UTSA 2019 Season Preview

It’s UTSA week, and our preview of the 'Roadrunners rolls out like this, today we’ll look at their quarterback situation. Tomorrow, scroll down, and we’ll delve into UTSA’s skill players. Wednesday we hit the big uglies and our offensive X-Factor. Thursday we switch to the defense and the front seven. Friday let’s look at the UTSA secondary, and Saturday we’ll cover specialists and our predictions for the 2019 campaign.

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Offense

No one’s ever considered UTSA the greatest show on turf, but 2018 was downright putrid on the offensive end. The Al Borges experiment turned sour quickly as the Roadrunners lacked the ability and the desire to run the football, switched quarterbacks more than Spinal Tap drummers, and the offense couldn’t find paydirt. The ‘Runners won three games against the likes of Texas State, Rice, and UTEP - a threesome that combined for six wins.

After a historic bowl run in 2016, and following their first win over a Power 5 opponent (Baylor) in the 2017 opener, some wondered if Wilson might not be in line for an SEC gig. My how things have changed. If the Roadrunners can’t right the ship in 2019, Wilson might be available as a position coach and ace recruiter again.

Team Rush Yards / Gm (Nat'l Rank) Comp % Pass Att / Sack Poss w/ TDs Plays of 10+ Yards
UTSA 87.83 (128) 50.5 (122) 12.17 (106) 10.39 (130) 118 (128)

We don’t have to look too far inside the numbers to see the issues. UTSA couldn’t do much of anything offensively. UTSA finished 128th out of 130 FBS teams in rushing yards a game. When they threw the ball, they completed just over 50% of their attempts, and opponents sacked UTSA’s vast array of quarterbacks too often. The result was a team that produced the third-fewest plays of ten yards or more and scored touchdowns on just 10.4% of their possessions, dead solid last in the FBS.

Wilson appeared on track to build something equivalent to an SEC model squad on a CUSA scale, complete with an imposing physical defense and a powerful running game. UTSA wasn’t an offensive powerhouse, they didn’t have to. The defense cured a multitude of sins, but the offense also did it’s part by scoring touchdowns on 28% of its possession.

In 2016, the Roadrunners rushed the ball 58% of the time and were a top 60 ranked squad according to Bill Connelly’s S&P+ statistical rankings. Last season the percentage of rushing attempts fell to 47% and the rushing yards per game dropped by half.

No, the issue wasn’t playcalling, per se, the Roadrunners couldn’t run the ball. They dipped from 3rd in 2016 among its CUSA peers to last in rushing, a two-yard per carry regression. On third down, the ‘Runners averaged less than a yard per carry (0.75). Inside the red zone, yards per carry was just 1.8.

We promise this is our last awful offensive stat from the 2018 dumpster fire, last season, among FBS squads the average offensive output per game was 406 yards. Four teams averaged less than 300 yards of total offense, Akron, Rutgers, Central Michigan, and, you guessed it, UTSA - dead last at 247 yards per game. That’s eleven yards worse than 129th ranked Central Michigan. Hell, one-win UTEP averaged 307 yards a game. Rice averaged 318. Texas State somehow averaged 330 yards a game.

Al Borges is gone. We hardly knew you, Al. You did do something amazing, Al - you made UTSA fans miss Frank Scelfo. Who knew that was possible?

Rather than looking externally and because he’s perceived as a lame duck, so job security isn’t at a premium, Wilson looked inward for a replacement and found Jeff Kastl, the former receiver coach to run the offense. To Kastl’s credit, the Roadrunners had their best offensive day in the one game he assumed play-calling duties, against North Texas in the season finale. It was the only game in 2018 where the ‘Runner ran for over four yards a carry and their single 400-yard total offense day on the season.

Kastl has the headset in this most critical season in Wilson’s tenure. Can he lead an offensive resurrection? The Roadrunners are banking on it.

Quarterback

UTSA held open auditions for a quarterback in 2018. The ‘Runners, without a significant in-season injury at the position, started four quarterbacks last season. Cordale Grundy got first shot and led UTSA to its three 2018 wins; then the staff turned to true freshman Jo Jo Weeks for two weeks. SMU transfer D.J. Gillins started against FIU; then Weeks went back into the hot pocket. Finally, Bryce Rivers made one start in the finale against North Texas, that game turned out to be an audition for Rivers’ transfer destinations.

Rivers left spring practice in 2018 as a co-favorite to lead the UTSA offense, the disappeared for most of the season, even as the coaching staff grasped at straws. Whether Rivers responded poorly to losing the job in fall camp or the staff saw something in the other three quarterbacks in practice, Rivers was statistically the best quarterback, by a long shot. He’s at Northwestern State now.

