Frank Wilson is the master of the 1604 loop after taking UTSA to a bowl game in year one. Expectations are justifiably raised in San Antonio but will the Runners be better or worse? Let's discuss.
UTSA will be better...
Good Dalton Sturm is here. Let us introduce the world to "Good Dalton Sturm." The Dalton Sturm that UTSA fans hope to see on Saturdays this fall completed over 63% of his pass in wins with 9.1 yards per attempt. In wins he averaged over 200 yards per game and a 161.5 quarterback rating. Good Dalton Sturm has all the tools necessary to be an elite level quarterback. If we see a lot of Good Dalton Sturm the Roadrunners will be hard to deal with.
The Defense will be a handful. Pete Golding was a home-run hire for Frank Wilson and the Roadrunners. His multiple 4-2-5 defense ended the year 55th in total defense in the FBS. They were physical at the point of attack, improved from 84th to 60th in sacks from 2015 to 2016 and debuted a number of young, athletic playmakers. They return a lot of starts as well. Josiah Tauaefa and La'Kel Bass are two of the top linebackers in CUSA.
Their defensive line brings back Marcus Davenport at defensive end, he's a big bear learning to use his claws. At 6-7, 260 his physical tools are impressive. Last year he set a new personal best with 6.5 sacks. Nate Gaines and Austin Jupe are long, rangy athletes in the secondary. Golding's defense should improve in 2017 if for no other reason than scheme familiarity. The talent doesn't hurt either.
If not now then when? Look at UTSA's depth chart. Nine offensive starters are seniors. Four of five offensive linemen are seniors. Three of the line backups are seniors with significant experience. On defense the Roadrunners start, according to the spring depth chart, five seniors. Three of those seniors start in the defensive backfield. Their backups have starting experience. Marcus Curry has fourteen career starts as a returning senior backup.
The point is this, UTSA is uniquely situated to make a big run in 2017. They have an influx of young talent unlike the program has never seen before. They have veterans with starting experience unlike perhaps any team in CUSA or even the FBS. This team is stacked and they have 2016 to build off of.
UTSA will be worse...
Bad Dalton Sturm is here. Remember all the good stuff we wrote about Dalton Sturm four paragraphs ago? Forget about that stuff. In UTSA's seven losses his completion percentage plummeted from 63% to 51%. His yards per attempt went down from 9.1 to 5.4. His rating went from 161.5 to 114.8. It's actually worse than those numbers, in from September to October his completion percentage was 60%. From October to November his completion percentage was 61%. Then from November to the end of the season, in those five games, his completion percentage hit 48%. After the Rice game in mid-October, Sturm failed to complete more than 55% of his passes and other than one outlier against Charlotte, his yardage went way down. That run included three sub 50% passing days. If Bad Dalton Sturm plays an extensive role in 2017, things go wrong fast.
Pass Protection Issues. In the narrative of Bad Dalton Sturm you can't ignore, his offensive line let him down at times. The Roadrunners allowed 43 sacks in 2016, good enough or bad enough for 125th in the FBS. They also struggled early on and then again late in the season run blocking. Football is a symbiotic sport, phases and positions interact with each other for success or failure. If a defense can achieve pressure by committing fewer rushers, they have more resources to put into coverage. If the run game struggles, safeties can play deeper, corners can play more aggressively. Frank Scelfo and Wilson moved some pieces around and and the line played better as a result, but they were still inconsistent. It all begins up front and for UTSA the four returning starters will have a lot on their shoulders.
Replacing Egwuagu and Moore. UTSA lost two pro caliber safeties in Michael Egwuagu and Jordan Moore. Egwuagu started 27 games in his UTSA career including all thirteen in 2016 and 24 of the last 25. He was named 2nd team All-CUSA for his efforts. Jordan Moore was an elite level athlete and started every game in 2016 after transferring in from LSU. The defense gave up some explosive plays in 2016 and losing your top two safeties is a concern. UTSA replaces those combined 39 career starts with four safeties on the two-deep who have exactly one start between them. The backend will have a big drop off in experience and talent.