The preview of the 2014 UTSA football Roadrunners jumps straight off a New Mexico state almanac page and into your own beating and squishy football heart. Reminisce about last year's game as much as you'd like; without repercussion or a need for a mop.
Sentimental footballers, where you at?
Okay sit back down. That's way too many for a one year old home-and-home series. I've never seen a selfie riveting enough to make a man cry, but I'm willing to bet it wasn't taken at last year's UTSA game. Between the grinding and stops (and stops and stops) 2013 was no classic for anyone.
Even if the final score still irks you, well, you're not alone...but the time for healing is now Kathy. Suck it up. There's another game to play.
Let's get plenty forgetful and get this puppy rolling. Let's go take a look!
Oh god, the flash....and turn off the flash!
The UTSA Roadrunners start the 2014 season with one thing in mind. A Bowl! After their inaugural 2011 season and the surge of leap frogging from the WAC to C-USA, the blue and orange ones look to intimidate more than the occasional wayward cheerleader. Now you play for real-sies and bowl eligibility.
The battle for spirit squad supremacy was bound to escalate eventually.
UTSA has a lot to do with, and is pretty much synonymous to, Larry Coker, former Miami Head Coach and one of the first to come away with a BCS era National Championship in 2001. Coker has been through the two prep years of UTSA's first football spurts and has shockingly been with the program almost six years. Six! That's an eternity in college football coach contract time. Coker's third actual football playing season has him at least settled in San Antonio for now and to the end of the programs first true senior laden team. The sweet spot for any coach surely you would think, although the roadrunners are off to a slower 1-3 start on the season.
UTSA took Houston for an OOC win, fought Arizona valiantly at home and then weathered a ranked OSU team. New Mexico is the last case on the docket and we stroll into town to break up a heart wrenching conference loss to FAU. UTSA lost last minute in a 70+ shootout with the struggling Owls. UNM takes Cherry on the road for UTSA's "Get the lead out" game....which will wear greyish unis with white lettered numbers.
Like most of the staffers in place, Coker trumps most (if not all) as the Runner's run a multiple offense and a 4-2-5. As far as running the systems, he has Larry Brown (fr. WR coach, Texas State) and Neal Neatherly (Various FCS colleges; D-Coordinator) running coordinator. UTSA counts on Coker to rudder the ship and has a lot of up and coming coaches looking to make a name for themselves.
UTSA's defense system particularly falls in line with a lot of FCS styled schemes, which use colored up position mechanism for their strong safeties. Aside from middle linebacker (a plain "mike" is used), you have OLB "hawk" "dawg" and "rover" for their assignment designation. This can be used to quickly sort through who might be sent on a blitz and who is covering that person's assignment in tow. If you have that many free range players and want to mix zone and man coverage any given play, that's how you do it without utter chaos.
UTSA is heavily influenced by Coker's playbook on the offensive side of the ball and is fond of shifts before they finally snap the ball. Although the Runners can do a lot of combinations pre-snap to disguise the direction of a play, recognizing their personnel packages could help narrow down the struggle. Needless to say, you can see every form under the sun: multiple tight ends, shotgun with 3-4 receivers, combinations with multiple styles of backs. They're pretty close to the most sorted team the Lobos will face this year.
"Baby Boise" is what came to me initially watching their games. The number of shifts and the use of power running mechanics made me think of older BSU offenses in style....though not exactly the caliber of recruit carried by the broncos in the 2005-11 runs. UTSA has over eighty Texas players on scholarship (or as walk-ons) and have built a reputation for heavy subbing with Texas football stature.
"Baby Boise" is what came to me initially watching their games
So let's start to revisit the 'Runner's stuff with one previous game under our belts.
UTSA uses a permanent nickel defense and four down lineman. Their 4-2-5 is fairly traditional in the sense that they react to their line's work and tend to leave the big guys to their devices. The line does the work and rest of the units contain. For the purpose of this game and the nature of our offense, a lot of the safety work is hard up on acting like an extra linebacker close to the line.