The new four-game redshirt rule is a double-edged sword. As a coach, you must be tempted to throw your new freshman into the fire and see who sticks. If someone flashes, is up for the moment, you’ve found an asset. In my estimation, too many coaches used the rule to evaluate on the fly (Everett Withers I’m looking at you). Others played that tricky game of “why the hell not” once the season was out of reach. Week to week, you have to find a way to get your best eleven on the field and attempt to compete. It can harm a locker room if the rule is mishandled to throw something against the wall to see if it sticks.

If UTSA has hope in 2019, most of that hope rests on the knee of Frank Harris. Harris has gone through two knee injuries and surgeries in the past three years, including one suffered in the spring of 2018 that threw a wrench into the ‘Runners quarterback plans.

Harris was the gem of Wilson’s 2017 class, a true dual-threat quarterback with significant play ability with his arm or legs. Whether symbolically, Harris was the first quarterback to lead the Roadrunner offense during the spring game, completing eight of eleven throws for 66 yards and adding another 47 on the ground. Harris, even in limited duty as a senior, accumulated over 7,800 yards of total offense as a high school quarterback. He completed 53% of his throws over three years but 58% in his final two seasons.

If he’s healthy, I think he gets a shot run UTSA’s attack as the season starts. Selfishly I hope he’s healthy because he was a dominant player at Schertz Clements before his first knee injury and he’s worked hard to get back on the field.

The Runners brought in some new blood in Gulf Coast Community College and former LSU signee Lowell Narcisse. Narcisse was a four-star prep quarterback from St. James, Louisiana, the fifth best dual-threat quarterback and the 105th best overall prospect in the 2017 recruiting cycle. His best seasons as a high player came during his freshman and sophomore years, he threw for 5,000 yards in his high school career but only 296 as a junior due to injury, and a knee injury prevented him from playing as a senior.

At Gulf Coast, he completed 45% of his throws, a stat that isn’t a great prognostic indicator. Accuracy statistics tend to follow a quarterback across various levels of football. He also threw equal interception and touchdowns. He’s a big body and a plus athlete, running the ball effectively to the tune of a 4.7-yard average. Narcisse split time before losing the starting position at Gulf Coast.

Grundy returns after an up and down 2018. He played better against Power 5 competition, 99.52 rating compared to 88.55 against Group of Five opponents. Here’s his radar graph*, and the graph for James Morgan from FIU because we were trying to find a way to work in how good Morgan was in 2018.

Grundy wasn’t the problem but he wasn’t a solution either. The turnovers and sacks scare you, but he played better than Gillins and Weeks. The JUCO transfer didn’t make the offense pop, and UTSA needs a quarterback that can jump-start things assuming the running game doesn’t significantly improve.

Jo Jo Weeks was one of the most prolific Texas high school quarterbacks during his senior year at Wimberly. Last season the jump to FBS football was too steep for the first year player. The good news is he kept his redshirt and has time to develop at this level.

Senior Brandon Garza was part of a historic run at Harlingen High School before walking on at Houston. He transferred to UTSA in 2016. UTSA signed Suddin Sapien from Midland High School during the 2019 signing cycle - a big west Texas kid at 6-4, 220 pounds and a willing runner. He set Midland High’s total offense mark with over 5,500 yards. As a senior, he threw for 2,211 yards and ran for another 1,246, the first Bulldog to do so in school history. Sapien completed less than 50% of his throws as a senior.

College football is a quarterback game. The right signal caller can elevate your skill talent and make up for a leaky offensive line. We forget how good Dalton Sturm turned out to be. The pride of Goliad made plays with his arm and, better yet, when things broke down, he was more than comfortable doing something with his legs. He became a threat that kept defenses honest and opened the field for the rest of the offense. UTSA doesn’t need Kyler Murray, but they do need efficient quarterback play, i.e., someone who can get the ball to their talented receivers and keeps teams from stacking the box against the run game. If defenses have to fear the quarterback run, all the better.

* We track percentile ranks among quarterbacks with 100 or more attempts in a given season. We take statistics like yardage accounted for, touchdowns per play, completion percentage, yardage per attempt, yardage per play, plus sack and interception avoidance and put them into a visual of efficiency and explosiveness. The bigger the radar area, the better the player performed.

Skill Talent

Potential is a fickle thing; it’s a mark that’s easy to miss because it’s based on the subjective perception of someone’s ceiling. When forecasting potential from a high school playing field to college, often we don’t consider a massive upgrade in opposition talent is, and the circumstantial changes, like a new scheme, new teammates, a new living situation. Potential is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately gauge.

Sometimes we miss. Anthony Bennett became the number 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. He played for four teams in four seasons, never averaging more than five points. He’s out of the league now. With all the analytics nerds and old school, three pack a day scouts, the Association missed.

Players that fail to reach their potential aren’t stiffs, at least not exclusively, sometimes a player’s potential comes down to fit in a system, coaching, and circumstance. Last season Amari Cooper couldn’t play dead in a cowboy movie in Oakland but became lethal in Dallas. Fit, coaching, and circumstance matter.

