With Arizona's season opening on Thursday night against UTSA, WildcatAuthority.com recently caught up with JJ Perez from InsideRunnerSports.com for a question and answer session.
WildcatAuthority: With Blake Bogenschutz at the head of the depth chart, how has the Redshirt Freshman looked in Fall Camp?
JJ Perez: Blake Bogenschutz was officially announced as the starting QB on Sunday, but all the way through camp it’s been an open competition. In the offseason, UTSA added Michigan Graduate Transfer Russell Bellomy to their stable of QBs. Both Head Coach Larry Coker and Offensive Coordinator Kevin Brown characterized the competition as very close throughout fall practices.
Despite the competition, Bogenschutz continued to get glowing reviews and was always considered the top QB. At 6’0” and 195lbs, the East Texas-native is a little undersized. What he lacks in physical stature, he makes up with mental sharpness. Dubbed by several teammates as a student of the game, Bogenschutz has rarely made mistakes this fall, but as a redshirt freshman, he does lack experience.
Bogenschutz will be making just his second-career start when UTSA takes the field at Arizona on Thursday and he’s played only in parts of three other games. While he looked very good at times in those games (specifically in the second half vs Oklahoma State in Stillwater), he just doesn’t have a lot of game action.
He was poised to take the reigns for the second half of last season, but he broke a bone in his throwing hand in the second quarter of his first career start and missed the rest of the 2014 season. Expectations of Bogenschutz are high, however. He’s had a very good fall and is poised to become the face of UTSA’s program for years to come. Coming off a 4-8 season with little expectations of doing anything this season, Bogenschutz and UTSA are looking to surprise some teams.
WA: At times, the Roadrunner offense struggled last season. With a young quarterback under center, where does the offense come from?
Perez: In the spring, UTSA unveiled a new up-tempo/no-huddle offense. Since then, the Roadrunners have exclusively run that style of offense. Basically, you will rarely see UTSA huddle. With a young quarterback and a young offensive line, UTSA believes that the quick tempo could become an equalizer of sorts.
Last season, UTSA was blitzed heavily. That led to the loss of their top three QBs at one point in the season. By implementing this up-tempo offense, UTSA hopes top keep opposing defenses in their base formations while not allowing them to substitute.
For the most part, the strategy has appeared to be efficient in scrimmage settings this fall, but a key factor in this offense is stamina. This is a new style of offense for UTSA and while they’ve been conditioning for it since the spring, often times it’s said that game-tempo is difficult to duplicate. UTSA will be hoping to get plays off with 15-20 seconds left on the game clock.
WA: With so many key players and other seniors gone from last season, what is going to be the biggest change for the team this year?
Perez: Sometimes change is a good thing. Just a few years ago, UTSA was a new program that was building everything from scratch. Players from those early days made so many sacrifices to help build the program up, including practicing for a full season without playing any games. With the graduation of so many of those players from last season’s team, it’s almost like page is being turned to the future this year.
UTSA has 30+ new players on their roster to replace the 37 seniors that graduated and while the Roadrunners will be lacking with game-experience, there has been a considerable upgrade in talent. It’s the general consensus of those that follow the program that this 2015 version of the UTSA Roadrunners will be the most talented group in program history.
But how does that translate to play on the field? That remains to be seen. The biggest difference you will see from UTSA this season vs. last season is the speed. Not just with the tempo of their offense, but in various places all over the field. UTSA is bigger, stronger, and faster than ever before at several key skilled positions, but speed will be the most noticeable difference from last season.
WA: Last season, UTSA was able to slow down Arizona's offense and keep the game close. How does the Roadrunner defense try to replicate that this season?
Perez: Except for the first play from scrimmage (a long Cayleb Jones catch and run for a touchdown), UTSA did a relatively good job keeping Arizona from exploding for big plays in last season’s game. Defensive Coordinator Neal Neathery said last week that Arizona has the best skill position players of any team they will have ever faced.
That’s high praise considering some of the other non-conference opponents UTSA has played in recent years. The key, simply, will be limiting touchdowns. In the 2014 game, UTSA played very good redzone defense. In five trips to the redzone, the Wildcats were limited to just one touchdown.
Forcing Arizona to redzone kick field goals (especially early on in the game) really slowed the Wildcat offense kept UTSA within striking distance. Limiting the big-plays and playing well in the redzone will be key for UTSA to stay competitive.
WA: Bennett Okotcha is a huge playmaker on defense for UTSA, but which other players need to step up for the Roadrunners to be successful this season?
Perez: CB Bennett Okotcha is a proven commodity for the UTSA defense, but others will need to have good seasons in order for UTSA to bounce back from their 4-8 record last season. MIKE LB Drew Douglas has emerged as one of the defense’s top leaders. A senior from the DFW-area, Douglas is one of the few players with tons of game experience.
He has the ability to lead UTSA in tackles this season. Junior Dawg Safety Michael Egwuagu is also another key cog in the wheel for the Roadrunners. Poised for a big season, Egwuagu will be important in both run-stopping and pass coverage. Sophomore free safety Nate Gaines will be making his first-career start vs Arizona.
Considered one of the more talented defensive backs on the roster, Gaines is replacing current Seattle Seahawk and former All-Conference USA player Triston Wade. And upfront, Seniors Jason Neil (DE) and Brian Price (DT) will need to anchor down a defensive line that is lacking with game-experience.