Who better to show UTSA's defense against than...
Us! I've simplified the strong safety names for the time being. Their main concern is our backfield and they've shown to play right under the D-line to get closer to their assignment. That's an automatic eight in the box with two corners and a free safety to clean up.
From this position you have an actual 'backer and pseudo 'backers playing their assignment one-on-one while the strong side safety merely guards the edge from around the tackle. During this play the strong side safety literally didn't move once he got to the line. He just sat there containing and waited for anything to come his way. As the play developed (which in this case was option weak side) the defenders peeled to their man. Gautsche's assignment (SS in the middle) managed to bring him down for a short gain. The shorter pistol depth made UTSA creep up to compensate.
UTSA will do what they possibly can to smother the run, reacting around the D-line while their size tries to cramp up the A and B gaps as the solution to the dive. UTSA has another batch of lineman to sub in and will rinse and repeat while UNM looks for option two and three in the offense. They have true tackles in the 300-315 range and comparable backers to their DE's.
The larger stretches of field lie on either side of the free safety above and this where we need to attack if the 'Runners want to cheat up. Relying on dealing with the option is their main practice reps so we have to work in front of what they're trying to prep for. After some gashes the playbook will open up to this heavy run sell. Either way, we have to stop that line from trying to do what it wants.
Defense by unit. Here's their roster.I suggest sorting by class. Look at all he upperclassmen! That's a lot of juniors and seniors. 10 starters back: this is virtually the same defense as last year.
D-Line: Jason Neil (6-2; 260) has got at least one sack in every game so far, at least, until FAU last week. He leads the squad with 4 total, but it's spread around fairly healthy among the linemen....even if it's just one sack here and there. Ashaad Mabry originally signed with Oklahoma State before transfering and tops out the DT's at 315.
UTSA has a good number of speed ends (250 and under) to go with true tackles on the inside.
Linebackers: Most of the time the leading tackler is a linebacker. UTSA shows the pattern holds true even with less numbers to go around. The lighter variety fills the "2" in the 4-2-5 but juniors Drew Douglas and Jens Jeter split with 24 tackles a piece. Reacting around the D-line has given these two a few TFL and most of the LB's blend complementary with the extra safeties on the field.
210-235lbs is the norm here and they're pretty quick laterally.
Safeties: Aside from smaller quicker corners, UTSA does have some larger safeties so it can fill them in and around the linebackers. Some of them top out at 215 and have long reach in 6-2 frames. They're moderately good at picking off the ball, though the consistency has varied this season. Lots of singles (INT) to go around with the crew. Triston Wade actually co-leads the team in tackles along with the linebackers. Lots of run help from the secondary.
If you want a refresher, be sure to look up this game in the MWN archives. We are virtually facing the same set of players. It kind of makes the preview simpler to be honest.
Next let's break down the ever changing offense before they start shifting again. Ah, crap. Called it.
You're not getting deja vu, I swear....it's the 2014 Roadrunner offense on Lobo Points of Interest.
UTSA loses only one piece on offense this year - well, maybe 1 1/2...more on that in a second - but it's a pretty healthy chunk to hand a diploma and move out of the dorms. QB's mean something to any offense and the Soza, the QB we faced last year in the opener is no longer directing traffic. Before we compare Soza to the new QB, let's refresh ourselves to the UTSA offense.
Here's an example of the ample shifts that UTSA uses to disorient the defense pre-snap. If it works correctly, it moves personnel away from where the ball will eventually travel, while testing their gap/man assignment as things change. They've been known to shift more than once and also motion afterwards.
The above is an unbalanced "I" formation with a weak side TE. Below him are two outside receivers. As soon as everyone is briefly set, this happens:
The QB moves the RB to his side steps in his position. The TE moves to the strong side to force the flow of the formation right; an implied power running play. What's disguised here are the outside sized WR lined up where you would normally see a slot receiver.