For UTSA, the ‘Runners have a lot of potentially lethal skill talent - high ceiling guys with physical skills and measurables. 2019 is a season for these highly touted guys to start getting to that ceiling. The challenge for Kastl and the offensive staff is to try and fit the talent into a scheme that maximizes those physical gifts. If they can stay healthy, and get help from better quarterback and line play, they’ll have a chance to turn potential into production. For now, it’s all just recruiting stars and measurements.

Running backs, like receivers, need help to become effective. If UTSA can find a way to create space up front, this might be the deepest position on the roster.

Former Army All-American and Cibolo Steele back Brenden Brady averaged 4.5 yards a carry in his first season. He was mostly unused through the first seven games of the season, with just three carries. In his last five games, coaches featured him more, and that usage paid off. Brady has a bright future with his efficient one-cut style. At 200 pounds, he’ll finish runs and lean into contact.

Of the existing crop of backs, I’d bet on Brady to have a big season. The sophomore looked impressive down the stretch against as close to a murderers row as CUSA has to offer, USM, UAB, FIU, Marshall, and North Texas.

Out of Melbourne, Florida, B.J. Daniels, a junior, is another highly touted back. He’s on the all Hotel Lobby Team at 6-2 215 pounds. UTSA features a lot of All-Lobby guys; now they need to become productive. For a big guy, he wows you with his athleticism. 2018 JUCO transfer Devin Boston has one of the greatest Hudl videos in a world of great Hudl videos; at 235 pounds he’s a load but light on his feet. It takes him a second to get up to cruising speed, but when he does his straight-line burst is impressive.

Wilson signed another north side talent in December for the running back room, Judson’s Sincere McCormick. McCormick averaged a gaudy 10.4 yards a carry and accounted for 43 touchdowns for the Rockets. He enrolled early and went through spring practice.

UTSA has one of the rarest of all college football unicorns in people moving fullback Halen Steward. Steward is one of the most physical lead blockers in CUSA, putting together highlight blocks weekly. Don’t expect much of what Steward does to show up in the stat line; he’s carried the ball four times in his UTSA career. Every once in a while, Roadrunner coaches get diabolical and throw the ball the Steward and let the juggernaut loose in the open field. I imagine it’s similar to what Native American plains tribesmen saw as buffalo stampeded across the vast ocean of green.

Greg Campbell Jr. emerged as a pretty decent receiver in 2018. He became the favored target of UTSA quarterbacks with 30 of his 96 targets coming in the final two games. He led the Roadrunners in catches by a mile with 58. He’s gone and the quest to find a number 1 receiver resumes. UTSA returns a lot of talented athletes with significant potential.

Checking in at just 5-7, Kirk Johnson finished second on the squad with 20 catches. If he’s not the best route runner on the roster, he’s up there. Blaze Moorehead finished third on the team with 19 catches. You need a guy like Moorehead; he can work anywhere on the field and find space. He’s a zone beater.

Much was expected out of Tykee Ogle-Kellogg, the 6-4 sophomore from Alcoa, Tennessee, and he flashed a bit of the playmaking skills that made him a coveted member of the 2018 class. We’ll see how much he’s grown after a year in the program. Tariq Woolen, at 6-5 gives the ‘Runners another big target near the goal line. Among receivers, he had the second highest catch percentage, 58%, behind only Campbell Jr.

Sheldon Jones, a burner from Louisiana, caught ten balls and made two starts as a true freshman. Jones also helped in the return game. Matt Guidry contributed mostly in the return game, but he’s a flyer as well. UTSA was able to redshirt Andrew McGowan, a bigger receiver at 6-3 out of Sinton.

Big Gavin Sharp is back at tight end after a productive freshman season. At 6-5, 245 pounds he has ideal size and can move outside and work the slot as well. Sharp played a more significant role in the passing game early in the season; his targets went down in the second half of the season.

The ‘Runners signed a few prep receivers; we’ll see if any of them can break into a crowded rotation. Joshua Cephus from Dekaney and brother of Rice receiver Aaron is as versatile as they come. He played quarterback and receiver at Dekaney, went to state in the high jump and hit .443 for the baseball team.

Dywan “Superman” Griffin, out of New Orleans, is the most highly regarded, choosing UTSA over Tennessee, Memphis, and Louisiana Lafayette. As a prep player, with the ball in his hands, he was electric. Zakhari Franklin is a home run threat from metroplex powerhouse Cedar Hill. He averaged nearly 30 yards a catch for the ‘Horns.

