizona defense that, even without Scooby Wright, is much, much more talented than UC-Davis.
Arizona managed zero sacks last week against a relatively inexperienced offensive line and a freshman quarterback. Part of that is attributable to Scooby Wright’s injury, but the rest of the line and the linebackers have to do a better job of getting pressure. With Scooby out and the lack of pressure last week, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jeff Casteel try more creative ways to blitz and get to Nevada quarterback Tyler Stewart.