UTSA Season Preview: Now or Never

UTSA is officially a contender for a league title. Whether it's Frank Wilson's magic touch or the accumulation of talent or both, the Roadrunners are set. They've also got a real shot at beating some big names. Houston and Baylor could be ripe for the taking. 

Frank Wilson is getting real looks from Power 5 schools. One year in, they've seen the goods. Wilson is a fast riser and a transformative figure. He took Larry Coker's roster and made them into a bowl team even after changing schemes on both sides of the ball. Whatever perception people had that Wilson was a recruiter only have been by in large smashed. He's organized, attune to marketing not only on social media but in the community, he's assembled a very capable staff, and he's proven himself able to deal with fast developing game day situations. He's a strain the making. 

Part of Wilsons' success is bringing in Pete Golding and his 4-2-5 scheme. Golding never coordinated an FBS defense but took an average defense and made them into a fast, attacking, aggressive, physical unit. He has an emerging star in linebacker Josiah Tauaefa and a very capable defensive front. Most importantly Golding's players buy in to what he's selling and play hard for him. 

Frank Scelfo put in a complex, non-cookie cutter offense. That's a tough task with the practice restrictions in college football. Scelfo's offense uses motion, the versatility of tight ends and fullbacks, true play action, and old school physical blocking schemes to create mismatches. It's the first time many of his players have played in such a system. There's a learning curve. Expect a nice jump forward in year two. Scelfo's personnel check most of the boxes. He's got meaty returning offensive line, a senior quarterback, a top choice running back and several productive targets. Last year's offensive group grew and developed into a fairly effective unit. They can build on that heading into 2017. 

Key Numbers

Scoring Drive % (CUSA Rank) Touchdown Drive % (CUSA Rank) Scoring Drives % Allowed (CUSA Rank) Touchdown % Allowed (CUSA Rank) 3rd Down Conversion % (CUSA Rank) Turnover Margin (CUSA Rank) Total Adjusted Run Rate (NCAA Rank)
0.373 (6) 0.298 (7) 0.367 (4) 0.272 (2) 43% (4) +3 (4) -0.004 (85)
  • Scoring Drive %: Percentage of offensive drives that end in points.
  • Touchdown Drive %: Percentage of offensive drives that end in touchdowns. 
  • Scoring Drives % Allowed: Percentage of drives allowed that ended in points. 
  • Touchdown % Allowed: Percentage of opponent's drives that end in a touchdown. 
  • 3rd Down %: Offensives success on 3rd down. 
  • Turnover Margin: Total number of giveaways minus total number of takeaways. 
  • Total Adjusted Run Rate: Taking the national average of yards per carry and yards allowed per carry and comparing that to the relative team. Teams that end up with a plus Total Adjusted Run Rate average 8.4 wins per year. Teams with a negative Total Adjusted Run Rate average 5.5 wins per season. The top 20 teams in Total Adjusted Run Rate Averaged 9.7 wins per season over a five year period. 

Quarterbacks

It's all lining up for Frank Wilson's UTSA team, experience, depth, explosiveness, and size. Now if only the Roadrunners can tie it all up with good quarterback play. We don't need great, just good. The guy who can provide the goods is Dalton Sturm. Sturm has gone from scrawny kid from Goliad to UTSA walk-on to starter. Even a very good starter. 

What Sturm has done well is work within a new offensive system to create big plays, downfield. He values the football with a near elite level interception percentile. He's also a very good athlete. Rewatching the Arizona State game, in particular the second half, you see a quarterback with little help almost will his team to a win thanks to his ability to extend plays with his legs. When Sturm has help, i.e. a consistent running game, he can really do some damage. 

Now the not so good new, Sturm was wildly inconsistent as a passer, against FBS teams his completion percentage was below 55% and in the meat of the Roadrunners CUSA schedule, that percentage dropped to 51%. Sturm also struggled with sack avoidance, again as we always say - not necessarily the quarterback's fault - but sacks are drive killers and Sturm took a lot of them in 2016. Still, Sturm has so much potential to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem that we are optimistic. 

Behind Sturm is a hodgepodge of potential and unknowns. Manny Harris was one of the highest rated recruits in UTSA history when he signed in 2015. Bryce Rivers  enrolled early out of Stevens high school in San Antonio and might have the inside track at the backup quarterback position. Rivers distinguished himself a bit above Harris in the spring game.

Highly regarded signee Frank Harris arrives this summer out of Schertz Clemens. He turned down offers from Baylor, Georgia Tech, and Central Florida to sign with the Roadrunners. Taking as a whole, after Sturm, none of his backups have seen live action. Wilson is hoping that he doesn't have to turn to any of those options for an extended period of time.

Running Backs

UTSA lost its most productive running back with the graduation of Jarveon Williams. How much the Roadrunners miss Williams will depend largely on whether Jalen Rhodes is ready to be the featured back. If his understudy audition gives any indication, UTSA will be just fine. 

