New UTSA offensive coordinator Jeff Kastl said at media day last week that he was open to playing two quarterbacks at the same time if he felt it would help the Roadrunner offense. At the Roundup, we’re all for that sort of offensive innovation. Kastl can flea-flick it, fumblerooski, Statue of Liberty it, heck, he can even lonesome polecat it if it helps UTSA score more than the fourteen points a game. That’s what the ‘Runners strung together in 2018, fourteen points.
If UTSA’s offense is going to get out of its way, the Roadrunners might have to get past Frank Wilson first. The fourth year head coach is officially on the hot seat after a three win season and perhaps the worst offense in the FBS. Heads rolled this offseason; Al Borges is out, receiver coach Kastl got the promotion to the big headset. Borges arrived with fanfare after Frank Scelfo left town in the wake of the 2017 season. The Roadrunners were an offensive juggernaut compared to the 2018 attack, averaging 23 points a game.
Wilson’s made his bones running his offense in concert his defense, low risk, little reward. The payoff for UTSA is that the defense played stellar football, especially in 2017 when they were ‘Bama level good statistically. However, once games at the Alamodome became a race to 15 points, UTSA’s vaunted defense couldn’t cover for its inept offensive approach.
The Roadrunners can recruit, when they get off the bus and walk through the hotel lobby, they are physically impressive. Their receivers could pass for the frontcourt of a basketball team. They’re long, rangy, and pass the eye test. An offense that scored the 129th most points out of 130 FBS teams wasted the talents of all those beautiful athletes. Now Kastl’s charged with getting more than fourteen points out of UTSA’s ability. That will depend on whether Kastl can find a quarterback, or two depending on how far down the rabbit hole he’d like to go, but it depends first on whether Wilson gives him the latitude to turn his horses loose.
Wilson’s not the first head coach to struggle with the offensive reigns. R.C. Slocum famously built A&M’s Wrecking Crew defense into a machine the pillaged villages around the Southwest Conference. Once offenses caught up, Slocum ran through offensive coordinators every two or three seasons, never finding the “right” play-caller. The issue wasn’t the talent or the play-caller; it was the ceiling Slocum’s game management and style placed on the Aggie attack.
Frank Wilson was part of a staff with similar offensive issues. Les Miles and LSU accumulated NFL caliber talent up and down its roster. Wilson help procure many of those assets. Miles’ Tigers consistently disappointed as Miles refused to vault his offense into the 21st century.
Both Slocum and Miles made staff changes, but the root issue was the way they viewed the game. The self-imposed ceiling can skew either direction. Kliff Kingsbury played an aggressive offensive style his teams defended like a mall cop on break.
So here we are, a third offensive coordinator in three years, yet UTSA feels no closer to answer on offense. Perhaps Frank Harris is as advertised, a dynamic playmaker with true dual-threat abilities. Brenden Brady looks like a productive running back capable of big things. The receiving corps is rangy, speedy, and physical. On paper, these Roadrunners look good. At some point, all the talent has to translate into plays.
Whether they have a chance to make those plays is dependent primarily in whether Wilson is ready to let Kastl take the training wheels off.
We’re a few weeks beyond media days or talking season, and what you probably noticed is that every coach says basically the same thing. They want to be physical and smart. They want competition at every position. Their guys really bought in this offseason. They’re excited about the season. These freshmen have a chance to be special. And on and on they drone, one after the other. So when a coach says he wants to be aggressive offensively and play attacking defense, he’s not unique. That’s what they all say.
You can find the reality of what a coach wants in the meeting rooms, film rooms, and staff meetings - especially those staff meetings where play scripts and game plan are at the center of the discussion. A great frame of reference is the 2018 Hard Knocks with the Cleveland Browns where Hugh Jackson, in a staff meeting, tells his coaches why he’s sitting in the big chair. Hugh Jackson’s an idiot. But his point is well made, the head coach has ultimate control, and he gives the directives on how a team is run.
Most coaches probably rate on the psychopathy spectrum, so control is a critical component of their day-to-day. What they view as important is the direction their program goes, from recruiting to gameday to shower shoes.
Frank Wilson has to know that his team must score more than fourteen points a game, more than double that amount. In CUSA last season you needed 26 points or more to win consistently. Wilson has to let Kastl take the governor off.
How does one move an offense to that degree and still keep a defensive identity? Nick Saban faced the same question four years ago as the personnel advantages Alabama owned began to diminish, and schools like Oklahoma and Clemson came to take ‘Bama’s corner. He adapted his philosophy. They played with more pace; they spread the field heaven forbid. He put more of the game on his quarterback and play-caller. Saban released a bit of control.
Wilson can do the same if he wants. Harris is a difference-maker; Brady is a real talent. Tykee Ogle-Kellogg, Sticks Jones, Carlos Strickland, and Tariq Woolen are all unique athletes that CUSA defenses can’t matchup with. Give the athletes as many chances possible to affect the outcome of the game and translate talent into plays. Pick up the pace, pressure the defense to cover the entire width of the field, figure out your tendencies, and work counter to them.
In other words, be different than the UTSA we’ve seen for two-plus seasons and get out of the way.