UTSA was as active in the free agent market as anyone this side of Houston; they brought in K-State transfer Carlos Strickland who they list as a tight end. Strickland is a former four-star receiver who’s taken a circuitous route to the River City. LSU, UCLA, Alabama, TCU, Notre Dame, Texas, and Ohio State all beat down his door as a prep player at Dallas Skyline before he signed with Cal. He redshirted at Berkeley, then transferred to Kansas State where he finally repaired a sports hernia that plagued him from his days at Dallas Skyline. Strickland caught one pass in 2017 and left the K-State in the spring of 2018. It looks like he signed with Wayland Baptist out in Plainview but never played and landed at UTSA with a position change.

Wilson signed Hutchinson JC tight end Leroy Watson, a 6-5 225 prospect originally out of Georgia. He’ll help to block in the run game. The went to Northside ISD for another big tight end in Brandeis prospect Oscar Cardenas.

Offensive Line

I remember the 2016 UTSA season fondly; Frank Wilson led his team to a historic New Mexico Bowl birth. The centerpiece of that squad was an experienced, technically sound, nasty offensive line. Since that time the pieces of that offensive line have slowly with withered. Wilson went the JUCO route to avoid playing a ton of young players up front. The results have been poor. The saying around UTSA is “linemen lead this team,” that seems to be the case as the failures of the offensive line contributed to a three-win 2018.

Advanced Line Stat Offensive Rank
Adj. Line Yds 122
SD/carry 116
PD/carry 117
Opp Rate 121
Power SR 114
Stuff Rate 113
Adj. Sack Rate
111
SD Sack Rate 65
PD Sack Rate 120

This recruiting cycle, Wilson went back to the JUCO well and opened up competition on the offensive line. It’s a good idea, break it down, build it back up, but don’t repeat the failures of 2018. According to Bill Connelly’s advanced line number rankings UTSA finished in triple digits in every statistical category. If there’s good news, it’s that on standard downs, UTSA finished right at the average in sack rate. Everywhere else, this unit was consistently bad.

Let’s start inside and work out, Kevin Davis started all twelve games at center last season, the redshirt sophomore from Angleton is a rarity on the Roadrunner front, he moves well. Light on his feet but susceptible to bigger one and two techs putting him on skates. Hopefully, he can add strength via the offseason program.

Spencer Burford was the highest rated recruit in UTSA history and started ten games as a freshman at right guard. That’s quite a transition, and Burford handled it exceptionally well. There were, of course, hiccups, but asking an offensive lineman to make a seamless transition from high school to the college level is a fool’s errand.

Teams learned that they could exploit the A and B gaps with blitzers and take advantage of communication and technique deficiencies in the Roadrunner interior. I think that can improve with another year of experience from so many of their first-year starters in 2018 returning.

Burford needs to play with more discipline in his pass set and avoid “opening the gate” by turning his shoulders away from parallel to the line of scrimmage, but he does a lot of things well. He drops his hips to counter a bull rush; he moves well on pull schemes, he punches and uses his arms effectively. Burford is young, and I think he’ll turn into an All-Conference caliber player. There’s nothing better for Burford than the weight room, he can transform himself in the strength program and turn into a mauler, but you’d be short sited not to expect growing pains.

At tackle the ‘Runner return Treyvion Shannon, Jalyn Galmore, and Josh Dunlop. All three ideal size with massive wingspans. Shannon will run into issues with faster edge rushers. His feet are choppy, and he’s prone to dropping his head and lunging, that’s a technique issue that good coaching can help. Dunlop can shift inside or out and with Galmore’s return. He should move down to guard. Galmore started five games at left tackle before an injury cut his season short.

He’s another long-armed tackle; he needs those arms because he doesn’t move well. If he locks on, he’s effective, but if Galmore has to cover any real estate on the edge, he’s stiff in his set.

This unit is better when they roll the pocket and a reach step, but the leaking in the middle of the line on standard pass pro is concerning - so many free rushers. Great offensive line play is a choreographed dance, designed to keep spatial relationships, both horizontally and vertically, if someone gets out of the chorus line, green grass opens up, and life gets tough for the quarterback.

If you rewatch the majority of the 2018 season, and if you’re a UTSA fan, proceed with caution, you can see the internal clock on Roadrunner quarterbacks speed up. When we talk about a defense moving a quarterback off his spot, or where he sets up on a drop back or shotgun snap, UTSA quarterbacks didn’t have a spot, they were improvising and moving backward from the snap. They couldn’t “climb” the pocket or move inside the pocket - the pocket existed in theory. Pressure generally came into the quarterback’s face, the worst place to feel pressure if you’re a passer. Roadrunner quarterbacks made so many throws off their back foot, almost out of instinct.

UTSA has depth issues, on the inside Jacob Graner lacked athleticism, but he made three starts at guard. Bosa Osakwe played in six games last season as a guard after transferring from Contra Costa JC. Tackle Dominic Pastucci returns at tackle; he started four games in 2017. Josh Oatis is a big-bodied tackle who might provide depth.