Rhodes rushed for 827 yards at 5.3 yards per rush. Those numbers should sky rocket as Rhodes becomes the primary ball carrier. We love the way he runs behind his pads and goes straight north-south. Rhodes is an efficient back with little to no wasted directional change. Rhodes should do great things if he can stay on the field. 

The understudy to Rhodes is up for grabs and first shot probably goes to Corpus Christi Miller product and senior Tyrell Clay. Clay was used sparingly in 2016, but got plenty of looks in the spring. Special teams player Brett Winnegan could be a nice change of pace back if he can take care of the ball. 

UTSA signed a potentially great player in Florida product B.J. Daniels, a top 100 back. He looks like the complete package, size, speed, and physicality. Daniels was a thumper in high school, whether that style translates to the collegiate level we'll have to find out, but Frank Wilson will give the young player a chance to get on the field.

UTSA uses one of the rare and beautiful beasts, a fullback. In this case, Halen Steward will get first look after sitting out 2016 with a knee injury. He didn't participate in spring drills but should be 100% for fall camp. Steward is the kind of thick necked lead blocker that can be a tailback's best friend. 

Receivers

All Dalton Sturm's receiving targets are coming back, well at least the big hitters. The best all around is Kerry Thomas Jr. Thomas saw his production go down from his 2015 levels. He caught 52 passes compared to 36 in 2016. He brought in 57% of his targets in 2016.

The Roadrunners deep threat is Josh Stewart. He led the Runners in both catches with 36 and yards per catch with a gaudy 18.4. We talked a bit about Stewart here.  If Stewart could become more well rounded, his overall game would improve immensely. His 46% catch rate needs to go up as well.  

Marquez McNair and Brady Jones are decent slot players. Marquez is better after the catch and Jones' downfield threat is limited.

Tariq Woolen is one of the best, big receivers from the 2016 class. He'll need to refine his game a bit and not rely solely on his size, but he could be special.

UTSA's offense is different than most in the Roundup, relying on a fullback, multiple tightends and moving receivers around to create matchup problems. Rather than just splitting out four receivers, the Roadrunners require their receivers to run an actual route tree and execute from different areas on the line of scrimmage.

With so many receivers returning with experience in the system, bodes well for UTSA.

Tight Ends

Frank Scelfo wants a tight end for his offense. He might've even put it on his Christmas list. He may have one, one that was there all along. Shaq Williams has always lived in that no-man's land as a tweener. Too big to be a receiver, but too finesse to be a tight end. This offseason he made concerted effort to add weight and it paid off in 20 pounds bringing him up to 255 pounds. 

Williams caught 13 passes last season and two touchdowns. With his weight gain he should be more of an asset in the running game. UTSA signed Robert Ursua out of Palomar Junior College. He's a very good blocker and should help immensely on the line of scrimmage. 

UTSA signed two tight ends along with Ursua in their 2017 recruiting class, Chance McCleod from Victoria East and Michael Goff from San Antonio Johnson. At least one of those two should see some action this season. 

Offensive Line

UTSA's offensive line play, if expressed through a line graph it would have been trending up in 2016. The low point would have been pinned at the Colorado State game where the Roadrunners, in spite of really trying, ran for -1 yards. Seriously, they tried. A few personnel switches later, Runners had a functional, dare we say, good offensive front. 

The interior of that line returns, headlined by Austin Pratt, Kyle McKinney, and Stefan Beard. They share a combined 46 starts. Beard stands out. He's a prototypical interior banger with better than average athleticism. McKinney, a senior from Boerne Champion, settled in at center but can play either guard spot. Finally Pratt missed the spring with injuries but is still listed as the starter on UTSA's handy post-spring depth chart. 

UTSA will replace two tackles after Gabe Casillas and Jevonte Domond. UTSA will look to the JC ranks and sophomore Josh Dunlop at left tackle. The 6-7, Dunlop gives the Roadrunners the size they're looking for. Based on the spring game, he should be a more than adequate replacement. 

Reed Darragh will shift outside to tackle after playing guard the last two seasons. We have concerns about his ability on the edge. When his form lapses and he's not under his pads, he's a liability. When he gets a good set, back straight, knees bent he can stone rushers. Consistency in executing the latter will be the key. 

After Drummond and Darragh, the tackle position is razor thin with no playing experience in reserve. Inside Juan Perez-Isidoro saw considerable action at center last season, he's better as a backup.

A caveat, this offensive line is well coached. They consistently have good sets and shuffles. They use their arms and hands well as a unit. Little things like footwork on pulls are well executed. That wasn't the case early on - but coaching helped cure it. 

Defensive Line

The Roadrunners return almost every contributor from 2016's defensive front. That unit actually played very well, finishing in the top 60 in almost every line stat. The Roadrunner fortunes begin with the physically gifted Marcus Davenport who plays a rush defensive end/linebacker hybrid. He'll spend time standing up and with his hand on the ground. Davenport is all of 6-7 and has increased his weight 30 pounds in two season to 255.

He's mirrored by Kevin Strong who's a very good edge setter at 295. A seventeen game starter, Strong is steady, though not disruptive. That's ok given what he's asked to do. Franklin Uesi  will once again play a rotation role for UTSA, something the senior from Pleasant Hill, California did all last season. 

