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September 7, 2013
LAS VEGAS - Arizona may be expected to have its big star returning and the double-digit odds to pull out the victory in Sin City.
All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey is set to make his season debut Saturday when UA plays its first game at Sam Boyd Stadium since capturing the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
"I'll be happy to have him back and I think we'll both do a great job to help the team win," said fifth-year senior running back Daniel Jenkins, who will get the start over Carey.
Jenkins rushed for a career-high 139 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns in the Wildcats' 35-0 win over Northern Arizona in last week's season opener. Carey, who led the nation with 1,929 rushing yards last season, watched from the sidelines while serving a one-game suspension likely linked to his offseason incidents away from the field.
Rodriguez said the decision to give Jenkins another start was based off his performance against NAU. But with plans to employ more two-back sets in 2013, there is a good chance both will be on the field simultaneously, at some point.
"[Jenkins has] earned the start. But Ka'Deem will play in the first half," Rodriguez said.
Arizona (1-0), a 10 1/2-point favorite, will face a Rebels (0-1) team coming off a 51-23 road loss to Minnesota. UNLV was outscored 35-10 in the second half thanks to a 98-yard kickoff return, 51-yard blocked field goal return and an 89-yard interception return - all of which were cashed in for touchdowns.
The Wildcats were opportunistic in their own right against NAU, recording three second-half interceptions - including a 23-yard return for a touchdown by safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant, who snagged two of the picks and earned Pac-12 Conference defensive player of the week honors for his performance.
But after going up against a considerably smaller NAU squad, Rodriguez said UNLV poses a larger challenge in a number of areas.
"It concerns me that we are so small and that we're smaller than everyone we play against, other than NAU," Rodriguez said. "This team here, size-wise, we don't match up with them and that's a little concerning.
"We better play with great technique."
Across the defensive line, UNLV averages out to 272 1/2 pounds on a front-four that ranges between 6-2 and 6-6 in height. Among the linebackers is 6-1, 250-pound senior standout Tani Maka.
The smallest member of the offensive line weighs in at 280 pounds and the unit is bookended by a pair of 6-7 tackles, including 310-pound junior Brett Boyko - the most imposing figure on the line.
The playmakers on offense are no slouch, either. UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry stands at 6-5 and 235 pounds and he's joined in the backfield by 6-foot, 210-pound senior running back Tim Cornett - a 1,200-yard rusher a season ago.
Rodriguez called Cornett "a prime example" of the mismatches UA could have issues against.
"He's a big, physical back," Rodriguez said, citing Cornett's blend of skill set and experience.
"We don't have anyone in our program like that, so not tackling anyone like that could be a big concern for us in the beginning of the game."
To counter, UA's offense will look to open up the playbook a bit more this week. Quarterback B.J. Denker completed 9 of 13 passes for 87 yards, while the running game accounted for 306 of the team's 393 yards of total offense against NAU.
Whether it was a missed read, here and there, or a lack of aggressiveness in what Rodriguez called a "conservative" attack, the Wildcats rarely stretched the field beyond the opening drive.
"I told the players that's on me. We've got to let loose more often," Rodriguez said.