2015: 3-9 Overall (3-5 Conference USA)
2017 NFL Draft Prospects: S Michael Egwuagu, RB Jarveon Williams, Sr.
UTSA athletic director Lynn Hickey has made two hires since the school’s football program joined the FBS back in 2011. Her first was Larry Coker, who in his second stint as as a college head coach helped get the program up and running culminating with its first NFL Draft pick in 2015. But after winning just 7 games over the previous two seasons, the former Miami Hurricanes head coach resigned in early January after hitting a plateau with the school.
Succeeding Coker is Frank Wilson, who served as the LSU running backs coach over the past six seasons (following the footsteps of former ASU running backs coach Larry Porter). This is a big leap for Wilson who has never been promoted above being a position coach since starting with Nichols State back in 1996. Hickey looks to have made a mode to shift paradigms from the 67-year-old Coker to Wilson who is 25 years his junior who has earned his stripes recruiting in SEC country six of the past seven years (2011 Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year). Which is huge when you consider the location of the school and the fact that it sits in one of the best states for producing FBS-level talent.
Wilson’s team will be the final non-conference opponent on the Sun Devils 2016 schedule, but along with making its first bowl game in school history, he’d love to also land the scalp of a Power Five school like ASU that will be a work in progress on the eve of playing Cal a week later.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR FROM THE ROADRUNNERS ON OFFENSE
2015 S&P+ Offense: 113th in FBS
2016 Returning Starters Offense: 7
Percentage of Offensive Yards Returning: 91% (9th in FBS)
Career Starts Offensive Line: 35 (109th in FBS)
New offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo has an offense that fits the profile of the previous two teams on the Sun Devils 2016 schedule in that he’ll be forced to forge an offense out of the gates to carry his team’s defense that may take the whole season to find its legs.
With that in mind the Roadrunners sought to improve their competitiveness at the quarterback position by following the Oregon playbook with the addition of transfer Jared Johnson from Sam Houston State. A dual-threat quarterback and the 2015 Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Johnson will look to wrestle away the starting job from the incumbent, Dalton Sturm, a former walk-on, who completed less than 60-percent of his passes.
Whomever wins out at the position will not have the services of tight end David Morgan, who will be playing this fall with the Minnesota Vikings. Kerry Thomas and JaBryce Taylor caught 81 passes between them for nearly 1,000 yards. The duo will get help from Oklahoma transfer Dannon Cavil, to form one of the better position groups as a whole in the conference. But the cornerstone to the offense is senior Jarveon Williams, the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher. Wilson will lean on the run game in an attempt to hold serve with teams until the defense catches up. Williams will also have the bonus of taking pointers from his head coach who taught the position not only with the Tigers, but with Southern Miss and Ole Miss.
Thomas and Williams have a chance to be all-conference performers and cause the Devils some trouble if there is consistent quarterback play, and the offensive line gels under a new system. Offensive line coach will be tasked with piecing together a new right side of the offensive line but does posses five players with previous starting experience in addition to the additions of two junior college transfers as well as Javonte Domond from LSU.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR FROM THE ROADRUNNERS ON DEFENSE
2015 S&P+ Defense: 104th in FBS
2015 Havoc Rate: 108th in FBS
2016 Returning Starters Defense: 6
Percentage of Total Tackles Returning: 53.7% (101st in FBS)
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that UTSA had a really bad defense last year. Nearly as bad as its offense. And the task of improving this unit falls on Pete Golding who installed a 4-2-5 in the spring. After allowing nearly 34 points per game in 2015, Golding was hired off the same Southern Miss staff that ASU offensive coordinator Chip Lindsay worked on in 2015, and plans to bring his 3-3-5 scheme along for the ride.
Golding will need to find a pass rusher first and foremost as they’ll be without defensive end Jason Neill and his 8.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss (both single season school records). UTSA finished in the bottom half of the conference in terms of getting to the quarterback after registering just 12 sacks in 8 games against conference opponents (and registered just 22 sacks overall in 2015). Junior defensive end Marcus Davenport (4 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss in 11 starts) could step into that role in 2016 but has to add some weight to his 6-foot-6 frame to compete with opposing offensive tackles that will outweigh him by some 70-plus pounds.
The Roadrunners do return some starting experience in the secondary and add LSU graduate transfer Ronnie Fiest at linebacker to help bring some SEC grit to the unit. But conerback looks to be the Achilles heel of the team this fall. Golding will be relying on increased pressure being applied on the quarterback to mask some of the personel shortcomings at this position (sound familiar Sun Devil fans). Senior Michael Egwuagu plays the ‘Lion’ safety position as a hybrid safety(think Spur with ASU) and looks to be the engine room for the second level of Roadrunner defenders.
Wilson’s two LSU transfers could be the glue that helps hold this team together on each side of the ball, at least for 2016, as the first year head coach tries to build a winner in San Antonio. How this team picks up new systems on offense and defense between a cupcake against Alabama State followed by a road contest in Fort Collins against CSU could determine what type of team ASU will be facing in their first road contest of the season.
For the Devils, this game marks the third straight opponent they will be facing possesing a less than stellar defensive identity, and who will be rebuilding its offensive line from the previous season. With the Pac-12 opener against Cal landing a week after this contest, it’s imperative for Graham and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsay to have the quarterback and offensive line situations settled as the non-conference, and weaker portion of the schedule comes to a close.
**Havoc Rating was devised by Bill Connelly – “The percentage of plays in which a defense either recorded a tackle for loss, forced a fumble, or defensed a pass (intercepted or broken up). If QB hurries were a reliable stat (at the college level, there is far too much inconsistency in how they are recorded), they would be included here, too.”
**S&P designed by Football Outsiders – “Takes into account efficiency (Success Rates), explosiveness (IsoPPP), and factors related to field position and finishing drives. It is now presented in two forms: the first is a percentile, and the second is an adjusted scoring margin specific for this specific season’s scoring curve.”