Sophomore Solomon Wise from Coppell was a highly regarded 2016 signee who will probably be making his first start in the opener against Houston. Wise played in eleven games last year and his ability to hold up against the run will be put to the test. Fellow sophomore Jerrod Carter-McLin will provide depth for Wise. Carter-McLin, from powerhouse Carthage, saw action in twelve games as a reserve last year. 

Inside Roadrunner fans are excited to see whether Baylon Baker continues to develop into a handful. Baker, who is best described as country strong, had another nice spring. He and King Newton will be responsible for getting a push inside. 

Linebackers

The Roadrunners will field two of the better linebackers in the state in sophomore Josiah Tauaefa and senior La'kel Bass. Tauaefa erupted onto the scene as a redshirt in 2016. He registered 115 tackles and made athletic plays look routine. He's a gym rat as well and another season with defensive coordinator Pete Golding should do nothing but grow his abilities. He's also bulked up to 240 pounds which will help. 

Bass is a plugger and hard worker who's gotten better every year of his college career. He took a circuitous route to his role at UTSA, but he's a steady hand and brings consistency snap to snap. 

Marcus Curry has played in 35 games in his UTSA career with fourteen starts. The senior from Round Rock Stony Point can play either the Mike or Will. Anthony Hickey is a senior who saw most of his action on special teams in 2016. The native of San Juan Capistrano by way of Saddleback JC will be looked to for some rotation play this season. The rest of the UTSA linebackers are green, but a couple true freshman have potential. 

Secondary

The Roadrunners lost a lot with the departure of Michael Egwuagu and, to a lesser extent, Jordan Moore, but they have talent coming back. 

The guy we like is Devron Davis a dog at cornerback. Davis plays the pass well, but is a willing tackler in the open field. With the full-time job his, Davis should excel. East Central product and one-time Baylor transfer Austin Jupe gives the Roadrunners a taller option and a plus athlete on the other side. Teddrick McGee gives the Roadrunners experienced depth, something they sorely need at corner. 

At safety Nate Gaines is a very good run stopper and looks like he played linebacker in a former life.   Gaines has 23 career starts and now becomes the undisputed leader of the group. The RAM and LION positions will be manned by unknowns. Darryl Godfrey and C.J. Levine have all of one start between them. They played big roles on special teams. Levine, a senior from Port Arthur, is the most experienced of the two. 

Specialist

The Roadrunners return both their kicker and punter from 2016, that's not bad news. Punter Yannis Roustas averaged a very steady 42 yards per punt. Roustas put eleven punts out at 50 yards or longer with a long of 60. 

Victor Falcon is back kicking, he was 43 of 43 on PATS and 12-17 on field goals with a long of 43 yards. He also handles kickoff duties for the Roadrunners. 

Brett Winnegan has been the primary returner at UTSA since 2015. The junior from Pearland Dawson averaged 23.9 yards on kickoff returns last year. Matt Guidry played a nice role as a returner as a true freshman last year. 

2017 Schedule

Best Case

This is the year. The depth chart is loaded, young talent is emerging. A senior quarterback, senior laden offensive line, very good front seven, good corners, and the right coach. It's time. This team has the potential to win ten games before their bowl trip. That's the expectation and the Runners are embracing it. 

Worst Case

That said, there's always a chance that injuries or inefficiency on offense could cost the Roadrunners a couple of games. There are six losable games on the schedule. Houston, Baylor, Southern Miss, North Texas, FIU and Louisiana Tech are all going to be tight for various reasons. UTSA must remain focus and take care of business. 

Houston Loss

Chance for a program defining win 1.0.

Game will be closer than most expect.

@ Baylor Loss

Chance for a program defining win 2.0.

Great chance to catch the Bears in Waco.

Southern Win

FCS body bag game. 

@ Texas State Win

Bobcats will jacked up for the I-35 game.

Won't matter.

Southern Miss Win

Thank UAB for Eagles making two straight trip to the Dome.

Expect USM to show up for the first half this time. 

@ North Texas Win

Runners travel to New Denton to resume the rivalry of the new Millennium. 

Mark your calendars. 

Rice Win

IT'S A TRAP! The Owls arrive after two straight CUSA West defining matchups. 

@ UTEP Win

Roadrunners head west to El Paso. 

Last year's game was a 5 OT thriller. This one won't be. 

@ FIU Win

UTSA goes from the western most CUSA team to the Eastern most in a week. 

Can't let that road trip get you beat. 

Butch Davis will have his Panthers ready to play. 

UAB Win

UTSA returns home for back to back conference games. 

Should be able to deal with the Blazers. 

Marshall Win

The Herd come to San Antonio to end the home slate. 

Can't look ahead to Louisiana Tech. 

@ Louisiana Tech Pick'em

This one should be for the CUSA West Crown. 

Blame UAB for the consecutive trips to Ruston. 

Runners look for payback after last years shellacking. 

Prediction 9-3

The Roundup...

Posted on August 7, 2017 and filed under Southwest Round-Up, UTSA.