The Arizona Wildcats opened the season with a bang on Friday night, setting multiple offensive records in a 58-13 whooping of UNLV. In week two, Arizona will travel to the state of Texas for a primetime matchup with UTSA for the first home night game in the short history of the program.
The Wildcats are favored, but the game will likely hinge on how well freshman quarterback Anu Solomon adjusts to the pressure of his first road game in college.
UTSA won't make it easy on him. In the opener against Houston, the front seven had six tackles for loss, four being sacks. The offensive line will have its hands full trying to keep the pocket stabilized for Solomon.
It won't just be an issue for the quarterback, but could also become a problem for running backs Terris Jones-Grigsby (Questionable) and Nick Wilson. The Roadrunner defense used a few key plays and some solid trench play to force Houston into -26 rushing yards.
"Just watching them, they completely dominated," Arizona Head Coach Rich Rodriguez said. "They were able to stop the run with just four or five guys in the box. They tackled extremely well against some really good skill players.
"You don’t find them out of position. Their guys are where they are supposed to be every snap, which is a sign of a well coached team, an experienced team, a team that knows what they are doing."
Although Ashaad Mabry led the way with two tackles in the backfield and Nic Johnston had a team-high eight tackles, it was linebacker Jens Jeters who won the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week Award after forcing and recovering a fumble. At times, the senior linebacker was all over the field and his energy could propel him to a big game against Arizona.
With the first road game comes nerves and pressure for the freshmen. It will be important for Solomon and Wilson to take care of the ball, especially on the Wildcats' side of the field.
This is important when looking at how the Roadrunners beat the Cougars last week. UTSA only had 263 yards of total offense, but managed to put up 27 points in part to great starting field position because of six forced turnovers.
Senior quarterback Tucker Carter only attempted 24 passes in the opener, completing 15 of them for 121 yards, but did not turn the ball over. Carter can manage the offense and will make the occasional big play, but will likely rely on the rushing game against Arizona, unless the scoring margin begins to widen in favor of the Wildcats.
When he does go to the air, look for Carter to try and connect with Kam Jones. While the passing game is widespread, Jones was the team's leading receiver last season and caught four balls in the opener.
"We really have to get better (at cornerback), especially when we are going against another big time receiver on Thursday night," Rodriguez said. "We have to be ready for them to throw it to Kam Jones quite a bit."
When Carter isn't throwing it, he will be handing the ball off to David Glasco II. The senior running back amassed 81 yards on 24 carries last week, scoring twice. Glasco's powerful running style could be a problem for the Wildcats' defense with some relative inexperience at linebacker.
Whether by land or air, the UTSA offense is not very potent, and failed to score on any drives that were started inside its own 40 yard line. Against the Roadrunners, the Wildcats will be in for a tough battle and winning field position is going to be a big factor in the primetime game.
Players to watch:
#1 - WR, Kam Jones: The senior receiver is probably the most dangerous player on the Roadrunners' offense. He can take the ball out of the backfield, break free for an easy pitch-and-catch, and make plays. Jarvis McCall and Jonathan McKnight will have their hands full with him on Thursday.
#2 - RB, Jarveon Williams: While most of the pressure will be on Glasco out of the backfield, Williams has an explosiveness that makes him just as dangerous. Just a sophomore, there is plenty of room for growth, but Williams can still hurt a defense if given the opportunity.
#7 - FS, Triston Wade: He only had two tackles in the opener, but had a key interception that helped seal the game away and was all over the field. Solomon may want to look the other way if Wade is covering his main target on a play.
Keys to the game:
1.) Win the turnover battle: Arizona is 10-0 when winning the turnover battle under Rodriguez. This may be a difficult task against the experienced Roadrunner defense, but ball security could prove to be the difference maker.
2.) Win field position: As I said above, UTSA struggled to score when faced with a long field. Arizona started in bad field position in the opener, but being able to flip the field will be key for the Wildcats on Thursday.
3.) Pull away: One of the worst scenarios for Arizona, besides a complete letdown, is heading to the fourth quarter in a tight game. The Wildcats need to take advantage of early opportunities and build a decent lead to stifle any hopes of a big comeback win by the Roadrunners late in the game.