Without Scooby, UA football struggles to win opener

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                </div>  While Arizona State gets ready for tomorrow’s season opener against Texas A&M, a Power Five conference (SEC) team, the Arizona Wildcats began their season last night against UTSA, a […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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While Arizona State gets ready for tomorrow’s season opener against Texas A&M, a Power Five conference (SEC) team, the Arizona Wildcats began their season last night against UTSA, a lower-tier team they’ve beaten each of the last three seasons.

The Cats have front-loaded their non-conference schedule with teams designed to pad their schedule by giving them a 3-0 start before heading into a tough conference opener against UCLA on Sept. 26.

Nothing wrong with that.  Plenty of college coaches take that approach.  It lets them ease into the new season and get the kinks worked out before getting to the games that really count.

However, if you’re going to take that approach, you had better win those early games.  Particularly if you’re a nationally-ranked program.

Arizona entered the contest ranked No. 22 in the pre-season polls – the first time in 16 years they’ve been ranked in the pre-season.  But they won their first game by just 10 points against a team that was a four-touchdown underdog and is playing with just six starters back from a 2014 squad that won just four games.

The 51,111 fans that showed up at Arizona Stadium for the opening game had to wait until the final minutes before they could be assured of a home win.  UTSA had closed the gap to 10 points by scoring on a 16-yard run with just over seven minutes left to play.

The Roadrunners racked up 525 total yards against the Cats’ defense, gobbling up 29 first downs.  The quarterback, Blake Bogenschutz, threw for 332 yards to set a new school record.

It was Arizona that came out on top of the 42-32 outcome, but it could have been much different.

UTSA had a 102-yard kickoff return nullified on a blocking penalty and missed two field-goal attempts.  After a first half in which the Roadrunners ran up 328 of their total yards, they went into the locker room at intermission down just a point, 21-20.

Arizona finished the game with six touchdowns, but two of those came courtesy of the defense.  Anthony Lopez, the senior safety from Gilbert’s Mesquite High School, got the Cats off to a quick start by intercepting Bogenschutz on his first pass attempt of the game and taking it 23 yards for the game’s first score.

Then, early in the second half, Jamar Allah, another local recruit playing free safety, contributed another defensive TD.  The senior from North Canyon High School in Phoenix scooped up a fumble and scampered 22 yards to increase the Arizona lead to 42-20.

Redshirt sophomore Anu Solomon had a good night under center for the Cats, completing 22 of 26 pass attempts for 229 yards.  Sophomore running back Nick Wilson rushed for 97 yards and redshirt senior wide receiver Johnny Jackson enjoyed a career night with 101 yards in receptions.

DaVonte’ Neal, who was on the offensive side of the ball playing slot receiver last year, switched to the D unit and made his first start at cornerback – and made an impressive debut, leading the team with 11 tackles.

However, the big story on defense was the loss of middle linebacker Scooby Wright III.  The junior from California, who last season won the Bednarik and Nagurski awards for the nation’s top defender, left the game in the first quarter with an injury to his left knee.

Wright was scheduled to get an MRI today, but according to several media reports, the injury wasn’t expected to be season-ending.  Head coach Rich Rodriguez said after the game that he didn’t think it was an ACL or MCL tear, and Wright’s father reportedly confirmed that the injury was “not major.”

We won’t know how the game would have played out if Wright had remained in the game.  An impact player like that always affects the way his team plays, particularly in Wright’s case since he’s the recognized team leader this year.

And that, in itself, is a somewhat scary thought, to have your entire season riding on the presence of a single player.

But Rodriguez and Wildcat Nation should find out today just how long they will have to get along until their hulking leader with the cartoon name is able to return.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)