Arizona shows off Ground & Pound offense in Vegas

Welcome to the Ground & Pound. Arizona’s offense has an identity, and what better place to show it off than in Las Vegas, where the term has been made famous by UFC?

The Wildcats racked up nearly 400 rushing yards Saturday night en route to a 58-13 win over UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium.

“We played pretty hard, (and) our focus was really good,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said in his postgame radio show. “But boy, do we have to clean up some things execution-wise offensively. There were three of four touchdown throws we didn’t make out there.”

Rodriguez was visibly upset after some of the aforementioned incompletions, but everything else seemed perfectly fine, especially for a game played away from the friendly confines of Arizona Stadium.

Arizona finished with 397 rushing yards, including 171 from junior All-American Ka’Deem Carey, who made his 2013 debut following a suspension for the season opener. He scored on his first handoff, going 58 yards untouched, and scored again a few touches later on a 12-yard run. His back-to-back touchdowns (on successive drives) made it 31-6.

Carey did his damage on just 16 carries, while fellow back and starter Daniel Jenkins had 82 yards on 17 carries and quarterback B.J. Denker had 60 yards. Reserve Jared Baker added 66 yards.

Arizona scored 50 points for the fifth time in the Rodriguez era and surpassed 48 points for the seventh time. More importantly, the Wildcats have won 10 of their last 12 nonconference games, with this being only their second win in a road opener in the last 12 seasons.

“It was a good win,” Rodriguez said.

The game was over faster than some Las Vegas weddings, as Arizona jumped out to a 17-6 first-quarter lead and stretched it to 45-6 at halftime. The Wildcats scored on three of their first four possessions, with Denker scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter (from 35 yards and 4 yards).

The defense also got in on the act, returning two interceptions for touchdowns in the win. Senior linebacker Jake Fischer returned one from 49 yards out to make it 37-6 in the second quarter, and Tra’Mayne Bondurant ran one back 52 yards for Arizona’s next score.

Rodriguez lauded his team’s defense after having said all week that his team wasn’t as big or physical as UNLV.

“We had to play with great tackling and great technique, and I thought we did,” Rodriguez said. “We made a couple big pick-sixes that were huge. Our defense did a nice job of getting them in some third-and-long situations.”

It was Arizona’s biggest win — by margin — since last season’s 56-0 victory over South Carolina State. The 49 first-half points were also the Wildcats’ second-most ever in a half (they had 49 against Idaho in 2008) and most ever in a road half.

The hosts were particularly welcoming, as UNLV turnovers led directly to 21 points for Arizona. Keep in mind that the house doesn’t always win in Vegas, as the Rebels have won just six games in the past three-plus seasons. And it showed via the turnovers, sloppy play and special-teams mistakes.

That was plenty for Arizona given the dominance on offense, with Carey & Co. racking up 478 total yards in a game that was never in doubt. It could have been worse, actually, but rather than pouring it on, the Cats slowed things down in the second half.

In the land of smoke and mirrors, Arizona showed that its ground game is legit. That especially holds true with Carey back in the mix, even if he didn’t make his first appearance until midway through the second quarter. He has rushed for 172, 172 and 171 yards over his past three games and now has at least one touchdown in 10 straight contests; he’s rushed for more than 100 yards in nine of those and 11 for his career.

There’s no question that Arizona’s ground game will put up big numbers this year; the only question is whether what happened in Vegas, from a results standpoint, can stay with the Wildcats.