SunDevilSource: How is the transition going for first-year head coach Frank Wilson and what are the biggest challenges he faces?
JJ Perez: The Frank Wilson era of UTSA Football has brought a ton of excitement to the program. Back-to-back losing seasons took a toll on the fan base. With Wilson and a new coaching staff, there’s been a renewed energy. The transition into this new era was a quick one. The dismissal of former coach Larry Coker came very late in the offseason. In fact, Wilson was hired just a few weeks before National Signing Day. He was forced to hire a coaching staff and sign players in the span of about 15 days. It wasn’t an easy task but one that made for a quick transition.
The biggest challenge facing Frank Wilson and UTSA is winning games. Off the field UTSA has a small, yet dedicated fan base that has supported the program through some down years. In its infancy, UTSA had some success early on. In 2013 (in just the third year of the program's existence), UTSA won seven games vs FBS schools. Excitement was at an all-time high then. Then came the down years. A four-win season followed by a three-win season led to the ousting of the entire coaching staff. UTSA has facilities. The Roadrunners play in a terrific place in the Alamadome in downtown San Antonio. They have an on-campus practice field and a new locker room. And they have the support of students, alumni, and fans. What they need now is to win.
SunDevilSource: UTSA has been platooning quarterbacks. What can we expect to see from the position Friday, how are they used, and what are the skill-sets of each player?
Perez: UTSA’s quarterback situation is an interesting one. Incumbent Dalton Sturm is the named starter. In week one, for every two series we saw Dalton Sturm play, backup Jared Johnson played one. Last week, it was a little different in that it was Sturm for much of the game, until the third quarter when the offense got stuck in a rut. Johnson relieved Sturm for a few series. But then Sturm came back to finish the game.
Sturm had a very efficient showing in the opener two weeks ago going 20-of-25 for 274 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, while adding a 51-yard rushing score. Last week, he struggled. A former walk-on, this time last year Sturm was the fourth-string quarterback. After an injury to the starter and the departure of two quarterbacks ahead of him, he was thrown into the fire. He played remarkably well in 2015, all things considered. In the offseason, UTSA added a graduate transfer Jared Johnson from FCS Sam Houston State. Johnson came to UTSA as the reigning Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year. So there was a lot of excitement when it was announced that there would be a free and open competition at the quarterback position. Most automatically thought Johnson would get the call.
In his first two games you could tell Sturm had improved, specifically with his ability to move through his passing reads. He appears to be a better decision-maker. One of the key things that plagued UTSA last season was lack of protection. Some of that was on the offensive line but some of that was on Sturm tucking and running too quickly. A true dual-threat, Sturm has deceptive speed once he gets into the open. As far as Johnson goes, no one really knows. Practices at UTSA are closed to the media. His film at Sam Houston State shows he has good speed on the ground, is an effective decision-maker and has nice velocity on his throws. But we’ve only seen him play in a handful of series this season. In week one, he looked out of place and out of sync. In week two, he seemed more comfortable and led two drives into Colorado State territory that ended on failed fourth down conversions.
As far as how they are used? Your guess is as good as mine. Wilson has played it close to the chest with regards to his quarterbacks. All we know for certain is that Sturm will start and that UTSA is preparing to play both.
SunDevilSource: Describe the UTSA schematic approach on offense and defense, what it does well, as well as where it struggles?
Perez: Offensively, UTSA is as multiple as they come. You’ll see the Roadrunners line up in shotgun, they’ll have multiple tight end pro-style formations, and then they’ll also go no-huddle. First year offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo wants to stay balanced. So we should see nearly an equal amount of pass plays and run plays. If UTSA is playing well, it will have a productive run game.
There’s a lot of talent on UTSA’s defense. First-year defensive coordinator Pete Golding has already shown to be aggressive. In week one against Alabama State, UTSA recorded a program-record six sacks. And while UTSA’s scheme is listed as a 4-2-5, expect to see a lot of three down configurations with multiple linebackers and or defensive backs. UTSA is good defensively when it is attacking and swarming.
SunDevilSource: Who are the team's best players and key players in this game and why?
Perez: Running back Jarveon Williams is UTSA’s workhorse. But he injured his ankle in the first half of the season-opener and did not see much action last week. He’s expected to be 100 percent this week. If healthy, Williams should carry the ball around 20 times. His backup, Jalen Rhodes, is also a key contributor in the running game. Like Williams, Rhodes is fast, agile, and strong. The Roadrunners have a good one-two punch in the backfield. Offensively, UTSA spreads things out a bunch. Wide receivers Kerry Thomas, Marquez McNair, and Brady Jones have been some of UTSA’s top targets.
UTSA’s defensive strengths are in the middle of the field. The interior of the team's defensive line is very good. Defensive tackle Baylen Baker and defensive end Marcus Davenport anchor the defensive line. Linebackers Josiah Tauaefa and Ronnie Fiest are poised for excellent seasons. And at safety, UTSA has a trio of ball hawks in Nate Gaines, Jordan Moore, and Michael Egwuagu.
SunDevilSource: What's your prediction on the type of game that is played Friday and the outcome?
Perez: In the past, UTSA has had bad luck when it comes to mistakes. When turnovers have happened, they haven’t been regular ones but ones that lead to points or cost them points. Last week, UTSA had two drives end on failed fourth down conversions. The week before, the Roadrunners had turnovers inside of the five-yard line. They’ll need to clean that up. Arizona State is coming off a stellar performance. No one in these parts is talking upset. The Sun Devils are heavy favorites for this game. But this game has “trap game” written all over it. ASU is coming off a big nonconference win and is just one week away from opening Pac-12 play while no one is expecting much from UTSA. I think it will be close early but eventually, ASU’s size and strength in the trenches will wear down the Roadrunners. Mark me down as 45-24 ASU.