Pac-12: New Mexico Bowl 2012


How's that for an opener to the bowl season? Twice the Arizona Wildcats overcame three-score deficits -- also recovering an onside kick in the final minute -- to shock Nevada in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. Here's how it all went down in Albuquerque, N.M.

It was over when: Not until the clock read zeros, seriously. After cutting the score to 48-42 with 42 seconds left, the Wildcats recovered the onside kick at their own 49. They needed only three plays to move 51 yards. With 19 seconds left, Matt Scott connected with Tyler Slavin on a 2-yard pass to tie the score at 48-48, and the PAT from John Bonano was the deciding margin. Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo was intercepted in the closing seconds to complete Arizona's comeback.

Gutsy call: With 3:20 left in the game and Nevada leading 45-35, Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Arizona 11-yard line. Nevada converted and forced Arizona to use all of its timeouts. Allen Hardison then hit a 25-yard field goal to put Nevada up 48-35, and that appeared to be the clincher. "Appeared" being the operative word.

Second guessing: As good as Ault's call was there, you question burning a timeout to ice Bonano on the go-ahead PAT. It turned out to be meaningless because of the interception, but with 19 seconds left, timeouts could have been very valuable.

Game ball goes to: No questions here. Although much of the attention was on the running backs, Arizona’s Ka'Deem Carey and Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson, it was Fajardo who turned in a gritty performance. He ran for 139 yards and a touchdown and threw for 255 yards and three touchdowns. Tip of the cap goes to his Arizona counterpart, Scott, who tossed for 369 yards and three TDs and showed a lot of poise on the go-ahead drive.

Unsung hero: Arizona linebacker Marquis Flowers recovered the onside kick that allowed the Wildcats to go ahead -- and came up with the interception with 13 seconds left.

Stat(s) of the game: As expected, plenty of offense. The teams combined for 1,234 yards and 70 first downs (39 from Nevada).

New Mexico Bowl keys

December, 15, 2012
12/15/12
9:30
AM ET
Three things to watch in today's New Mexico Bowl between Arizona and Nevada:

1. Slow down Ka'Deem Carey. Then what? Carey is the national leader, averaging 146 yards per game and he's scored 20 times on the ground with nine 100-yard rushing performances (and let's not forget that 366-yard performance). But quarterback Matt Scott is an awfully good runner as well. He averages 4.5 yards per carry, has five rushing touchdowns and he's netted 485 yards. Who steps up to spy Scott?

2. Slow down Stefphon Jefferson. Then what? Jefferson, who is No. 2 in the nation behind Carey in rushing yards per game, has rushed for 1,703 yards and 22 touchdowns (and let's not forget about his seven touchdown performance against Hawaii). He's run for at least 100 yards in nine games this season. But even if the Wildcats can slow him down, they still have to worry about quarterback Cody Fajardo, who will run the ball, on average about 15 times per game. At 5.8 yards per attempt, he actually has a higher per-carry average than Jefferson. He also has 11 rushing touchdowns and needs just 19 more yards to crack 1,000. Who steps up to spy Fajardo?

3. One defense has to step up: There's a reason we keep hammering home the idea of playing defense -- it's because both offenses are really good and neither defense is particularly stout, especially when it comes to applying pressure. Both units rank in the bottom half of the country in sacks and tackles for a loss. Both are in the negative on turnover margin. This might come down to the proverbial situation of whichever team can make two or three stops will win the game. Punters need not apply.

Pregame: Gildan New Mexico Bowl

December, 15, 2012
12/15/12
9:00
AM ET
Arizona (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) vs. Nevada (7-5, 4-4 MWC)

WHO TO WATCH: Don't blink, or you might miss the running backs. Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey leads the nation in rushing yards per game, and Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson is right behind him at No. 2 nationally. They have a combined 42 touchdowns on the ground this season. Carey, a consensus All-American, has done more with less (275 carries), averaging 6.3 yards per carry, and Jefferson has been more of a workhorse, averaging 4.9 yards per carry on 341 attempts.

