Rich Rodriguez is well aware of the danger that awaits the Arizona Wildcats inside the concrete-enforced tomb that is Arizona Stadium on Saturday night.
Rodriguez and company face off against a beleaguered Houston Cougars team making their season debut after Hurricane Harvey forced them to cancel the team’s opener.
Rodriguez expects a full-scale, 60-minute-long battle with the Cougars under the lights.
“We’ve got to get better to play against a really good Houston team,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve got a lot of questions marks about what they’re going to do with a new staff.”
The veteran coach knows the Cougars, playing their first game under new coach Major Applewhite, will give the Wildcats everything they can handle.
“I think they’ll be inspired anyway,” Rodriguez said. “(Hurricane Harvey) adds a little bit to it, I can see that, but I think they’re inspired to play for themselves and for their families.”
One Cougar Rodriguez talked about in particular was 6-foot-3 inch sophomore defensive tackle Ed Oliver, a Preseason All-American.
Oliver, who posted 114 tackles and five sacks last year, will present a problem for the ‘Cats offensive line, Rodriguez said.
“He’s a first rounder and a tremendous player,” he said. “He plays with great leverage, he’s strong, he’s active, he runs to the ball — everything that you’re looking for in an interior lineman, he has it.”
There are plenty of question marks for Rodriguez’s staff in their preparation for the Cougars, due in part to the lack of game tape to study.
Rodriguez admitted he has more than a few questions about how, or even who will take the field opposite them, but that his players will be prepared come Saturday.
“For us, we know that we made a lot of mistakes and we know what we have to take advantage of from week on to week to,” Rodriguez said. “But the other part of it is we don’t know exactly what they’re going to do, because it is their first game with a new staff. “
Houston has not named a starting quarterback yet — it is expected to be either Kyle Postma or Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen — but Rodriguez isn’t concerned since both quarterbacks have similar skill sets.
“If one’s more of a run, zone-read guy and one’s a dropback guy, that makes it more difficult because there are more things to prepare for ... but I think the defensive plan is going to be the same regardless,” he said.
Rodriguez once again expressed his concern for the Wildcats’ struggles to defend the deep ball against NAU.
“We’ve practiced against it. We probably obviously need to practice against it more,” Rodriguez said. “Some of it was technique, some of it was simply we were in position to make the play and didn’t happen. That happens on occasion, but going forward we know we have to play it better.”
NAU threw for 377 yards against Arizona.
Observations from Saturday
Rodriguez saw plenty of other highs and lows in last Saturday’s 62-24 shellacking of Northern Arizona University.
The highs included the performance of junior Shun Brown, who became the first Wildcat since Chris McAllister in 1998 to score a special teams touchdown in the team’s opening game.
There was also the tour de force that is the Cats’ rushing attack, which gained 508 yards on the ground.
The lows included the problems redshirt junior Brandon Dawkins had throwing the ball, with a mere 98 yards through the air against the Lumberjacks.
Rodriguez addressed the team’s passing woes on Monday, admitting that they’d have to figure out a way to balance out their attack going forward to be successful.
“We did not throw the ball nearly as well as we’ll need to on Saturday,” Rodriguez said. “At times we didn’t need to, we did run the ball really well, particularly as the game went on in the second quarter. And at the same time, we’ve worked really hard on our passing game and I was kind of disappointed at some of the big plays that we didn’t have.”
Rodriguez believes a lot of the team’s early miscues against the Lumberjacks will remedy themselves with game experience.
He’s ready to get back to work ahead of a crucial game for the Wildcats, who are trying to avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since the 2004 and 05 seasons.
“It’s going to be a big week to get ready, and hopefully we’ll have a great crowd Saturday night,” Rodriguez said. “It should be an interesting atmosphere.”
Kickoff in Tucson is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. MST and the game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
Follow Christopher Boan on Twitter at @cgboan