Newcomer UTSA gives UA early test

Roadrunners, led by ex-champion coach, quickly moving up
2013-09-14T00:00:00Z 2013-09-17T12:52:00Z Newcomer UTSA gives UA early testBy Daniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

As far as football programs go, UTSA is a still a baby, learning how to talk and function.

The Roadrunners are in just their third year of existence and have only 24 games to their credit.

But that doesn’t mean they are a pushover.

Tonight, the Arizona Wildcats figure to get their toughest test of the young season when UTSA visits for a 7:30 kickoff.

The Roadrunners are 1-1 with a win at New Mexico and a loss to Oklahoma State on their résumé.

“I’ve been really impressed with UTSA,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. “They have a good quarterback, good skill players, fast players on the perimeter and a good running back.

“So, it’s going to be a challenge.”

This isn’t coach-speak.

The Wildcats will face one coach this season with a BCS national championship to his credit and it comes tonight. Former Miami (Fla.) coach Larry Coker has been with the Roadrunners from the start. He went 4-6 in 2011, 8-4 last year and the Roadrunners still are ineligible to go to a bowl game until next season.

UTSA, which moved from the WAC to Conference USA before this season, drew more than 40,000 fans last week to the Alamodome for the Oklahoma State game.

“I don’t know if it’s very good for the head coach, but the way we’ve able to build this thing has been good for the program,” Coker said. “The landscape of college football has been a little bit crazy, and we had an opportunity that normally wouldn’t come to such a new program. But, now we’re in a good conference like Conference USA and we’re getting the chance to play programs like Oklahoma State and Arizona.

“Playing Oklahoma State at home doesn’t happen a whole lot for a start-up program.”

Added Rodriguez: “It’s remarkable what they’ve done in three years. It really is. My hat’s off to that staff.”

OK, so let’s not confuse UTSA with one of Coker’s old Miami teams or even a Pac-12 program, but through two games Rodriguez and the Wildcats haven’t exactly been tested.

The UA outscored NAU and UNLV 93-13 in the first two games. By the fourth quarter, the Wildcats starters have been able to enjoy the game as spectators.

The Roadrunners have enough talent to at least grab the attention of the UA coaches.

“We’ve played well so far, but UT-San Antonio presents a brand new set of problems for us,” defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. “They have a good scheme, they’re well coached and they have some pretty good football players. They make you work.

“They do a lot of things that give you problems.”

UTSA has 898 yards of total offense through two games — 27 more than the Wildcats have put up. But the Roadrunners have also given up 882 yards and have struggled in the secondary.

That could be good news for an Arizona team trying to find its groove in the passing game.

Starting quarterback B.J. Denker has been solid on the ground, but not through the air and is still looking for his first 100-yard game of the season. Rodriguez said earlier this week Denker doesn’t need to establish a relationship with one receiver in particular, but just needs to start hitting open men and moving the ball through the air.

“They know each other well,” Rodriguez said of Denker and the receivers. “They don’t need to hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya.’ I’m never worried about relationships or anything like that. Throw to the open guy and if he is really, really explosive, throw it to him more. That’s a relationship.”

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at dberk@azstarnet.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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