UTSA went beefy in their 2019 line recruiting. Ahofitu Maka comes from Hawaii powerhouse Punahou by way of Independence JC in Kansas. He’s a one-gap interior man mover, but he can get a little handsy in pass pro. Brandon Rolfe is a 6-5 tackle from Ellsworth Community College in Iowa. He played on the defensive side at Cisco before heading to Ellsworth and plays with an edge like a former defensive tackle playing on offense.

Cedric Claiborne is a raw, rangy tackle out of Spring Westfield. He’s a project but with a nice athletic baseline. Wilson also signed Demetris Allen out of Hattiesburg High School in Mississippi. His technique development will dictate if and when he contributes.

Defense

Let’s talk defense where the Roadrunners have more than held their own against CUSA competition in recent years. Pete Golding set the culture in 2016 when Frank Wilson hired the former safeties coach from USM. Golding is now coordinating a particular Death Star defense in Tuscaloosa. Wilson has an eye for coaching talent. Jason Rollins runs the defense for the second season, and the ‘Runner took a step back in 2018.

Team Opp Comp % (Nat'l Rank) Opp Pass Yards / Gm Opp Passer Rating Opp Pts / Gm Def % of Poss w/ TOs
UTSA 65.33 (125) 273.5 (124) 162.8 (126) 31.17 (87) 12.58 (45)

The issue was UTSA’s pass defense where the Roadrunners allowed opposing quarterbacks to have free reign. The ‘Runners were 125th in opposing quarterback completion percentage, 124th in passing yards allowed, and 126th in passer rating allowed. The result was a massive tilt in points allowed per game. In 2017 the Roadrunners led CUSA, allowing just seventeen points a game - eight best in the country. In 2018, that number rose to 31.2, tenth in CUSA and 87th in the FBS.

One area where UTSA continued to show good production was forcing turnovers. The ‘Runners finished 2018 45th in percentage of possessions with a forced turnover. UTSA returns six starters from the 2018 unit and must replace some key and foundational pieces of the program.

the 4-2-5 Scheme

If you’re into oversimplification, this section is for you. I’ll try and give you a base knowledge of the traditional spread killer defense, the 4-2-5.

Last season Rollins ran a base 4-2-5. The base alignment against standard spread personnel looks like this: the defensive ends line up as five-techniques or outside shade of the tackles, the noseguard plays on the inside shoulder of the guard as a one-technique, and defensive tackle sets up or outside shade of the other guard as two-techniques head up with the guard. When I say shade, I mean over an inside or outside shoulder of the offensive player. As we’ll see, these small adjustments matter.

The linebackers generally floated from outside the hips of the interior players in. UTSA could then walk a safety down into the box to either a declared strong side or the field/wide side. That safety is critical because he’s a weapon on many uses, he can run fit almost like a traditional 3-4 outside linebacker, he can blitz, cover, spy the quarterback, or sit in that short zone affect the quick passing game.

The defense, made popular by Gary Patterson and TCU in the early 2000s, keeps six players in the tackle box, thereby avoiding a numbers advantage for the offense, and allowing that third safety or speed player on the field for coverage and run fit while maintaining the integrity of a two-deep look. Every defense today is designed around a run fit - the assignment of a specific line gap to a specific player. The 4-2-5 is an attack based system that is designed to exploit weaknesses rather than read and react - an attempt to take the initiative rather than wait for the offense to dictate to you.

With the continued development of the dreaded RPO, traditional linebackers, downhill fillers with limited coverage skills, have become obsolete. The RPO is designed to make an aggressive defense hesitate, and for a 4-2-5, that delay is a problem.

The B-gap is ground zero for most spread offenses. In a 4-2-5, you have an exposed gap between the guard and tackle, opposite the running back. Offenses want to put that weakside or WILL linebacker inside his head. Do they step into their run fit? Do they drop into coverage? Do they scrape and get outside? TThe offense exploits the defender’s thought process to get leverage either by allowing a lineman to get to the second level and seal him off, a runner to beat him to the edge of the formation, or a pass catcher to drift in behind him.

How does the 4-2-5 adapt? You get linebackers and their neck rolls off the field and use speed backers or convert safeties that can move and give you flexibility. The other adaptation is to take traditional defensive ends and replace them with smaller, more athletic hybrids that can rush and also drop into coverage. You also need to be heavy inside. Speed is great, but you need bulk to stand up in the A and B gaps. So, defensive ends might be lighter, but defensive tackles are getting bigger.

In a standard RPO, someone, usually a defensive end or force player is the “read” player and unblocked. If you can put a better athlete at that end position, then you can speed up the offenses clock and cause delay or confusion.

In November I watched TCU’s Ben Banogu singled handedly shut down Baylor’s offense with a lethal combination of length, speed, and deception. The key is to get athletes on the field and let get them attacking.

