Back in August when Arizona was going through fall camp, there was a lot of thunder and lightning talk — and it wasn’t about monsoon season.
Instead, it was about all the options the Wildcats had at running back with junior Ka’Deem Carey and senior Daniel Jenkins.
“We have two starting tailbacks” was almost a daily line from coach Rich Rodriguez and while that wasn’t all that believable, it did seem possible the two would be on the field at the same time a lot this season. Carey, a powerful runner, would bring the thunder and Jenkins, a speedster, would bring the lighting.
But through five games, and especially recently, it’s pretty much just been thunder.
In the UA’s two Pac-12 games, Carey has 51 rushes and Jenkins has five. Jenkins had four carries for 13 yards against Washington and just one tote for 11 yards against USC.
“We haven’t played two tailbacks at the same time a lot, but we still have the ability to do that going forward,” Rodriguez said Monday at his weekly news conference. “It really depends on how people are playing us. Once we get a particular set, we like to match up with that set.”
In an offense that emphasizes tempo, Rodriguez isn’t a fan of subbing personnel in and out during a drive but said Monday that “sometime we have to and we’re going to look at that this week.”
Jenkins was battling a minor undisclosed injury leading up to the Washington game, which explains his lack of activity against the Huskies. But against USC, the senior was healthy and ready to contribute, but just didn’t see his number called often.
The Moreno Valley, Calif., native practiced in the slot a lot during fall camp and Rodriguez said then he was eager to use him in different roles. That remains a possibility moving forward.
What doesn’t seem likely is Jenkins taking any playing time away from Carey. The Canyon del Oro High School grad has rushed for more than 100 yards in eight straight games, including matchups against ASU, Washington and USC.
The second game in that streak came last year against this week’s opponent, Utah. Carey rushed for 206 yards on 26 carries. He’s coming off a 21-carry, 138-yard performance against USC on Thursday.
“I don’t think Ka’Deem had his best game his last game, but he’s not had a bad game either,” Rodriguez said. “He comes to play. He has a great passion for it. That’s what we want out of our guys all the time.”
Special teams woes
An emphasis in practice this week for the UA will be special teams.
Rodriguez wasn’t pleased with his team’s performance in that area in the 38-31 loss to USC. Kicker Jake Smith didn’t have any touchbacks on his six kickoff attempts. He missed a 38-yard field goal attempt before making a 27-yarder.
The longest return was a 24-yard kickoff return by Johnny Jackson and punter Drew Riggleman had two of his punts tipped and didn’t land any inside USC’s 20-yard line.
“I thought we had been pretty solid on special teams most of the year, but that game I didn’t think we were good at all in any phase,” Rodriguez said. “We had the botched snap on the extra point, our kickoff returns weren’t good, we had a punt that was tipped and we didn’t do a do a good job on punt returns.”
The return game hasn’t been a weapon for the UA all season. The Wildcats’ longest return this season is a 26-yard kickoff return by Nate Phillips.
“I think it’s just a block here or there,” Phillips said. “I think if we just get one more block or hold a block for one more second, we will be able to return one for a touchdown.”
As for the kicking game, sophomore kicker Casey Skowron is healthy from a groin injury that plagued him earlier in the season and could provide some in-season competition to Smith after the two battled in fall camp.
“I still have a lot of confidence in Jake, but Casey, he was pretty tight with Jake before he pulled his groin, so hopefully now we’ll get some competition there,” Rodriguez said. “But Jake is such a conscientious guy, whatever he did wrong technically, he’ll go back and work on and get it better, but it’s good to have some competition behind him.”
Senior offensive guard Chris Putton came out of the USC game fine after tweaking his knee against Washington. Putton didn’t play in the first quarter, but came on in the second and played the remainder of the game.
Rodriguez said Putton played more snaps than the coach anticipated and is close to 100 percent healthy now. He’s expected to start against Utah.
Senior cornerback Derrick Rainey tweaked his back in warmups against USC and that’s what kept him out against the Trojans. Rodriguez is hopeful to have him back this week.
The coach said several players, including quarterback B.J. Denker and linebacker Marquis Flowers, came out of the game sore, but that the few extra days of rest after Thursday’s game should help them. They’re both expected to be fine for Saturday.