Be afraid of UTSA, Arizona, be very afraid

Rich Rodriguez and Arizona should be wary of the challenge posed by Larry Coker's UTSA team. Icon Sportswire

When you first saw UTSA on Arizona's 2014 schedule, you probably had two reactions: 1. Who the heck is "ut-sa?" 2. Look at the Wildcats loading up their schedule with patsies again.

We're now guessing that perception has changed, at least for folks who bothered to check out last week's scoreboard. The ole Roadrunners of UTSA, coached by former Miami head man Larry Coker, went into Houston's fancy new stadium and slammed the Cougars 27-7.

UTSA held Houston, among the preseason AAC favorites, to 208 total yards. The Cougars had 26 yards rushing. Check that: It was minus-26 yards rushing, much of the backward portion coming from four sacks. The Roadrunners forced six turnovers.

Call it a horrible open house for the Cougars if you will, but the Roadrunners certainly look like the nation's best program -- at least in the category of programs playing just their fourth year of football.

When you toss in that Arizona is going to be on the road Thursday with a redshirt freshman quarterback, Anu Solomon, making his second career start and first in front of unfriendly fans, well, this one looks a little dangerous. Coach Rich Rodriguez, whose team beat UTSA 38-13 last season, said the Wildcats are fully focused and are aware this doesn't figure to be a cakewalk.

"Looking at the Houston score and watching the film over the past few days has got our guys' attention," Rodriguez said. "It wasn't just a big win. It was a big win on the road in a tough environment. They completely took over that game."

While the Roadrunners aren't loaded with talent, they are loaded with experience. Phil Steele, in fact, rated them the nation's most experienced team, with 19 starters back as well as a large group of 2013 letter winners, including 18 fifth-year seniors.

On the plus side for the Wildcats: One of the new starters is quarterback Tucker Carter. Though he's a senior who saw action last year, the JC transfer doesn't have much more experience than Solomon.

Solomon had an auspicious debut against UNLV. After a slow start, he regrouped to complete 25 of 44 passes for 425 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed eight times for 50 yards. He led a Wildcats offense that piled up 787 yards, a school record.

While a first road start for a youngster is typically a concern, Solomon has a reputation of being unflappable.

“He’s always been calm and collected and never gets too flustered," offensive tackle Mickey Baucus said. "He had a couple of overthrows in the first half, and then he settled down and had the game he had. He reminds me a lot of Nick Foles, because he never got too rattled when the game wasn’t going his way. I think Anu is going to be fine. He is going to have a calm and collected attitude and he’ll do well.”

When Arizona scheduled UTSA, getting two home games for this visit, it probably seemed like a walkover. Now it seems like a test, particularly of a young QB's poise.