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Arizona Wildcats vs. Nevada Wolf Pack Preview and Prediction

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson

Arizona and Nevada isn't what one would call a rivalry, but there according to Wolf Pack running back Don Jackson, there is a level of "animosity."

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Saturday's matchup in Reno, Nevada, is the third between the two teams since December 2012. Arizona won both by a combined eight points, holding off Nevada last year in Tucson, 35-28, in a competitive, if not forgettable meeting. The 2012 encounter in the New Mexico Bowl, however, was anything but forgettable.

Just ask Nevada defensive end Lenny Jones. Jones was there for Arizona's raucous rally, which included a 21-point tear in the first half, and 14 points in the final 1:44 to complete the comeback.

Jones said Sept. 12 had the proverbial red circle on Nevada's calendar after the last couple near-misses.

Arizona endured a sluggish start to 2015, escaping 42-32 against UTSA. A similarly ploddingly effort Saturday against a motivated Nevada bunch ensures the Wildcats a loss. The Wildcats are also dealing with enough injuries to prompt head coach Rich Rodriguez to call his roster "a M*A*S*H unit."

A loss to the Wolf Pack would have the Wildcats hurting even more.

Arizona at Nevada

Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Nevada +11.5

Three Things to Watch

1. No Star Scooby

Arizona lost Heisman Trophy-contending linebacker Scooby Wright very early into Thursday's win over UTSA. An Arizona defense with no star Scoob was quite a bit more vulnerable than one with @TwoStarScoob. The Wildcats surrendered more than 500 yards to the Roadrunners and allowed UTSA repeated scores to remain within striking distance.

With Wright out of the lineup for roughly a month, Arizona must find a way to compensate. Saturday, that means finding a way to slow Nevada's dangerous rushing attack. Head coach Brian Polian maintained the Pistol formation predecessor Chris Ault ran. Last year, it produced a robust 205.5 rushing yards per game, and a remarkable 6 yards per carry in the Wolf Pack's Week 1 win over UC Davis.

2. Establish The Run Early

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Perhaps more shocking than Arizona's defensive struggles against UTSA was the Wildcats' inability to establish a consistent run early, which contributed to the Roadrunners' second-quarter rally.

The Wildcats finished the night with 163 yards, but were mustering just 2.7 yards per carry through the first two quarters. Sophomore Nick Wilson's first-half fumble relegated him to the sidelines for a spell, and veteran Jared Baker saw more touches.

Arizona needs Wilson to pull a loaded Nevada front back and give quarterback Anu Solomon room to operate. That means break off gains early and holding onto the ball.

3. Starting (and Staying) Fast

Arizona jumped to a 14-0 lead against UTSA, but had opportunities to slam the door on the Roadrunners. Its inability to do so kept UTSA around for the duration of Week 1.

Nevada's not a team Arizona can afford to let hang around. The Wolf Pack are talented on both sides of the ball and able to take advantage of mistakes. And Arizona definitely cannot afford to test the odds by attempting another multiple-score rally.

With its effective run game and quality defensive front, Nevada can take the air out of the ball should it build a lead. That's exactly what it did the last time a Pac-12 team visited Reno, jumping to a two-score lead on Washington State early and going on to beat the Cougars 24-13 last September.

Final Analysis

Losing Wright dealt Arizona's defense a major blow that won't be easily remedied. Nevada has the scheme and personnel to exploit a Wildcats unit missing its leading tackler, so don't be surprised if the Wolf Pack rack up plenty of rushing yards.

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Conversely, Arizona is well-equipped to attack a Nevada secondary that's still a question mark. The Wolf Pack have a solid front seven, particularly on the line with Jones, Rykeem Yates and Ian Seau. However, Nevada allowed UC Davis to complete 68 percent of its pass attempts Saturday.

Unless the front seven can generate consistent pressure on Solomon, the Arizona quarterback will rack up big yards. The Wildcat receiving corps poses several mismatches, and Solomon showed an improved ability to spread the ball around last week with completions to seven targets.

Solomon will again lead the Wildcats to a win, but like past installments in this series, it won't come without a difficult fight.

Prediction: Arizona 38, Nevada 31

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.