Year three of the Frank Wilson era at UTSA kicks off with a roadie to Tempe to take on the Sun Devils, one of three Power 5 opponents on the Roadrunner docket in 2018. They also play Texas State. The Bobcats are not a Power 5. No judgment.
Here's the outlook for ASU on Saturday night.
Herm's New, But He Knows What He's Doing
Herm Edward's approach on his college adventure is to act as the CEO of Arizona State football and put in a structure that will identify and develop players. That's why he offered the offensive staff and defensive coordinator, Phil Bennett, from the Todd Graham era, positions on his staff to keep on keepin' on. Phil Bennett took a year off for health reasons, but five of Graham's assistants stayed on. The move cuts down on Edward's learning curve. It's also a smart move for Edwards who hasn't coached in college since 1989.
Edward's approach, to bring an NFL structure to college football isn't entirely novel. Plenty of schools have defacto general managers or player personnel directors. Edward's former agent and Arizona State AD Ray Anderson took a risk in hiring Edwards, but Edwards has surrounded himself with veteran college operatives and apparently stays out of the way. They lightened his plate while he learns the college game from recruiting to scheme. Edwards knows how to motivate and apparently how to delegate, both will come in handy this year.
The New Look UTSA Offense
We're intrigued to see what new UTSA offensive coordinator Al Borges. Earlier today Frank Wilson named JUCO transfer Cordale Grundy the starting quarterback. The thought being that Grundy brings the right mix of passing poise and athleticism. D.J. Gillins will play as well so the 'Runners will go with the hot hand to some extent.
Borges knows how to craft an offense to talent. That will be his task this season regardless of who the quarterback is. UTSA has a lot of skill talent to draw from, even if it's raw, the talent is undeniable. They'll benefit from a quicker pace, more opportunities and Borges' ability to get the ball to that talent in areas where they'll thrive. The learning curve with a PAC 12 opponent on the road is steep, but UTSA will want to come out of Tempe understanding more about its offensive identity.
Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins' legacy in Tempe is a page turner and up to now, a cliff hanger. The talented California Kid stepped into the starting role in 2016, struggled at times and played through ligament damage in his ankle, a broken toe, and a shoulder injury .
After the season the Sun Devils courted Alabama transfer Blake Barnett, causing Wilkins to feel betrayed and wonder whether he had a place in the Sun Devils' future. He ignored calls from his position coaches for months. He adjusted his academic schedule to ramp up for a December graduation. But rather than transferring out, Wilkins stayed put together a very good 2017. As it stands, the Sun Devils are 12-12 in his two seasons seeing the field.
Wilkins is the focal point of ASU's offense. As he goes, so go the Devils. His performances are the pulse of the Arizona State fan base who find him polarzing, cheering Barnett's arrival in 2017, but begging Wilkins to play through pain in 2016. Barnett since transferred, again and Wilkins solidified his hold on the job under his new head coach.
In 2017, Wilkins averaged 319 yards passing per game out of conference, but once PAC 12 play started that number dropped by nearly 100 yards per game. If he's healthy, Wilkins has all the tools, including escapability and a big arm. What State fans are looking for is consistency from their senior quarterback.
Can UTSA's Secondary Hold Up?
The Roadrunner defense will, once again, lead the team. The front seven is solid and deep with All-Conference caliber players at every position. UTSA spent the offseason rebuilding its secondary which lost both corners and a key safety. Arizona State will set out to test UTSA's offseason work. Scouts and pundits consider Sun Devil receiver N’Keal Harry among the best in the league. He caught 82 balls in 2017 and eight touchdowns. UTSA might not see a better receiver on its schedule.
Roadrunner corners Stanley Dye and Clayton Johnson played quite a bit in 2017, but the defense counted on frontline corners Austin Jupe and Devron Davis to do the heavy lifting. Teddrick McGhee, who returns to the field after eight starts as a true freshman in 2016, and JUCO transfer Cassius Grady offer depth and some experience.