Arizona and UNLV open their seasons Friday night in in Tucson with high hopes after each won bowl games to end last season. Arizona starts with its third different quarterback in three consecutive seasons. But the early non-conference schedule bodes well for Arizona in that it should give Anu Solomon some manageable challenges before the meat of the schedule.
But don’t expect Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez to ease off his hard-charging, fast-paced offensive approach. Expect the Wildcats to find ways to get the ball into the hands of its talented receivers and give multi-purpose back DaVonte’ Neal plenty to do. Rodriguez called Neal "dynamic."
Arizona has scored more than 30 or more points in 20 of 26 games under Rodriguez. Defensively, the Wildcats seem to improving. They held UNLV to 13 points last season, and this defensive group should be better.
Rookie QB Anu Solomon: Arizona freshman Solomon admitted he was a bit surprised to learn he was the starter on Monday. He was expecting Rich Rod to make the announcement on Friday. He’ll be nervous but ready. Solomon’s start is the first for a freshman quarterback at Arizona since Willie Tuitama in 2005.
Newcomer watch: Expect to see back DaVonte’ Neal and wide receiver Cayleb Jones get the ball plenty. They’ve waited a year after transferring and will be two of the best athletes on the field. Neal should see the ball plenty coming out of the slot position; Jones is a big target for Solomon.
D-Line action: A season ago Arizona had just 24 quarterback sacks. And although the 3-3-5 defense UA uses isn’t sack-happy by design, the Wildcats must make it more difficult for opposing QBs. End Reggie Gilbert is questionable because of a foot injury. The Wildcats could have an impact newcomer in transfer Jeff Worthy, the starting nose guard.
— Arizona backup running back Adonis Smith is a fifth-year player who transferred in from UNLV. He’s been a pleasant surprise in the backfield and is listed on the second team. He’s strong and smart, picking up UA’s offense quickly.
— This is the third meeting between the two schools. Last year, UA trounced UNLV in Las Vegas, 58-13. But the Rebels recovered to finish 7-6 and make it to a bowl game. They reeled off four consecutive wins after last season’s loss to the Wildcats.
— UNLV walk-on running back Eugene Johnson attended UA but was not on the team. … UA wide receivers coach Tony Dews was an assistant at UNLV in 2006 and coached the linebackers. … Rodriguez is 8-0 in non-conference games as he begins his third season at UA.
Austin Hill, WR, Arizona — Hill returns after a season off because of a knee injury. He said he’s 100 percent healthy. He had 81 catches for 1,364 yards when he last played in 2012.
Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona — Wright had a great freshman year; now he moves inside, where he could be the anchor of the defensive unit.
Blake Decker, QB, UNLV — He’s UNLV’s first junior college transfer to start a quarterback since 1999. He’s 23 and played at Scottsdale Community College.
Jonathan McKnight, CB, Arizona — He’s had a quiet fall camp, and that’s probably for the best. He’s a fifth-year senior and has seen just about everything a player needs to see at this level. He adds stability to the defensive backfield.
UNLV is getting better under fifth-year head coach Bobby Hauck, but there’s a difference in talent and size in facing Arizona. Being on the road doesn’t help. The Rebels opened last year with a pair of losses by an average of 36.5 points per game. It’ll be something like that again.