UTSA Season Preview

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UTSA Season Preview
File photo. Jalen Rhodes #5 of the UTSA Roadrunners. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

As the start of the 2018 college football season nears, the UTSA Roadrunners look to improve on what was a disappointing year. The ‘Runners who accumulated six wins and five losses the previous season have their goals set higher. They look to rebuild the offense and polish up their defense. The team has revamped its coaching staff and brought in some new faces to turn the program around. With all the change that has been happening, there is an air of optimism around the team.

 

UTSA Season Preview

The ‘Runners will open their season in Phoenix against the Arizona State Sun Devils. The team has proven to be competitive in non-conference games the last few years. Last season they took down the heavy favorite Baylor Bears in a 17-10 win in Waco. However, this success in non-conference matches did not carry over to the divisional games. In conference, the Roadrunners failed to break .500, going 3-5 and missing out on a bowl game. The team has many positive aspects going for them, but also some flaws that must be improved upon.

Offense

UTSA and their starting 11 need some work after their offense did not produce the numbers for a winning season. However, the new personnel could change some of that.

Positives

Among the positive features of this core is returning senior running back Jalen Rhodes. For the past two years, Rhodes has been one of the main options in the running game. Last season he led the team in rushing with 659 yards on 134 carries and five touchdowns. He also contributed in the air attack. He racked up 15 receptions for 136 yards and one score. Having his familiar name in the locker room paired with his experience should help the young offense.

Also, returning senior wide receiver Greg Campbell Junior gives the young quarterbacks a reliable target in the passing game. Campbell, in his junior year, snagged 27 passes for 300 yards. He is one of the few returning wideouts for the team making his experience on and off the field significant on a roster field with youth and inexperience.

Challenges  

The quarterback and offensive line positions are the two spots that create the most concern. For the quarterbacks, Cordale Grundy and D.J. Gillins are the two main options going into the season. Both quarterbacks are recent transfers and do not have much Division I experience. Grundy, most recently played JUCO football. As for Gillins, he played in only one game at SMU, however, he will be a new face to the spotlight and have to adapt.

Another challenge comes on the offensive line. Last year, the front five helped secure a 2,000-yard rushing and passing season. However, there are only a few returning starters such as senior guard Jordan Wright, junior tackle Josh Dunlap, and sophomore Dominic Pastucci. The combination of inexperienced passers and linemen poses a challenge for the team. However, this is something that practice and exposure can fix.

Defense

UTSA’s defensive core was nothing short of stellar last year. The high-powered defense led Conference USA in several statistical categories, but with the departure of big names, there leaves some concern.

Positives

The defense, fresh off of a dominant year, has many important key pieces coming back. Among those are defensive tackle Kevin Strong Jr., defensive end Eric Banks, and linebacker Les Maruo. These three players were key pieces in the dominance that earned this team top five nationally recognized statistics. This is huge for a team that needs to get their own offense on the field.

Challenges

The loss of 14th overall NFL draft pick, defensive end Marcus Davenport will be the biggest challenge to overcome. Davenport was the leader of this overpowering defense and his departure will be felt. The team must adapt and find other players to rely on without the defensive juggernaut. Without this formidable force down inside other people will be required to step up and make game-changing plays.

Special Teams

The special team’s unit for UTSA last year was about as efficient as it gets. Kicker Jared Sackett could not miss last year as he connected on 19 of 22 field goals and was one of the key factors for the success of the team. He earned both team and nationally recognized awards. Sackett set UTSA’s single-season record for field goal makes and was also named a 2017 freshman All-American. Special teams will often make or break a season. However, with a guy like Sackett on the field, you will always feel reassured.

Coaching Staff

Coach Frank Wilson will be returning for his third year as the head coach where he looks to bring the ‘Runners back into bowl contention. However, he has brought aboard a new supporting cast. Al Borges is the new offensive coordinator and quarterback’s coach. He was a two-time finalist for assistant coach of the year. He has nearly 40 years as a college assistant and has run offenses at Oregon, UCLA, Michigan and Auburn, so his credentials are there. Wilson also brought in specials teams coach veteran Gary Hyman. With 15 years of coaching experience, Hyman most recently was the special team’s coordinator for Northern Arizona. Jason Rollins, former associate head coach, was just promoted to defensive coordinator. The Roadrunners hope to implement a winning system that brings success with these new additions.

With new coaches, highly touted incoming freshmen, and transfers, UTSA looks to turn things around. They have the talent to do so, now it’s time to prove it. UTSA has established a winning tradition, but now it must be polished. There are lots of moving pieces to make the team successful. Only time will tell if this group of young men can trend in the positive direction. As the season nears, look out for the up and coming ‘Runners.

 

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