Six weeks ago if I'd told you that UTSA would struggle to get to a bowl game, most of you wouldn't have believed it. As we enter the middle of November the Roadrunners have dropped four of six and face Marshall and Louisiana Tech for a second straight bowl game. Saturday night UTSA lost a frustrating game to a fast, physical, and talented UAB squad.
The evening was particularly frustrating for Dalton Sturm, UTSA's senior quarterback. We thought we'd take a look at his game in the context of the failings of the Roadrunner offense. Here are a few observations,
Wanna start over
UTSA wanted a restart after their first series. The Roadrunners started with a jet sweep for a loss and on second down, Sturm threw maybe the worst pass of his career.
Sturm is way smarter than this, but regardless, the Blazers are gifted a red zone opportunity and they take advantage. After the FIU game, UTSA's shaky confidence is laid bare by a bad throw, late, over the middle. Two plays in and UTSA wanted a restart.
Down and Distance Failure
Beyond that micro evaluation, the Roadrunners didn't do themselves any favors on first down. UTSA's first down success rate was just 26%, they averaged just 2.7 yards on first down. Take away Greg Campbell Jr.'s 37 yard run and that average drops to 1.4 yards per first down play.
When Sturm and the Roadrunners passed, they faced an average distance to make of 10.7. On second down, UTSA averaged a distance to make of over eleven yards and on third down, the Roadrunners average distance to make was just over nine yards. Just four times Sturm dropped back to pass with less than six yards to go for a first down.
UTSA's offense is built to stay ahead of the chains and run to set up explosive down field plays. The bottom line is UAB dictated down and distance and eliminated most of UTSA's playbook based on yards to make.
Give UAB Credit
We mentioned earlier that UAB was fast, physical, and well coached. The Blazers played physical against the Roadrunner defenders downfield. You could argue that UAB was a little too physical, but credit the Blazers for finding the referees boundary and playing up to it, if not slightly over.
The physicality forced Sturm to fit the ball into tight windows, explaining his 17 for 37 performance. The Blazer not only played a lot of physical man to man, but also ran a lot of combination coverages. often manning up on the outside receivers and playing zone inside.
UAB also took advantage of a depleted Roadrunner offensive line and creating penetration and stifling the UTSA running game. The Roadrunner conventional running game was ineffective due to penetration. One maxim of defensive football is to commit as few assets as possible to stopping the run, freeing up assets to play coverage. The UAB front was able to handle UTSA's run game leaving the Blazer's safeties to stay out of the box and cover.
Conversely, defensive coordinators want to pressure with as few rushers as possible. UAB pressured Sturm with more than four just 25% of the time. In those instances the Blazers affected Sturm's packet 84% of the time. When UAB rushed four or less, giving UTSA a man advantage up front, the Blazers moved Sturm or affected his pocket 30% of the time.
Here's a great example of down and distance, physical coverage, pressure, and small throwing windows coming together to eliminate Sturm's options.
Here the Blazer play press man on the edge receivers, drop into zone with their linebackers, and once UTSA receivers clear the zone, there's a safety or nickel there to pick them up. The Blazer rush gets Sturm off his spot quickly and then funnels him to eliminate half the field, including a free running Jalen Rhodes. Now Sturm has to fit the ball into a tight window while flushed. Again, the Blazers dominate a Roadrunner front with one-less man than UTSA has blockers.
This was the recipe employed by the Blazers all night.
So what now?
If you've got a UTSA fan, talk them off the bridge. It's ok.
Frank Wilson is in his second year in charge. Let me repeat, his SECOND year. We get ahead of ourselves because UTSA was a bowl team last season. A 6-7 bowl team at that. Wilson is still turning over this roster and he's got the recruiting chops to do it. A bowl game in his first two seasons would be a remarkable achievement, but the program is building.
Wilson comes from the Orgeron, Miles coaching tree. He grew up as a coach in SEC country and he's building a team to play that style of bully ball. That requires offensive line talent and depth. The Roadrunners don't have the latter, yet. They are stockpiling defensive line depth to cause just about anyone in CUSA headaches. That's a gigantic asset. The offensive line will take more time.
The bigger goal is for Wilson to continue to build his culture and his program. Charlie Strong went to Texas to build largely the same program. At Louisiville his Cardinals were a physical, "lineman lead the program," team. Texas hired him for those traits. A year in, his team had a bowl bid under their belt, then after a debacle in South Bend, Strong shelved Sean Watson and turned to Jay Norvell and the spread offense. One week into year two, Strong orders a sea change to his offensive philosophy. A year later Strong brings in Sterling Gilbert and the Bear Raid and his culture moved into flux again.
Frank Wilson stands a much better chance of success at UTSA because he's committed to a culture, not twisting with every breeze that comes thru town.
So, take a deep breath Roadrunner fans. Saturday was rough, but the program is well ahead of schedule. Wilson is going to continue to infuse UTSA with talent via his tireless efforts on the recruiting trail and his commitment to building his program. He needs more than 22 games to build it.