Wildcats not great, but good enough to escape UTSA
From the first play to just about the last, the University of Arizona looked ... well, just good enough against UTSA in the Alamodome and in front of a national FOX Sports 1 television audience.
"I'd rather win ugly than lose pretty," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said on his radio show after his team won 26-23 to move to 2-0. "And it wasn't pretty."
More importantly, he said what he's seeing "are things we can fix."
Winning beats the alternative in a game in which UTSA, a team riding a six-game win streak over two seasons, took control midway through the second half, only to come up short in its final possession.
Behind freshman running back Nick Wilson and veteran "bandit" safety Jared Tevis, Arizona was able to make enough plays in the second half to leave the Alamodome undefeated.
Rodriguez had said it wouldn't be easy facing a veteran football team on the road. Color him correct on a night when the Alamodome was dressed in Orange.
Arizona struggled, with Rodriguez saying a couple of times after the game that there are "so many things we need to clean up and get better at."
What was important, he said, was that nobody lost his poise, nobody panicked.
Wilson had plenty of composure in his second game, running for a career-high 174 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Last week, he had 104 yards. Former Arizona All-American Ka'Deem Carey never had a 100-yard rushing game as a freshman.
Wilson said he didn't even know how to respond to that when told after the game.
"I do appreciate it," he said. "All the hard work in the offseason (helped)."
Wilson got the start because season-opening starter Terris Jones-Grigsby was out with an ankle injury.
"I was really proud of him," Rodriguez said of Wilson. "From a mental standpoint he was there. ... Nick's got a really good future. He runs really hard. He's still learning."
And Rodriguez still has a lot to learn about his team.
-- One, his team's defense must get better, although it came up big late. Defensive end Reggie Gilbert, who made his season debut after missing last week with an injury, had a late third-down sack. He finished with five tackles.
Rodriguez will rely heavily -- again -- on sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright III and Tevis, who came up with a game-saving interception on the Roadrunners' last full drive. Wright had 11 tackles. Tevis had a career-high 16 and the interception.
"(Tevis) made big plays when we needed him to," Rodriguez said. "We didn't get a pass rush, allowed them to control the ball in the second half with long drives, but we're still piecing together some things defensively. Hopefully we can get things fixed in a hurry."
Arizona has more than a week to prepare. The Wildcats face Nevada next Saturday at Arizona Stadium.
-- Two, not every game will be like it was against UNLV last week when Arizona had 787 yards in total offense. On Thursday night, UA finished with 454 total yards, 231 via the air. Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon threw one touchdown and was far less spectacular, scoring just one touchdown in five red-zone attempts. Casey Skowron helped save Arizona with four field goals in four attempts.
A touchdown on UA's opening series looked like it would set the tone. Redshirt sophomore Cayleb Jones took a short pass and went 85 yards to give UA a 7-0 lead. Instead, the score was just a tease. UA added a field goal to make it 10-0 before UTSA regrouped and took the lead at 16-13 when Solomon stepped out of UA's end zone for a safety after recovering a bad snap.
UA kept its poise, however, with a nine-play, 85-yard drive to close out the half. Wilson scored on a 2-yard run. UA didn't trail again, although there was plenty of drama in the final minutes.
"That was good to get that one in," Rodriguez said.