Rich Rodriguez arrived at the UA 55 weeks ago with a promise to play fast, exciting football.
Still, nobody expected this.
Arizona will take the field for this morning's New Mexico Bowl with a chance to build on what is already the best statistical offensive season in program history. Through 12 games, the UA has gained a program-record 6,262 yards, 500 more than the 5,712 yards rolled up by the 2010 team. The Wildcats' 521.8 yards per game are both the most in school history and the best ever by any Rich Rodriguez-coached attack; his 2010 Michigan club averaged 488.7 yards per game.
It's also the most balanced attack that Rodriguez has ever had: The UA is averaging 291.4 passing yards and 230.4 rushing yards per game. The team's 56 offensive touchdowns - tied for a school record - are almost split down the middle between rushing (29) and passing (27) scores.
"Wow," quarterback Matt Scott said. "We haven't had coaches like these at the university before, so you have to give credit to the coaches. This offensive scheme works wonders; you really can't stop it if you make the right reads every time."
Rodriguez was similarly stunned by the numbers.
"I know we had some pretty good moments," he said. "I wish we would have scored more points."
The Wildcats' first-year boss said he's been impressed with the way his team has embraced the basics of the spread-option offense. Scott has proven to be an apt triggerman in his first season in the system, and tailback Ka'Deem Carey leads the nation in rushing yards per game. Austin Hill has developed into one of the Pac-12's top receivers, and Dan Buckner has proven to be more valuable than his numbers would indicate.
"Some of the base principles we wanted to install right away, the guys bought into it," Rodriguez said. "It's been good to see."
The last time
Ruman's 3 TDs helped Cats topple Wolf Pack
Date: Oct. 11, 1941
What went down: "Ramblin' Robert" Ruman threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as the UA defeated Nevada 26-7 at what was then known as Varsity Stadium. More than 9,000 fans watched the game as part of the UA's annual "Family Weekend" festivities.
How it read: The Star's Vic Thornton wrote that the UA was "striking through the airlanes with hurricane fury" in their home victory. He wrote: "Arizona's real advantage over the big, rugged Wolfpack was piled up via the skyways. … It was the Wildcats' daring aerial game, plus staunch defenses when the chips were down that provided the difference between the rivals."
Turning point: Arizona scored 13 first-quarter points behind a solid backfield effort from starters Ruman, Bernie "Seabiscuit" Singer, Banjo Banjavcic and Matt Matulis.
Stats that matter: Arizona outgained Nevada 210 yards to 180, and finished with twice as many first downs (18) as the Wolf Pack (9). The Wildcats were penalized 11 times for 111 yards in the victory.
It's history: Arizona finished 7-3 under coach Miles W. Casteel, while Nevada went 3-5-1.
'Unique' Bowl trophy
Nothing better than Zia Pueblo's clay pot
The New Mexico Bowl lacks the cachet of larger, older games. But no bowl has a cooler trophy.
Artists from Zia Pueblo fashion a new clay pot for the game every year, then paint the participating programs' logos and some live-action art onto each side. This year's trophy includes a UA football player, clad in a white helmet and red jersey, going out for a pass.
"It's unique art," said Jeff Siembieda, the game's executive director. "It's one of the most unique trophies in all of sports."
Siembieda first met with Zia officials in 2006 with hopes of receiving permission to use their iconic "Zia sun" logo for the game. The tribe consented, and had their artists do the trophy. Marcellus and Elizabeth Medina, a husband-and-wife team, make and paint the championship pot. Another Zia artist, Ralph Aragon, fashions and paints leather shields given to the game's outstanding offensive and defensive players.
"They're different than your typical golden football, not that there's anything wrong with that," Siembieda said. "These are unbelievable."
UA grad Radtke calls game
Nevada is 'solid' team, play-by-play guy says
Ask Ryan Radtke about his last vacation, and Nevada's busiest radio voice goes silent.
"Nevada went to the quarterfinals of the NIT last year, and (the Reno Aces') baseball season started right after that," he said. "I took a few days off."