Front Seven

Football defenses, like baseball defenses, must be strong up the middle. For UTSA the void of lost production starts up the middle with the loss of tackle Kevin Strong and linebacker Josiah Tauaefa. Both were multi-year starters and multi-year All-League Award Winners. Those two are trying to catch on in an NFL camp. Add to that the loss of fellow starting linebacker and emergent tackling machine Les Maruo and UTSA has some work to do, but some pieces should make the 2019 version salty.

The Roadrunners have to assets up front that I think could be poised to do big things in that Banogu-esq, disruptive role, with high motors and speed.

DeQuarius Henry flashed a lot of athleticism in his first season with real playing time and finished second on the team in sacks with four. He’s explosive with the flexibility to put his hand on the ground or act as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Lorenzo Dantzler has a similar build and skill set. He used those skills to rack up 8.5 tackles for loss, including three sacks in nine starts.

Rollins should wake up every morning and spring out of bed with thoughts of using Henry and Dantzler to wreak havoc over the opposing protection schemes, burning villages, and stealing horses.

Opposite Henry and Dantzler is a pretty good, more traditional, 4-3 defensive end in Jarrod Carter-McLin, a senior from Beast Texas royalty Carthage. He’s got good anticipation and get off. He’s also good to jump the neutral zone on occasion, but you can live with it. Carter-McLin, the rangy Solomon Wise and Eric Banks give the Roadrunners a serviceable rotation.

There was a time that Banks was Robin to Marcus Davenport’s Batman. If he can get back to his 2017 production that’s a huge bonus. Wise’s career has endured several injury hiccups, but the big junior from Coppell might be ready to play a more significant role. You’d like to see Carter-McLin, Banks, and Wise get more active with their hands to shed and pursue. They can all run pretty well.

Inside with Strong gone, King Newton and Baylen Baker will play a more prominent role. Both are multi-year starters, and good against the run. Strong possessed power and quickness to penetrate the opposing backfield and, when he wanted to be, he was Godzilla trashing Tokyo. Downtown San Marcos is still rebuilding from what he did there in 2017. Any pass rush the Roadrunners get from the interior is gravy, they’ll be best-used stonewall the run or at least occupy blockers and let the linebackers run loose.

Jaylon Haynes has grown into a player that will challenge to start. Behind him, Brandon Masterson played in ten games last season as a true freshman from Brandeis. Kevin Nelson will be counted on to provide depth.

UTSA signed one defensive lineman during the 2019 cycle, Christian Clayton out of Fort Worth South Hills. He checks in at 6-2, 285 - I don’t buy that weight but whatever. Clayton is active, runs to the football, and plays with a high motor. If he learns some hand technique, his fluidity says he could turn into a player.

Tauaefa, a transcendent UTSA player, leaves a void. When you rewatch the 2018 season, you understand how many mistakes Tauaefa covered and corrected by himself. He was an incredible talent - like retire his number good. This crop of ‘Runner ‘backers is athletic but green.

Four of UTSA’s top tacklers from 2018 are gone, and that missing production will fall on some youth to compensate. Donovan Perkins and De’Marco Guidry gained experience in limited relief last season and on special teams. One will step in and start at the MIKE backer, Tauefa’s position.

Andrew Martel was always around the ball as a safety and a pretty decent Swiss army knife. Rollins is banking on that and moving him up to linebacker. If his smaller frame can withstand the wash of bodies inside the box, Martel’s a guy that will be in on a lot of tackles.

Jarrett Preston played in four games, maintaining his redshirt. Lawrence Jackson played sparingly last season after transferring from Texas Lutheran. He had the best spring game of any Roadrunner linebacker with 5.5 tackles and TFL. Walk-on Tyler Mahnke returns after seeing his first live action in 2018.

The Roadrunners added two grad transfer free agents, Dominic Sheppard from Virginia and Layton Garnett from LSU. Sheppard suffered from the injury bug with the Cavs, while Garnett is a large specimen at 6-4, 247. He entered LSU as a preferred walk-on, a former three-star prospect who played two games for the Tigers.

UTSA brought in Trevor Harmanson from Blinn JC; he played high school ball at Dickinson, a 6-3, 215 pound. He’s a WILL backer, he is inefficient in his movement, but he’s athletic enough to get to the football.

Secondary

When you watched the 2018 Roadrunner defense, two things stood out: 1st lots of open receivers, running free as rabbits in the heather with no impediment and 2nd, as if the first one wasn’t bad enough, missed tackles everywhere. In the opener, the Roadrunner secondary alone missed fourteen tackles against FIU the back end missed a dozen. Opponents had lots of space and when the UTSA secondary closed in, actually bringing a pass catcher down was real iffy.

That’s how you allow the 126th worst opposing passer rating, on third down the opposing quarterback rating rose from 163.13 to 181.98, and the 14th most explosive plays in the FBS.

Fun fact to know and tell, Texas, who brands itself and DBU, allowed the fourth most explosive pass plays. So, you’ve got that going for you Roadrunner fans.

