UTSA football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Roadrunners, best players and season prediction.
Larry Coker helped get UTSA off the ground. It’s now up to Frank Wilson to keep the Roadrunners airborne.
Coker succeeded in piloting an embryonic program from concept stage to the FBS, an impressive feat achieved in well under a decade. But Coker hit a wall in San Antonio, going 7-17 over the last two seasons after generating so much optimism with winning years in 2012 and 2013. So on Jan. 5, the 67-year-old resigned from his post … or was asked to resign, depending on whom you believe.
Enter Wilson, the former LSU running backs coach tasked with launching UTSA 2.0.
Wilson has never been a coordinator, let alone a college head coach. But in many ways, he’s the anti-Coker, more than a generation younger and driven by a seemingly boundless reservoir of energy. Best of all, he’s a proven recruiter. True, it’s a lot easier to entice kids to matriculate in Baton Rouge than San Antonio, but the administration believes Wilson has the right temperament to land talented Lone Star State kids passed over by the Big 12.
Wilson, who inherits a 3-9 squad, wants his kids to play fast and physical. His first offense has potential, provided the linemen block better than they did a year ago. Wilson signed one of the FCS’ top quarterbacks, Jared Johnson, to compete with Dalton Sturm. And the skill guys are proven, including 1,000-yard rusher Jarveon Williams, two of last season’s top pass-catchers, JaBryce Taylor and Kerry Thomas Jr., and former Oklahoma WR Dannon Cavil.
The defense under Pete Golding needs tinkering as well. After a couple of years of hustling their way to solid results, the wheels came off the Roadrunners last fall. The secondary was especially vulnerable in 2015. And while the cornerbacks remain question marks, UTSA hopes that improved play up front can help everyone in the rear view mirror. It’ll require a collaboration, particularly in games with Arizona State, Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee and Texas A&M.
UTSA has hit a detour in the quest for Conference USA contention and a first-ever bowl game. Coker, the father of Roadrunner football, took the program about as far he could before running out of steam. Wilson now has a unique opportunity to stop the slide and gradually pilot the team in a new direction. If successful, this is the kind of gig that Wilson can use as a stepping stone back to the Power Five in a few years.
What You Need to Know About the UTSA Offense
There were peaks and valleys, to be sure, in 2015. But the Roadrunners overcame injuries to score at least 30 points six on six occasions, including three times in November. And there’s been an intriguing infusion of transfer talent this offseason, namely Sam Houston State QB Jared Johnson, Oklahoma WR Dannon Cavil and LSU RT Jevonte Domond.
The biggest splash came from Johnson, the reigning Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year who will go head-to-head with Dalton Sturm this summer.
Whoever gets the nod from head coach Frank Wilson and veteran coordinator Frank Scelfo will have access to an underrated supporting cast. Cavil joins a pair of capable veterans, JaBryce Taylor and Kerry Thomas Jr., in the receiving corps. And Jarveon Williams is a terrific feature back with next-level potential.
However, the ultimate grade for this offense depends on the play of a line that struggled badly at the point of attack last fall.
Biggest Key To The UTSA Offense
Upgrading with transfers. The Roadrunners are getting an instant boost in overall talent, thanks to the addition of three potentially impactful transfers. New head coach Frank Wilson has added QB Jared Johnson from Sam Houston State and RT Jevonte Domond from LSU, while Oklahoma import Dannon Cavil is available to the receivers after sitting out 2015. This program is pining for reinforcements on offense, and three Power Five-caliber athletes will immediately heat up the competition and improve offensive depth.
What You Need to Know About the UTSA Defense
The plucky, blue-collar Roadrunner D struggled last season, uncharacteristically yielding 33.8 points per game. Coordinator Pete Golding was hired away from Southern Miss to help turn things around in 2016. He’s installing a 3-3-5 base that maximizes the team’s veteran safeties, Michael Egwuagu, Nate Gaines and Chase Dahlquist.
But it’s at cornerback where UTSA needs the most support after routinely getting burned over the top in 2015. While Aneas Henricks and N’Keal Bailey will still be vulnerable to opposing quarterbacks and receivers, the junior corners could enjoy a helping hand from the front wall.
The Roadrunners flash potential along the D-line, especially on the edges. Marcus Davenport is a rangy 6-6 hybrid, who has the tools to blow up into a Conference USA star. Ditto sophomore Kevin Strong, who is much bigger and better against the run than Davenport, yet is still agile enough to create problems in the backfield.
Biggest Key To The UTSA Defense
Getting an extra defensive back on the field. First-year coordinator Pete Golding wants to be flexible with his sets, but bank on him using five defensive backs a lot this fall. The coach covets versatility in his kids, such as outside linebackers who can play end and safeties who fill running lanes like inside linebackers. Marcus Davenport, a 6-6, 235-pounder, is emblematic of the new Roadrunner defender, who can rush the pocket or drop back into coverage with equal success and productivity.
UTSA Will Be Far Better If …
the offensive line pulls its weight. The Roadrunners feature decent potential in the backfield, with a returning 1,000-yard rusher and a pair of quarterbacks with starting experience at this level. But no one will play to his ceiling if UTSA doesn’t hold the line markedly better than it did in 2015, when it yielded 44 sacks. The promising news is that four starters are back, and 6-5, 325-pound LSU import Jevonte Domond is angling for the opening at right tackle.
Best Offensive Player
Senior Jarveon Williams. New head coach Frank Wilson knows running backs. In fact, he coached them while at LSU. And he likes to lean on them to be the focal point of his attack. Well, Wilson has a good one in Williams, an assertive north-south runner with the size and the strong base to shoulder the load. With a little more support from the guys in front of him, he has the talent to deliver an All-Conference USA finale.
Best Defensive Player
Senior Michael Egwuagu. The new staff in San Antonio is looking for intensity and versatility from the defenders. Egwuagu fits the criteria with his ability to deliver the payload, yet also provide help to the pass defense from ‘Lion’ safety. He’s linebacker tough at 220 pounds, yet also harbors the quickness and the instincts to leave his mark all over the field.
Key Player to a Successful Season
Senior QB Jared Johnson. Yeah, Dalton Sturm is a gutty player who can do some nice within this offense. But for the Roadrunners to make a quantum leap with the ball, they need Johnson to pick up where he left off at Sam Houston State. He’s yet to arrive on campus, but Frank Wilson targeted him because he feels he can be an upgrade at a critical position. Johnson is the reigning Southland Conference Offensive Player of he Year, accounting for 23 scores while throwing only two picks.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
the Roadrunners win more games than in 2015 and, more important, are playing their best football in November. UTSA isn’t a postseason team, based on personnel. And a new staff means a lot to learn, for both coaches and players. After going 3-9 in Larry Coker’s finale, 2016 is all about changing the culture, building momentum and preparing the underclassmen for 2017 and beyond, when the Roadrunners feel they can be bona fide contenders for bowl games and West Division contention.
Oct. 29 vs. North Texas. The Roadrunners and the Mean Green are in very similar situations. Young, first-year head coaches aiming to change the course of a Texas mid-major that has the recruiting base to be much more competitive than they’ve been in recent years. The winner of this matchup in the Alamodome can claim that it’s further ahead in the rebuilding process, a valuable talking point on the recruiting stump.
2015 Fun Stats
– Points off turnovers: UTSA 47 – Opponents 110
– Touchdown scored: UTSA 35 – Opponents 50
– Sacks: UTSA 22 – Opponents 44