Radtke, a UA graduate and former Tucson broadcaster, serves as the play-by-play voice for Nevada's football and basketball teams and for the PCL's Aces. He moved to Reno in 2009, when the Triple-A Aces - formerly known as the Tucson Sidewinders - relocated.
The Star talked to Radtke about calling today's New Mexico Bowl, what to expect, and what it'll be like to see his alma mater in person:
On Nevada's football program: "The coaches, starting with Coach (Chris) Ault, will tell you that it's been an average season with Nevada going 7-5. They started 6-1 and then struggled a little bit down the stretch. It's a really solid football program - eight straight years in a bowl game - and so they expect to have success. It's not easy to do."
On his favorite sport to call: "They all have their own challenges. Baseball, it's a daily grind, there's the length of games, you're your own engineer and all that. Football, you have just once a week and you put more time in to get ready. Basketball, it's just more the pace of the game and keeping up with it. They all provide their own unique challenges."
On his relationship with UA radio voice Brian Jeffries: "Brian has been a huge influence on my career, a mentor and a friend to me. I give him a ton of credit for anything that I've been able to achieve. I rely on him for advice; he's also a good friend. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing him this weekend. It's been a while; hopefully, there will be a chance to get dinner and talk."
On whether it'll be weird calling a game between his alma mater and his employer: "I wouldn't call it weird. It's exciting for me. The University of Arizona and Tucson mean a lot to me, and it's a huge part of my life. I'm still a huge Arizona fan, and 364 days a year I root for Arizona. Day No. 365 is on Saturday."
Senior proves docs wrong
DE Austin ready to help after overcoming injury
In October, team doctors told UA's Dominique Austin that his college football career was over.
The defensive end respectfully heard them out, then went back to practice.
"I wasn't going to let them determine if that was going to be true or not, or determine if I was going to play or not," Austin said. "I wanted to heal up and see if I could play or not."
Turns out, he can. And he will.
The fifth-year senior will play in today's New Mexico Bowl after overcoming a foot injury that threatened to end his year.
Austin attended every practice, even as his foot healed, and continued to lift weights and stay in shape. While he won't be 100 percent today, Austin figures to contribute one way or another.
"I'm going to just do whatever I'm capable of doing," he said.
Those who know Austin weren't surprised. Once a major part of the UA defense - he's the only player still on the roster who played in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl - Austin found himself relegated to third string later in his career. He redshirted as a senior in 2011 after being marginalized by former coach Mike Stoops.
Austin proved a better fit for the UA's 3-3-5 "odd stack" defense, however, and started the Wildcats' first five games this fall before getting hurt.
Now, Austin's going to finish his career on a high - or at least healthy - note.
"It's hard for anybody to stay out and watch, particularly due to injury and particularly if you're a senior," coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Dom was very, very productive before he got hurt. Hopefully, he'll have a good performance (today)."
The best ever?
The Arizona Wildcats have gained 6,262 yards so far this season, a program record and the most ever by a Rich Rodriguez-coached offense. Here's a look at Arizona's game-by-game yardage totals:
vs. Toledo 624
vs. Oklahoma State 501
vs. South Carolina State 689
at Oregon 332
vs. Oregon State 545
at Stanford 617
vs. Washington 533
vs. USC 588
at UCLA 257
vs. Colorado 574
at Utah 480
vs. Arizona State 522
New Mexico Bowl: Arizona vs. Nevada • 11 a.m. today • ESPN • 1290-AM, 1490-AM, 104.9-FM, 107.5-FM
Game-day breakdown by Ryan Finley
About the University of Nevada
• Nickname: Wolf Pack
• Colors: Silver and blue
• Location: Reno, Nev.
• Enrollment: 18,227
• Famous alumni: Judge/boxing referee Mills Lane, pro football hall of famer Marion Motley, former Diamondbacks first baseman Lyle Overbay,
Prices from Oct. 11, 1941, the day Arizona last played Nevada:
The Arizona Daily Star
A men's "Hollywood Suit" at Levy's department store
An alligator bag at Levy's
Freeman "Master Fitter" shoes at The White House department store
All-day parking and a car wash at Associated Garage on North Stone Avenue