The 2018 secondary version came by its difficulties honestly; they lost three significant starters from the 2017 squad - Devron Davis, Austin Jupe at cornerback and Nate Gaines at what best be described as the enforcer position. Those three combined for 68 starts over their careers. They also lost Carl Austin to an injury before the season started. This spring, three cornerbacks on the roster left UTSA for other pastures, leaving the Roadrunners down in numbers.

The Roadrunners return Cassius Grady and Clayton Johnson both seniors. Grady made nine starts and tied a school record with four interceptions. Johnson, a former Oklahoma State Cowboy, started all seven games he played in last year. He added two interceptions in 2018 and plucked two in the 2019 spring game. Teddrick McGhee is back as well after three starts coming back from an injury that held him out of the entire 2017 season.

Corey Mayfield hopped right into the action as a true freshman out of Forney with two starts, and ten total games played. The Roadrunners picked up a grad transfer in New Orleans native and former Arizona Wildcat Antonio Parks. He battled injuries in his time in Tucson and played mostly on special teams.

The ‘Runners signed Kenneth Robinson out of South Grand Prairie, a legitimate 4.5 40 athlete. He played safety for the Warriors, but he’s athletic and with his size fits at corner. If he’s the same Kenneth Robinson, he ran a 4.4 at a Rivals Combine as an eighth grader in the Austin area back in 2015.

At safety, UTSA returns Austin, who might be the most significant “newcomer” on the 2019 roster. He started eight games in 2016 and 2017 and played in 35 total contests. He was an All-Conference caliber player before the injury. Dadrian Taylor is back at safety as well after two starts as a redshirt freshman. Vance Vallair and Kelechi Nwachuku saw action in reserve last season, Nwachuku preserved his redshirt status.

After Austin and Taylor, new faces will fill in the back, but don’t let that scare you because some of these guys have a lot of that previously discussed potential. Rashad Wisdom signed out of Judson along with McCormick. He’s undersized in stature at 5-8, but he makes plays. If you believe playmaking is a gene, Wisdom has it.

SaVion Harris signed out of Iowa Central Community College; he’s a center fielder like Wisdom. He’s not a physical player, but he covers a lot of ground. Jahmal Sam out of New Orleans has the playmaking gene as well. Sam decomitted from Louisiana Lafayette to come to San Antonio. Sean Berry out of Dallas Woodrow Wilson is a thumper with good size.

If there’s a theme in UTSA recruiting it’s that Wilson and his staff seemed to target multi-position athletes, players with ball skills honed either as a running back or as a receiver. Even Superman Griffin fits that mold.

Nick Saban, a guru of secondary play and generally being a red-ass, places a premium on a defensive back’s ability to play the ball in the air. A lot of defenders at the collegiate level have straight-line speed and verticle leaping ability. Great defensive backs can use those gifts while adjusting to a projectile in flight. This new crop of Roadrunners seems to share those ball skills.

At safety, after Austin, the race for playing time feels wide open. The newcomers share a coverage ability that you need against four and five wide sets.

Specialists

The Roadrunners will replace their kicking battery with the graduation of the America’s Punting Hero Yannis Routsas and the transfer for kicker Jared Sackett. Routsas was a weapon with a 43-yard average and Sackett wasn’t too shabby, converting fourteen of nineteen field goal attempts with a booming 51-yard nail job to his credit. Sackett is now kicking for the slickest used car salesman in college football, Chad Morris at Arkansas.

The Roadrunners went out and got themselves an Aussie to do the punting in true freshman Lucas Dean. For kicking chores, junior Hunter Duplessis gets the first crack. He handled kickoffs this past season but has yet to attempt a kick for points in his collegiate career. Texas Tech transfer Eric Baughman is a dual-threat kicker, he punted three times for the Red Raiders back in 2016 for a 38-yard average, and he can handle place kicking as well.

The return game is in good hands with CUSA kickoff return leader Matt Guidry back and adds Brett Winnegan into the fold again after a redshirt in 2018. Winnegan averages 21 yards a return for his UTSA career. Sheldon Jones could step in to return punts, and several of the freshmen have return abilities as well.

How Many is Enough?

After a three-win 2018, Frank Wilson is decidedly on the hot seat, how hot that seat is, depends on external factors, including the financial status of the Athletic Department given its new facilities campaign. The University is finally giving the football program the infrastructure it needs to compete at this level. A new football area with a sparkling weight room, a covered practice field, and new outdoor practice fields are coming in 2020. Funds for the new stuff are earmarked, in part, from a fundraising campaign. Buyouts are more comfortable to swallow for a university when they don’t come out of the budget.

Remember the rumors that a group of disgruntled Auburn fans were willing to lay out $30 plus million to get rid of Gus Malzahn last season. Does UTSA have donors willing to put up a couple million to pay off Wilson? He’s in the third year of a five year contract that pays him a base just over $1 million. That’s on the high end of the CUSA pay scale, just behind North Texas’ Seth Littrell.

