For at least one night, All-American running back Ka’Deem Carey was a forgotten man for Arizona, which had little trouble in a 35-0 rout of Northern Arizona in a season opener that Carey sat out due to off-the-field issues over the offseason.
And all because of Daniel Jenkins, who had 139 rushing yards and was one of three Wildcats who rushed for a touchdown. Jenkins, a fifth-year senior, was Carey-like all night. Elusive, evasive and, well, effective.
Jenkins made a statement in the second quarter with a 91-yard touchdown run, the third-longest run in Arizona history. He found a hole on the left side, broke through and never looked back. Literally.
“Not a chance,” Jenkins said of the possibility of getting caught from behind.
Jenkins had long hoped this would be his breakout year. After the 2012 season, he left Arizona and announced his intention to transfer to Washington State for his final year of eligibility. But after spring practice, Jenkins returned to Tucson, realizing that home is where the heart and opportunities are.
Coach Rich Rodriguez joked Friday night that Jenkins took a “spring sabbatical” but never really left.
“In warmups, I took a lap around the field and I was excited,” said Jenkins, who added three receptions for 13 yards. “I almost (got too excited) early there in spending my energy, but it was great being back in the stadium.”
Rodriguez, who said repeatedly during camp that he has two starting running backs, said he expected Jenkins to do exactly what he did.
“He’s poised for a big year and a big game,” Rodriguez said. “He’s in great shape. He’s been running well the whole camp. He’s one of the most explosive players we’ve had in camp. It was good to see him get that long run. He deserved this.”
In describing his 91-yard run, which put Arizona up 14-0, Jenkins praised his offensive line, which he said “opened up the Red Sea, and I just took it.”
Northern Arizona coach Jerome Sours said his team had difficulty trying to match the speed of Arizona’s offense.
“With that type of offense,” Sours said, “it takes time to adjust to it. Our coaches and players didn’t panic.”
While the Lumberjacks didn’t panic, they were no match for the Wildcats’ ground game, which racked up 306 yards. More than a third of that total came from Jenkins.
It was a stellar start in place of Carey, whose suspension was announced just before the game for violating a “team policy.”
Rodriguez had been evasive throughout the week on Carey’s potential punishment, if any, but said after the game that he’d known for some time what he intended to do.
“One of best ways to make it most effective is to have playing time taken away,” Rodriguez said of player punishment. “I’m sure Ka’Deem was hurting, because he’s a great competitor.”
Rodriguez said Carey took the news “like he was supposed to take it.”
While Arizona did not go into detail, it is believed that the suspension was tied to Carey’s tumultuous offseason. He was charged with misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct after a late December incident with his pregnant ex-girlfriend (charges were dropped this summer). And a couple of months later, he was dismissed from an Arizona men’s basketball game in a seat dispute, first arguing with a McKale Center personnel and then playing the “do you know who I am” card as he was escorted out.
Last year, Carey set school records with 1,929 rushing yards and 23 rushing touchdowns while becoming the school’s 11th consensus All-American.
“There’s a lot of things I try to be up front with you about, but I try to keep things in house and do things in our own way to motivate guys,” Rodriguez said. “Ka’Deem, since last spring, has done everything we’ve asked — everything. But he knows he goes by a higher standard … that’s where he’s at right now.”
As for for the rest of the team? Well, Rodriguez said he expects but won’t yet accept that “ugly” victories might be the norm. He was, however, seemingly satisfied with his quarterback play despite starter B.J. Denker finishing with just 87 yards and a touchdown in the air. The fifth-year senior also had a 30-yard scoring run.
“He took care of the ball and made good decisions,” Rodriguez said.
“There were a couple of throws he’d like back, but I thought he was
pretty solid in running the offense.”
Denker had fewer chances than Rodriguez would’ve liked, though, as Arizona’s defense — despite pitching a shutout — wasn’t able to quickly get the NAU offense off the field. The Lumberjacks held the ball for 40 of the 60 minutes, allowing the Wildcats to run just 47 plays on offense. But they were efficient with those snaps, averaging about 8.3 yards a play.
“Focus was good, and we played hard,” Rodriguez said. “Northern Arizona did a good job of shortening the game a little bit.”