Arizona football showed its first glimpses Friday of emulating the outstanding teams head coach Rich Rodriguez led at West Virginia, stifling Northern Arizona with a combination of defensive aggression and a balanced rushing attack.
A much-improved defensive effort in the wake of last year's 35.3 point-per-game debacle netted the Wildcats their first shutout since the 2008 campaign. The shutout set a benchmark for defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's unit, which experienced obvious growing pains through the 2012 season.
More depth and better understanding of the nuances around the 3-3-5 defense rendered NAU's 2-to-1 possession advantage moot, as the offense struck quickly and often with a balanced running attack.
UA coaches indicated to GOAZCATS.com that running back Daniel Jenkins' return from flirting with a Washington State transfer would allow the Wildcats to run more two-back sets. Jenkins had an unfettered opportunity to get acclimated to an expanded role Friday, filling in as the starter for suspended All-American Ka'Deem Carey.
Jenkins rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown, and scored a second time as a receiver. His 91-yard touchdown came when the senior back started his rush to the field's left side. After reading the Lumberjack coverage, Jenkins made a sharp cut to the middle and broke away, untouched, for the end zone.
"The hole opened up like the Red Sea and I just took it," Jenkins told reporters in the post-game press conference, per ArizonaWildcats.com.
A veteran offensive line, anchored by Fabbians Ebbele and Mickey Baucus, is the foundation for a UA rush that should be more multifaceted than last year's version.
The Wildcats didn't enter 2013 needing an overhaul to Rodriguez's zone-read spread option. Carey's nation-leading rushing output of 1,929 yards and the dual production of departed quarterback Matt Scott were catalysts behind UA averaging better than 38 points per game.
However, the varied look a rejuvenated Jenkins and versatile B.J. Denker provides could offset lingering questions about UA's ability to attack through the air.
With Scott last year, Rodriguez introduced a pass-heavy element to his playbook that was mostly absent during stops at WVU and Michigan. Denker, and fellow quarterbacks Javelle Allen and Jesse Scroggins, entered 2013 as largely unknown commodities. Any of them face throwing to a wide receiving corps depleted by the injury of All-Conference selection Austin Hill.
Denker appears to be the front-runner of the group, taking nearly all of the snaps on Friday. His pass attempts were limited to 13, and Rodriguez said in the press conference Denker "had some throws that I’m sure he would like to have back."
The quarterback reiterated his coach's stance.
“There were some reads I missed on my part. I’ll take the blame for that. There were a couple throws I should have made," he said during the press conference, though vowing to rectify the situation. "That’s not going to happen again. We’re going to get into the film room and fix that.”
Solidifying that dynamic is paramount to UA's long-term plans, but in the interim, Denker proved his playmaking ability with his feet. His 71 yards were second most among all Wildcats.
With Carey returning, the Wildcats head into UNLV with any number of options in the run game.