Wilson can’t control the desires and purse strings of his employer, but he can attempt to control what goes on on the field. UTSA should be better in some areas. At quarterback, they should improve, and if Frank Harris gives the position a lift, all the better. The offensive line should show improvement with almost every starting piece back. If the line is worse, the quarterback should write his blood type on the bottom of his cleats for expedience.

I don’t know how much of an impact Kastl will have on the overall offense. Wilson, like his former boss at LSU, Les Miles, seems to want to play through his defense. Miles famously refused to adapt to a modern offensive tidal wave, and his antiquated attack fell further and further behind. Wholesale offensive changes aren’t in the cards for UTSA. But maybe if they are better in certain areas, raising the completion percentage, limiting negative plays, turnover avoidance, that tilts the scale enough.

On defense, the ‘Runners are a question mark. They lose some significant pieces from 2018’s unit, but they were far from the juggernaut of the 2016 and 2017 versions. Youth could present an upside not only individually but also collectively. The defensive line will be at worst solid and has some pieces that might make it disruptive. The linebacking corps probably takes at least a step back without Tauaefa’s leadership and gamesmanship. The secondary can’t be much worse and is the area with the most upside.

I think Wilson is a good talent evaluator; I’m not sure that translates into a good head coach in this instance. I say the same thing about Larry Coker by the way, I don’t think he was a great head coach and he has a ring. Once Butch Davis’ recruits left the program, mostly for the NFL, he couldn’t sustain the dynasty Davis rebuilt.

If Wilson wins less than six games, which I think is likely, is that enough to keep him in place? Do you keep betting on Wilson, the good recruiter to turn into Wilson, the good football coach? For most fans in San Antonio, that answer is no. It’ll be interesting to see what the administration’s response is. I bet that has more to do with the financial ledger.

The Schedule

Before we get too far, remember, this is Conference Freakin’ USA, not the AFC East, so the talent disparity between most of the league isn’t that great. UTSA can play with most of the league, but there are a few bullies out there that will be beyond the ‘Runner’s grasp. Southern Miss, North Texas, and Louisiana Tech aren’t light years ahead, and UAB graduated a lot of their two-deep.

UTSA opens with Incarnate Word, if the Cardinals should find their way to an upset, Dr. Lisa Campos may want to give Wilson the full Kiffin treatment and pull him off the team bus to deliver the bad news. Then call him an Uber and sneak him out of the Alamodome before the folks in Lot C burn the place to the grown. That said, the Roadrunners shouldn’t have problems with UIW.

Other than the battle for San Antonio, the rest of the non-conference games feature teams that are at least top-25 caliber, including the difficult to prepare for Army option offense. This Roadrunner teams has to handle its business against UTEP and Rice, they get the benefit of an improved Owl team at home.

The heavyweight CUSA contests are semi-split between road games at North Texas and Louisiana Tech and home dates - first against UAB and then later back to back, against Southern Miss and FAU. The final three-game stretch is brutal, getting two of those three at home gives UTSA a fighting chance.

It’s hard to see more than four wins, but the Dome isn’t a place to wander into without fear.

Date Day Opponent Conf Prediction Notes
31-Aug-19 Sat Incarnate Word Non-Major W If UIW…no, we just can't go there.
7-Sep-19 Sat at Baylor Big 12 L This version of Baylor is a lot different than the 2017 squad.
14-Sep-19 Sat Army Ind L An Army team in San Antonio might give UTSA its biggest home crowd of the season.
21-Sep-19 Sat at North Texas CUSA L This rivalry returns to Denton.
5-Oct-19 Sat at UTEP CUSA W Oh dear. Ugly.
12-Oct-19 Sat UAB CUSA L This won't be the cake walk for UAB it was in 2018.
19-Oct-19 Sat Rice CUSA W The Runners own the Owls.
2-Nov-19 Sat at Texas A&M SEC L There by monsters in College Station.
9-Nov-19 Sat at Old Dominion CUSA W Screw it, I'm picking UTSA to get one over in Virginia.
16-Nov-19 Sat Southern Mississippi CUSA L This game is typically closer than expected.
23-Nov-19 Sat Florida Atlantic CUSA L The second ever meeting with the Owls, first in San Antonio.
30-Nov-19 Sat at Louisiana Tech CUSA L Rough trip to Ruston to close things out.

Checking out Work

So you’re asking yourself, yeah, but what do you know? You’re right, not much, so in the interest of full disclosure, let’s look at our predicted wins in years past vs. the actual wins. We hang our hat on transparency and grammatical indifference.

UTSA Predicted Wins Actual Wins
2016 3 6
2017 9 6
2018 4 3

The Roundup…

Posted on June 24, 2019 and filed under Southwest Round-Up, UTSA.