After three games UTSA is 1-2, a record I assumed they’d hit. With a win over FCS opponent Incarnate Word at home, then back to back losses to Baylor and Army, Baylor coming on the road. Whatever optimism ran high after the cross-town win over the Cardinals has dampened a bit after blowouts to the Bears and Black Knights.
So what have three games taught us about the Roadrunners? A fair amount, though it’s still a small sample size, and against a level of competition that probably doesn’t translate to CUSA for the most part. UIW is a lower tier, and Baylor and Army are both potential top 25 squads.
The element that adds fuel to the fire is the speculation on the future of head coach Frank Wilson. Wilson may or may not be squarely on the hot seat, dependent on his performance and UTSA’s ability to buy him out, pay his buyout and pay a quality replacement. Wilson needs a splash or at least a fizzle.
Who is UTSA in 2019? Their offensive footprint is a bit different under Jeff Kastl. Situational splits aren’t tell-alls, situations vary based on score and field position, but generally, UTSA is running on first down more in 2019 (54%) than in 2018 (50%). In spite of that increased emphasis, the Roadrunners average slightly less in terms of yards per carry (4.11 vs. 4.16).
Overall UTSA’s improved rushing the football, increasing their output from - Dear God Texas State levels (2.96 per carry) - last season to a respectable 4.54 yards per carry in 2019. They primed the running game against UIW, but they weren’t bad against a physical Baylor team the road. True freshman Sincere McCormick and a healthy Frank Harris are the most significant additions to the rushing game.
The other find’s been Devin Boston, who missed last year with an injury, gashed Baylor for six yards a carry and was the most productive rusher against Army with over five yards a carry.
Other than a brief moment against UIW, the starting offensive line’s been the same five. Spencer Burford continues to discover that he’s a big bad bear with claws, and Ahofitu Maka is a positive addition. But the net result in the passing game is the same. The Roadrunners allow three sacks per game, the same as 2018, eight of those sacks have come in the past two weeks against FBS opponents.
The Runners can’t push the ball down the field, so they rely on dinking and dunking, a tactic that results in an elite level completion percentage from Harris, but just four plays of 20 yards or more via the pass - the fourth-lowest total in the FBS. Army has the lowest explosive pass play total, but then their offense is a radically different design. Harris ranks in the 130s in yards per attempt.
Yesterday’s loss to Army was a curiosity, the Roadrunners stayed in the game until the fourth quarter, created turnovers, shut down the option in the second and third quarter, but ultimately abandoned the running game and their best rushing option Sincere McCormick. Harris ran fourteen times; the other UTSA backs, the deepest position on the team ruan just thirteen times collectively.
Army does that to an opposing offense. They suffocate the clock. UTSA averaged 75 plays per game thru two games; they ran 60 yesterday. What’s troubling is how few of those rushing attempts went to McCormick, Boston, or BrendaTdfdn Brady.
The start of conference play serves as a reset for UTSA. The talent level of the Roadrunner opposition levels out and gameplans fall more into form. Kastl put four games on tape now, including last year’s North Texas finale. He can expect a few tendencies to come his way as CUSA play kicks off.
Plan on defenses continuing to bring pressure, the advantage they’ll have is they can do so without bringing additional numbers. With that in mind, look for safeties to drift into the box to support the run as well as more man coverage to counter the quick game and eliminate space near the line of scrimmage.
UTSA has to balance protection with the need to push the ball downfield. One of the best ways to slow a pass rush down is to run the ball well on script. In other words, not running as a bi-product of improvisation by Harris, that’s nice, but you don’t want to expose Harris to too much risk. I think Harris is the last, best chance for this offense to succeed.
Wilson’s personnel decisions can be baffling. Last season’s quarterback carousel reeked of either desperation or poor player evaluation. I’d love to see Devin Boston become a bigger part of the structure of the offense. I’d also love to see a player like Tykee Ogle-Kellogg in the slot to exploit his size advantage.
UTSA travels to North Texas Saturday night. I’m not sure I can emphasize how critical this game is to the aspirations and psyche of this Roadrunner football team. If UTSA can forge an identity, it should be a lot of fun.