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UTSA vs. Arizona Football: How Wildcats Will Avoid Letdown Before Pac-12 Play

LAS VEGAS, NV - SEPTEMBER 07:  Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats watches his players take on the UNLV Rebels during their game at Sam Boyd Stadium on September 7, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Arizona won 58-13.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Brian PedersenFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 14, 2016

Arizona has started 2-0 without much resistance from its opponents, FCS foe Northern Arizona and FBS doormat UNLV. As a result, the Wildcats sport the 143rd-toughest schedule in the country, according to ratings guru Jeff Sagarin.

There are only 126 FBS programs, so that tells you how easy it's been so far.

Enter the Wildcats' final non-conference opponent, UTSA, which is rated 144th overall by Sagarin (including being placed behind more than 30 lower-division teams). That's despite the Roadrunners winning at New Mexico in their opener and putting in a valiant—albeit losing—effort last week at home against a ranked Oklahoma State team.

Piece-of-cake gimme game for Arizona, right? Not exactly. Not the way head coach Rich Rodriguez is talking.

"It’s going to be a challenge," Rodriguez said during Monday's weekly press conference.

UTSA is in its third year of football existence and first year as a full-fledged FBS member but is already turning heads across the country for its high-speed play, its ability to compete with the big boys for Texas high school talent (it's media guide lists 93 of its 107 players coming from Texas) and its big-name coach Larry Coker.

Coker, who led Miami (Fla.) to the 2001 BCS championship, has a 73-26 career record that includes wins over RichRod-led West Virginia teams in 2001, 2002 and 2003 while with the Hurricanes.

But it's more than Coker's perfect mark against him that has Rodriguez concerned about UTSA, Arizona's final tuneup before a rigorous Pac-12 Conference schedule that begins with road games at Washington (Sept. 28) and USC (Oct. 10).

"I think for our guys, they're pretty sharp in seeing the film and knowing what they're going against," Rodriguez said of UTSA during Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference.

Rodriguez noted Monday how the Roadrunners scored 35 points against Oklahoma State, a week after OSU held Mississippi State to a field goal. The UTSA offense is expected to be a far more formidable task for the upgraded Arizona defense—something that's not lost on the players.

"They run a different scheme, but I am confident in our defense," senior defensive lineman Tevin Hood told reporters Monday. "We come to play every week, and if we come to play again, we will shut them down."

Even with some lofty numbers on offense—Arizona is averaging 46.5 points and 351.5 rushing yards per game—and a defense that's scored more touchdowns (three) than it's allowed (two), Rodriguez still seems unhappy with how his Wildcats have fared to this point.

"We played pretty hard and our focus was pretty good, but, boy, do we have a lot of things to clean up execution-wise," Rodriguez told the Tucson Citizen following Saturday's 58-13 win at UNLV.

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