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September 6, 2013
Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson broke a 48-yard run in the second quarter of the Golden Gophers' 51-23 rout of UNLV in Week 1. Nelson's end zone dash was the first of two on the night, and the longest in his team-leading 83-yard rushing output.
Nelson's ball-carrying ability created problems for a Rebels defense that ranked 106th among Bowl Subdivision teams a season ago. Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker poses a similar challenge to UNLV in Saturday's Week 2 contest at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Denker passed sparingly - 13 times in total - in UA's 35-0 season-opening defeat of Northern Arizona. He completed nine passes, though head coach Rich Rodriguez said in Friday's postgame press conference that the quarterback could have connected for more.
"He had some throws that I'm sure he would like to have back, but he had his eyes in the right places," Rodriguez said.
But what Denker may not have gained in the passing game, he picked up in the rush. Denker gained 71 yards on the ground, including a 30-yard touchdown.
Though his pass completions came at a premium, so did snaps in general. UA ran just 47 plays, almost 40 below its 2012 average.
"Forty-seven plays, normally we get that in a half," Rodriguez said his weekly coaches' teleconference call on Tuesday. "Normally for us that's not a good sign when we have that number of plays."
NAU attempted a strategy the Wildcats can expect to see again Saturday against UNLV, grinding on offense to eat up clock and keep the ball away from the explosive offense as long as possible. The Lumberjacks controlled possession for more than 40 minutes.
UNLV boasts two of the Mountain West Conference's best at their positions in quarterback Nick Sherry and running back Tim Cornett. The duo led UNLV in accruing more than 400 yards against the Minnesota defense a week ago, and could be used to dictate tempo.
Should the Rebels employ that strategy, maximizing possessions is essential for the UA offense. Denker's rushing ability from the zone-read is central to that.
Rodriguez commended the quarterback's ability to read the defensive coverage after Friday's win, and against the UNLV defense Denker should have ample opportunity to exploit holes.
Rebels defensive coordinator Tim Hauck, brother of head coach Bobby Hauck, faces significant adjustments after Week 1. The UNLV defensive line was decent last week, but the linebacker corps struggled to make stops in the second level. Oftentimes, gains that escaped the line went for big gains for the Gophers.
Rodriguez's offense is predicated on misdirection, and moving the veteran UNLV defensive line away from the rush could set up UA ball carriers for big gains.
Both Denker and running back Daniel Jenkins, who will get the start in place of 2012 All-American Ka'Deem Carey, parlayed misdirection reads in the front seven into big-yardage touchdowns against NAU.