WHAT TO WATCH: Safeties and linebackers. Because, as good as both running backs are, both quarterbacks are equally potent with their legs. Matt Scott (Arizona) and Cody Fajardo (Nevada) are second on their teams in rushing behind Carey and Jefferson, respectively. Both will run some option; both will spread defenders out with designed runs; and both will scramble if nothing is open through the air. The better "spy" defender could be the difference-maker.

WHY TO WATCH: If watching the nation's top two statistical running backs isn't enough motivation, you need to find a new hobby. Both are fantastic players. But if you do need another reason, it's the first bowl game of the postseason -- so there is some novelty there. Two explosive offenses -- both ranking in the top 20 in scoring -- should make for a fun postseason kickoff.

PREDICTION: Arizona has traveled a far more difficult road to its 7-5 season, playing five ranked teams and going 2-3 versus Top 25 competition. Nevada played just one ranked team -- Boise State -- and fell 27-21. The Wildcats are more battle-tested. Arizona 41, Nevada 31.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl predictions

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
3:23
PM ET
The Pac-12 bowl season gets an early start on Saturday with Gildan New Mexico Bowl between Arizona and Nevada.

Kevin and Ted own the same record for the season: 66-25.

ARIZONA vs. NEVADA

Kevin Gemmell: I'm guessing our season-record tie isn't going to be broken on this one. I think Nevada can be potent -- but they also haven't seen the quality competition week in and week out that Arizona has. The Wildcats are a better team than their 7-5 record indicates. The Wolf Pack won't be able to keep up with Ka'Deem Carey, Matt Scott and the rest of the Arizona offense. This one might produce some points, so I'll take Arizona in a high-scoring affair. Arizona 41, Nevada 31.

Ted Miller: I suspect the time off will have benefited Arizona QB Matt Scott, who was beaten up over the final few games of the season. Nevada is 111th in the nation in rushing defense, yielding 213.17 yards per game. That's not a good thing when you're facing the nation's leading rusher in Ka'Deem Carey. Arizona 44, Nevada 24.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
9:35
PM ET
Nevada Wolf Pack (7-5) vs. Arizona Wildcats (7-5)

Dec. 15, 1 p.m. ET, Albuquerque, N.M. (ESPN)

Nevada take from RecruitingNation blogger David Helman: Unlike in 2010, Nevada's upset bid against Mountain West rival Boise State fell just short in Reno. The 27-21 loss capped off a 1-4 finish that saw the Wolf Pack drop from 6-1 to 7-5.

The rushing attack that gained so much notoriety under Colin Kaepernick was at full throttle once again in 2012, as the Wolf Pack boasted the nation's No. 7 rushing attack with 260 yards per game. The bulk of that went to junior running back Stefphon Jefferson, who rushed for 1,703 yards and 22 touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Cody Fajardo added 981 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground to go with an efficient 2,530 yards and 17 touchdowns through the air.

A scoring defense ranked among the worst in the sport is going to be the big regret for this Wolf Pack team. Boise State's 27 points were the lowest output by an opponent in Nevada's losses. The Wolf Pack defense allowed 32, 39, 48 and 52 points in their other four setbacks.




Arizona take by Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: Arizona had an up-and-down season, one that featured some impressive wins.

The first four losses came to ranked teams. That was justifiable. But losing the finale at home to rival Arizona State quashed some of the momentum built up in new coach Rich Rodriguez's first year.

Still, this team, which entered the season with a highly questionable defense found ways to win -- mostly because of its high-powered offense. Senior QB Matt Scott took to Rodriguez's spread-option attack with aplomb, and running back Ka'Deem Carey finished second in the nation in rushing.

First, there was a fast start. The Wildcats started 3-0 with wins over Toledo -- it looked better as the season went on -- and Oklahoma State. The Wildcats went to Oregon with high hopes, but were stomped 49-0. They then lost in overtime at Stanford 54-48, but that was double what any other Cardinal foe would score against the conference's best defense.

Arizona then posted impressive wins over Washington and USC. The Wildcats were in the South Division race, which meant they had Rose Bowl hopes. But those mostly died at UCLA after a shocking 66-10 defeat.

The Wildcats bounced back with consecutive wins over Colorado and Utah, but the home loss to Arizona State in the season-finale leaves Arizona needing a bowl win to head into the offseason feeling good about itself.

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