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August 31, 2013
The only drama on a rainy Friday night at Arizona's season opener occurred two hours prior to kickoff. An explosive third quarter from the defense took care of the game itself.
With star running back Ka'Deem Carey suspended, his replacement filled in admirably and three second-half interceptions from the defense powered the Wildcats to a 35-0 win over Northern Arizona in front of 53,793 fans at Arizona Stadium.
Daniel Jenkins, a fifth-year senior who nearly transferred to Washington State in the offseason, earned the start and finished with 139 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. He also led the team with three catches for 13 yards - including an 11-yard score on the game's opening drive.
As a team, Arizona (1-0) collected 306 of its 393 yards on the ground.
"The holes just opened up like the Red Sea and I just took it," said Jenkins, who topped 100 rushing yards for the first time in his career.
Jenkins' previous career high was 78 yards against Arizona State last November.
Carey, who led the nation with 1,929 rushing yards and a school-record 23 rushing touchdowns last season, went through a troubling offseason that included a domestic violence incident in December - charges were dropped in June - as well as a verbal altercation with campus police and event staff during a Wildcats basketball game the following month.
UA head coach Rich Rodriguez left open the possibility of punishing the junior leading up to the game, but there was no formal announcement. The decision was made ahead of time and kept in-house, Rodriguez said.
"We have team policies and team rules," Rodriguez said of Carey's suspension. "One of the ways to make it most effective is to have playing time taken away. And I'm sure Ka'Deem was hurt because he's a great competitor.
"He took it like he's supposed to take it. He's known for awhile, as have I."
Rodriguez added: "I want to make it clear: Since spring, since the semester has been over, he has done everything we've asked. Everything."
Carey is expected to make his season debut next Saturday at UNLV.
Before the news of Carey broke, the big story was supposed to be who Rodriguez would start at quarterback after a three-man depth chart at the position did not list one.
In just his second career start, and first since last November, quarterback B.J. Denker completed 9 of 13 passes for just 87 yards and a touchdown. The senior also ran as many times for 71 yards - including a 30-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Even without the workhorse Carey, the combination of Denker and Jenkins ran the ball six consecutive times to open the game. Denker's first pass was a 31-yard completion to Garic Wharton that got UA in the red zone, setting up a wide-open, 11-yard touchdown pass to Jenkins two plays later for the early 7-0 lead.
But after gaining 75 yards in the 10-play drive, Arizona's next three possessions - two punts and a turnover on downs - amounted to just 80 combined yards over 16 plays.
Rodriguez said that while Denker was "solid," there was a lack of "explosive plays" in the passing game and sub-par execution on third downs. UA was just 4 for 10 in such situations.
"Obviously, the stats weren't off the charts, but we got the win and I'm happy about that," said Denker, who was not formally told he would get the nod.
"I ran out there on the field and (the coaches) didn't stop me, so I assumed I was the starter."
Following an NAU punt, however, Jenkins busted loose for a 91-yard scoring dash to run the score to 14-0 with 5:32 left in the half. It was the third-longest run in school history, behind only a 96-yarder by Trung Canidate and 94-yarder by Nic Grigsby.
Unlike Carey's big runs that seemed to fall short of the exclamation-point finish, Jenkins said there was "not a chance" he would be caught.
The UA defense, which limited NAU (0-1) to just 127 yards in the opening half, opened the third quarter with a defensive touchdown in the first 13 seconds to provide a momentum boost coming out of the locker room.
With an assist from true freshman Scooby Wright's pressure and deflection, safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant swooped in for an easy 23-yard interception return on NAU quarterback Kyren Poe's pass to run the lead to 21.
"When you score a touchdown on defense, it always feels good," Bondurant said. "I got the interception just off playing hard, so that's always good."
Poe opened the game with 10 consecutive completions and was 11 for 12 prior to the pick-six. He finished the game 21 for 36 for 176 yards and three interceptions - all in the third quarter.
Wright, who started his first collegiate game at linebacker, finished with six tackles - one for a loss - and was a wrap-up away from a safety in a stellar debut.
"We gave [Wright] crap about that (missed safety)," said senior linebacker Jake Fischer, who tied Bondurant with a game-high seven tackles.
He wasn't the only first-year player on defense to impress. Leading 28-0 after Denker pinballed his way for a rushing score, the Wildcats picked off Poe again as Devin Holiday stepped in for his first career interception with 8:07 left in the third.
"I'm sure they were excited that we got a win and they got a chance to get their first action as a Division I football player," Rodriguez said of the freshmen.
Before the quarter was done, Bondurant added his second interception with 10 seconds left.
Against the run, Arizona limited NAU standout Zach Bauman to 71 yards on 21 carries.
All that was left to watch in the final 15 minutes was whether the Wildcats could preserve the shutout.
Rodriguez pulled his starters late in the fourth, inserting redshirt freshman Javelle Allen in place of Denker. More of a runner than a passer, Allen read the defense and capped the scoring with a 61-yard touchdown run with 4:40 remaining.
Denker said afterward that a win did not cement his status as the starter.
"My job isn't safe because I got this win," Denker said. "I'm going to have to work hard every week. We're going to watch the film and see some of the mistakes that I made.
"But I can't be relaxed because I won my first start - and I'm not going to be. I didn't do all of the things right that I wanted to do."
The Arizona Stadium pressbox was renamed after longtime sports information director Tom Duddleston, who retired earlier in the year. ? Meanwhile, the TV broadcast booth was named after Dave Sitton, the longtime voice of Arizona football and basketball who died on Aug. 12. He was 58. ? Both teams wore special decals on the helmets, honoring the 19 firefighters who lost their lives in the Yarnell Hill fire in June. ? Freshman defensive lineman Luca Bruno, who was expected to contribute in a reserve role, had a "clearinghouse issue" that prevented him from being available, Rodriguez said. The team also continues to wait on a ruling regarding Davonte Neal.