When the ball is snapped, the bigger "Z" receiver moves to block and creates a C gap next to the left tackle. It looks like a weak side counter BUT UTSA still isn't done yet.
The end result of all of this is play action pass. The formation gets the defense moving one direction, disguises the lead blocker and then uses an outlet to move to a piece of the field that the defense isn't covering. Two masks just to get to the real play.
Sequence of the play:
Tight end shifts to strong side. QB moves back to hand off position.
Ball is hiked, Z receiver moves to C gap to block with flow (right) and QB play actions the RB/FB.
RB/FB does a crossing route to weak side behind Z receiver block; away from defense flow.
QB gets RB ball in open space, minimum five yards down field. Safety has to make a play with LB blocked. Seven yards: 2nd and 3.
Shifts can show two to three different plays before the intent is carried out. UTSA is the very definition of a multiple offense and uses tight ends, receivers and multiple backs generously. QB can be under center or in the shotgun or they can shift to show another play before you know it. UNM has to switch off assignments as they change late in the count and focus on protecting their piece of real estate, rather than chasing motion or shifts. That doesn't automatically mean zone, simply changing man coverage responsibilities as players cross into their part of the field and picking them up when the ball is snapped can work too.
Everyone is practically back as far as offensive units are concerned. Again, there are ten starters back to face the Lobos and it's virtually the same group.
The main losses to the squad overall are Soza (QB) and Evans Okotcha (Power RB). Okotcha was in the rotation as a semi-starter but is worth mentioning as far as the style gap goes. Although it looks like UTSA has walk-ons to replace the power back in the offense, most of the remaining roster looks lighter and quicker. They do have some guys that resemble FB's @ 230 and 240 too but they're not cool enough to be fullbacks by name.
So very disappointed. And here I was, fullback alerted and ready to go.
Over before it even started. Shucks.
UTSA's main QB is now Tucker Carter (SR; 6-3; 220) who's more of a pure dual threat QB than Soza. Although Soza was technically the 3rd leading rusher in 2013; his scrambling ability was a healthy alternative to his passing. Tucker could be described as the slight flip of those traits and is slightly bigger in stature. He's 64-111 in four games for 647yds and three picks. 2 pass TD's.
Carter gets used for more directional power running plays than we've seen last year; some using a zone read technique with a receiver in the fly sweep. Literally running and directing the ball perpendicular to each others path. Although Carter hasn't passed 100yds gross this year yet, his two TD runs could make red zone defending difficult.
Kam Jones had a good day against us last year and returns one more time for the rematch. Lateral speed on fly sweeps and play making ability will have to be kept in check. The WR corps has a lot of well rounded receivers in the batch and one guy to top out the spectrum at 6-4. UTSA can get full use out of their receivers in packages, although they don't insist on this part of the offense being the tip of the spear. With a running back downgrade on the roster this year, they may go to the receivers more often.
UTSA has veteran lineman and several over 300lbs. This match up at the line is one to watch between the 2013 Lobos and the 2014 lobos. The roadrunners do have a good amount of support tight ends to go with these blockers and several blocking tight ends are in the 6-3 240-250 range. A strength for their offense's effectiveness to be certain.
There's a lot of the same to play against Saturday and UNM needs to take it's experience to the next level with this rematch. UTSA will be minimally hedged down from last year and our off season gains need to be taken full advantage of as best they can. Round two in front of 25-30k+ dirty birds should be a test of the Lobos as they try to keep a lead. Keep up the pace and take advantage of the opportunity.
You're fighting everything inside the Alamodome. Don't pull any punches and you may come home with the spoils by the end. Good luck and Go Lobos!
Thanks for reading. If anyone has any questions let me know.
I have to get my stuff together to get to San Antonio so I'm glad I ran into a team that hasn't changed too much. This preview was relatively short. It's all a chess match now between the coaching staffs.
I highly recommend re-watching last year's game if you haven't already. It'll help before you strap in for Saturday.