Arizona 49, Nevada 48: Defense optional in Wildcats’ crazy win

After falling into a 21-0 hole to start the 2012 Gildan New Mexico Bowl, the Arizona Wildcats looked like they would have been just about anywhere other than Albuquerque Saturday morning. It’s not clear if the defense ever showed up. Somehow, though, Arizona still managed to come away with a 49-48 win over Nevada in arguably the wildest game of the season.

In a classic bowl contest of who can play worse defense, the two teams combined for more than 1,200 total yards. While the Wolf Pack offense made mincemeat of the opposing D, their own defense put up little resistance when U of A had the ball. The Wildcats made up deficits of 21 points and 17 points during the game, the latter of which came in the fourth quarter behind two touchdowns in the final minute.

Despite the ragged overall performance, Rich Rodriguez still found himself on the winning end of a result that should solidify his first season in Tucson as a success. His team finished his first campaign in Arizona with an 8-5 record that included not only a bowl victory, but a win in the regular season over preseason No. 1 USC.

Unfortunately for RichRod, he’s losing one of the keys to that strong debut season, senior quarterback Matt Scott. With his mobility, Scott provided a nearly ideal point man to run the coach’s run-centric spread scheme. (Remember Steven Threet at Michigan?) Despite throwing two picks, Scott came up huge in his final game as a Wildcat, completing 28 of 47 pass attempts for 382 yards and 3 touchdowns.

On the plus side, RichRod will have running back Ka’Deem Carey back for his junior season. Carey ran the ball 28 times Saturday for 172 yards and 3 touchdowns. Following a sophomore campaign in which Carey ran for nearly 2,000 yards, he should enter 2013 as a viable Heisman Trophy candidate.

It feels appropriate that Arizona would cap its season in a wild shootout. Including the bowl game, the Wildcats allowed more than 600 yards six times this year. If defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel can figure out a way to tighten up that side of the ball, Arizona could be transformed into a dangerous outfit in the Pac-12 on a consistent basis going forward.