The Arizona Wildcats have been getting fat on cafeteria mashed potatoes.
They snacked on a plain ol’ non-conference season. Nothing fancy. Not even any gravy. Nothing particularly appetizing about these appetizers. Just three solids for the Cats to devour before the Pac-12 serves up the main course.
The 38-13 victory over UTSA at Arizona Stadium on Saturday night was the capper to the early season romp before the conference schedule begins in two weeks at Washington.
The final damage from the non-conference season: Arizona 131, Mashed Potatoes 26.
A bland first course of NAU, UNLV and UTSA — perhaps that was more alphabet soup than mashed potatoes — appealed to coach Rich Rodriguez’s tastes.
“Absolutely,” he said.
“The schedule is what it is, but there are a lot of young guys playing for us. We’re breaking in a new quarterback, and a lot of guys are playing for the first time, some true freshmen.”
Besides, Rodriguez added, have you checked out some of the scores from the first three weeks? Lower-division teams have pulled off several upsets. Shoot, his old team, Michigan, was within a yard of losing at home to Akron on Saturday.
So the record, no matter the level of competition it came against, is a comfort, and the Cats have put three wins in the bank, halfway toward bowl eligibility.
“Our identity, or whatever you want to call it, is pretty well established,” Rodriguez said. “Now, we have to just get better at executing, knowing we have pretty good challenges coming up.”
UTSA was probably the best of the challenges so far. The Roadrunners drove 58 yards in 11 plays on the opening possession of the game to take a 3-0 lead and give the Cats their first deficit of the season.
Arizona responded with a passing game.
Quarterback B.J. Denker went 5 of 6 for 63 yards on UA’s first possession, scrambling and throwing 13 yards to freshman Samajie Grant for the touchdown.
“We were just going off what the defense was giving us,” Denker said. “They were going to put a lot in the box to stop Ka’Deem, but we were just clicking.”
While Denker did more in the passing game — he was 14 of 21 for 158 yards, nearly equaling his yardage total from the first two games (168) — Ka’Deem Carey was still busy being Ka’Deem Carey.
If UTSA was intent on stopping the run, Arizona was determined to see if Carey could break down the wall and break off a long run. He didn’t. But he kept gaining enough chunks — none longer than 11 yards — to end up with 128 tough yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries.
There just weren’t a lot of huge holes up front, so Carey earned everything he got.
Rodriguez said he kept the first-team offense in for an extra series late in the game because he thought the offensive line — which was minus right tackle Fabbians Ebbele most of the game after he left with an apparent left leg injury — needed the work.
“There were times when we were whiffing, just completely missing blocks at times up front,” Rodriguez said. “We have some things to clean up on the offensive line.”
Arizona did score on four of its first five possessions to take most of the drama out of the game. After leading 24-6 at halftime, the Cats went 75 yards for a touchdown on the opening possession of the second half, giving a light crowd of 41,661 reason to celebrate while pondering the evening’s other entertainment options.
The rest of the game was mostly a snoozefest. Arizona attempted only two more passes, reminiscent of last week’s 58-13 win at UNLV, when the Cats threw the ball only four times after halftime.
The three blowouts served some purpose, but it’s hard to believe in any rainbows and sunshine until after Arizona lines up against Washington in Seattle on Sept. 28, presumably being in a 60-minute game in which every play really counts.
The season goes from mashed potatoes to Habanero hot in a hurry.
“We were expected to win these games, but we still had to come out and play,” Denker said. “But now we’re ready to get into Pac-12 play. We’re excited.”