Four Down Territory 9.21.16

Presenting a weekly post in which InsideRunnerSports’ JJ Perez tackles four burning topics facing UTSA this week. Presented by the law firm of Saucier & Smaistrla PLLC.

Presented by the law firm of Saucier & Smaistrla PLLC.


Four Down Territory for 9.21.16

What a wild one Friday night in the Alamodome. UTSA played their best-ever game vs a Power Five Conference opponent but came up just short. Again. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: UTSA enters a game as a double-digit underdog only to play well enough to win but just falls short. In each of the last two seasons, that was how the game played out against the Arizona Wildcats. This season, the Arizona State Sun Devils got a taste that. But what does that mean for UTSA moving forward? Playing P5 schools well in the past has been no indicator of future success for the Roadrunners. Well, some of that may have come with the culture of the past teams. Several players said this week that it was fair to say that previous teams got somewhat complacent following near upset wins. That isn’t an indictment of any of the previous players or coaches. It’s just the nature of starting up a new program. Now, with more than a handful of these near misses under the program’s belt, this new regime must use a game like Friday’s to catapult forward. At the end of the day, UTSA lost a game they should have won. But this was different. The Roadrunners led for a majority of the game and there weren’t many major mistakes that contributed to the loss. This is an entirely new era of UTSA football. The previous losses hurt as a fan but to this group of players and coaches, those previous losses mean little. The fact UTSA played its best game ever vs a P5 opponent is something to build on moving forward. The team has improved from week one to week two to week three. There are things UTSA can take from the Arizona State loss and improve on. Or they won’t. And that will be how the 2016 season plays out. Mark last Friday down as a turning point in the 2016 campaign.

How good was Dalton Sturm vs Arizona State? Watching the game live from the press box, it didn’t feel like an overwhelming effort. But going back and re-watching the game while looking at the box score, you realize that he was Mr. Do Everything for UTSA. Let’s take a step back and look at what’s happened here for just a moment. This time last year, Sturm was waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant near campus. He was fourth string (not even on the depth chart) and didn’t travel to the season-opening game at Arizona. Now, he’s the man. The starting quarterback position is seemingly his job to lose. And all he’s done so far this season is lay it all on the line, just like did last year. With a tough as nails mentality, Sturm isn’t afraid to do whatever it takes to help the team. This season, however, we’ve seen him mature as a quarterback. He’s reading defenses much better. He’s going through his progressions more steadily. He’s not just tucking and running at a moments notice. And save for two interceptions, he’s taken care of the ball. What more can anyone ask? There may be better quarterbacks on the roster or who join the team in coming seasons. But right now, with this team, Dalton Sturm gives UTSA their best chance at victory. From walk-on waiter to arguably one of the best signal-callers in Conference USA, I don’t think anyone could have created a better story if you tried.

In the last two weeks, UTSA’s run game has disappeared. Earlier this week, Head Coach Frank Wilson said the struggles were “very concerning” and “uncharacteristic of anything I’ve been apart of.” So what’s going on with UTSA’s run game?

Most people will place a brunt of the blame on the offensive line. A while they haven’t played great the last two weeks, I don’t think it’s fair to put it all on them. Coach Wilson said it was a shared responsibility saying some of it falls on the running backs while some of the responsibility falls on the blockers (both o-line and down the field blockers.) Wilson also mentioned schemes and game plan. And that falls at the feet of coaches. As I watched the teams warm up from the sidelines in each of the last two games, it appeared to me that Colorado State's and Arizona State’s defensive line were just bigger than UTSA. The last two games have come against stout d-lines. So you’d like to give UTSA the benefit of the doubt. On the flip side UTSA was able to produce a 1,000 yard rusher in Jarveon Williams in their worst season (2015) in program-history. And while Williams hasn’t been 100% healthy since week one (he’s expected to be near 100% this week) I don’t think that can be used as the scapegoat. Certainly as UTSA moves into conference play, Williams’ health will be something to monitor. But there’s no sugar-coating the notion that UTSA simply has got to find a way to get their running game going in order to be successful this season. If they don’t, the little success they will have will only be smoke and mirrors. 

The real season begins Saturday when UTSA opens Conference USA play at Old Dominion. To coaches and fans, every game is a huge game. And to an extent, they’re correct. Hitting that win mark of six games is important to any team. So from that aspect, every game counts. But in reality, football seasons ebb and flow. There are ups and downs and teams get into rhythm and get on a roll. The magnitude of this weekend’s game in Norfolk cannot be understated. UTSA is coming off back-to-back single-digit losses. There is a huge difference between holding a 2-2 record and a 1-3 record at the third way point of the season. UTSA has bye next week and will host a very dangerous Southern Miss team in a few weeks. Now is the time for UTSA to make their move. If the Roadrunners are to have any hopes for postseason play in 2016, they will need a strong showing this weekend at ODU. That makes Saturday the most important game UTSA will have played so far this season. Or Game of the Year 1, as I like to call it. 

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