Frank Wilson made quite the splash with UTSA in his debut season, leading the Roadrunners to their first bowl game. This team is positioned to take yet another step forward this fall with 13 starters returning. If the offensive line can improve, this offense has the potential to be among the conference’s most productive. The defense showed considerable improvement in 2016 and has key players back at every level. UTSA may not be ready to contend for a C-USA West Division title just yet, but the Roadrunners should wind up in the postseason again.
Previewing UTSA Football’s Offense for 2017
The pieces are in place for UTSA to continue its improvement on offense in Year 2 of the Frank Wilson era. The Roadrunners progressed from 104th to 65th in points scored per game last season en route to the New Mexico Bowl.
Quarterback Dalton Sturm is back for his senior season after an inconsistent campaign that still saw him pile up 20 passing touchdowns, four rushing TDs and just six interceptions. The dual-threat signal caller had four games in which he completed at least 65 percent of his passes and four in which he was under 50 percent, so consistency will be a key factor for him.
With solid depth at wide receiver, which includes productive returning starters (and brothers) Josh Stewart and Kerry Thomas Jr., and a running back (Jalen Rhodes) who had 827 rushing yards and nine total TDs in a reserve role, the biggest variable for the 2017 UTSA offense is the offensive line. The Roadrunners have surrendered a mind-boggling 87 sacks the last two seasons, a number that must come down if they want to contend for the division title. The interior of the line returns, but both tackles will be new. Junior college transfer Josh Dunlop is expected to lock down one side, while Reed Darragh will battle for the other.
Previewing UTSA Football’s Defense for 2017
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Seven starters return from a unit that made similar gains as the offense, improving from 101st to 63rd in points allowed. The player with the most NFL potential on the UTSA roster is end Marcus Davenport, a second-team All-C-USA selection a year ago who is primed for a monster senior season. He plays his defensive end spot standing up and has a knack for getting pressure on the quarterback and forcing runs back inside. Junior Kevin Strong Jr. moved from nose tackle to end last season and was very productive, and King Newton (son of Nate Newton) and Baylen Baker will see their roles expand on the interior this season.
Both linebackers in UTSA’s 4-2-5 scheme return, and both are very good. Josiah Tauaefa was a Freshman All-American last year after setting a school record with 115 tackles, and senior La’Kel Bass is an all-league candidate as a senior after racking up 87 tackles a year ago.
Two new safeties will join senior Nate Gaines along the backline, and Austin Jupe, Devron Davis and Teddrick McGhee give UTSA three very capable corners.
Previewing UTSA Football’s Specialists for 2017
UTSA will split its kicking duties between kickoff specialist Daniel Portillo and placekicker Victor Falcon. Falcon was just 2-of-6 from beyond 40 yards as a sophomore, so improvement is needed. Junior Yannis Routsas averaged only 42 yards per punt, but four of his high-hanging kicks were fumbled in 2016, and all four led to UTSA points. Explosive wide receiver Matt Guidry is the top return specialist.
Can UTSA win its first C-USA division title in the seventh year of the program? That is the next step for the Roadrunners, who broke through in Year 6 with a bowl appearance. And while UTSA will not be the preseason favorite, a favorable schedule could have it in the mix down the stretch. The Roadrunners will not face the top teams from the East Division, and Louisiana Tech does not show up until the final game of the season.
The defense will likely show progress across the board. If the offensive line can improve its pass blocking, UTSA will be able to put up plenty of points. Depth is still an issue on both sides of the ball, but a strong recruiting class should be able to respond if called upon. A second straight bowl game for the Roadrunners is a reasonable expectation.
National Ranking: 94
C-USA West Prediction: 3
(Josiah Tauaefa photo courtesy of UTSA Athletics/Jeff Huehn)