Presented by Pat Clynes and The Fritz Kennel.
By Jerry Briggs
Six games into a 12-game schedule, first-year UTSA coach Frank Wilson has experienced some lows, but he has also enjoyed some highs.
His Roadrunners are on a high right now, trying to claim their first three-game winning streak since 2013 when they take on the UTEP Miners Saturday night at the Alamodome.
After posting a 1-3 record in September and ending the month with three straight losses, UTSA has turned it around in October with back-to-back victories, both in Conference USA, against Southern Miss and Rice.
As a result, UTSA (3-3, 2-1) can stay in a tie for first in the C-USA West if it can beat slumping UTEP (1-5, 0-3). Kickoff in the homecoming game is at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome.
Wilson said the winning streak, however modest, builds confidence.
“It validates the things that we talk about,” the coach said. “When we say to ‘em, if you stay steadfast and do the things that we’re asking of you, it’ll happen. We don’t have a timetable to tell you when it’s going to happen, but it will, and you have to trust the process.”
UTSA last won three in a row during a season-ending five-game winning streak in 2013. After turning the season around, Wilson is proud of his players at the half-way point of his first season as the head coach.
“I think we’ve learned that this team is resilient, that this team takes constructive criticism,” Wilson said. “They understand where they came from, and the things that are necessary to move forward.
“They make them applicable to the next game and take advantage of it. It’s allowed us put together back-to-back wins.”
The visiting team in the three-game UTSA-UTEP series has won every game.
UTSA notched a 32-13 victory at El Paso in the first meeting between the programs in 2013. UTEP returned the favor at the Alamodome in 2014, wiping out UTSA 34-0. UTSA retaliated last year with a 25-6 victory at El Paso.
“The ability to change that … is something that we certainly look forward to,” Wilson said.
As one of the teams most pleasant first-half surprises, UTSA receiver Josh Stewart ranks second in the nation in yards per catch. Air Force senior Jalen Robinette is first, averaging 28.4, with Stewart second at 27.9.
The 6-foot-4 Louisiana native, who attended high school in College Station, hauled in touchdown passes of 75 and 28 yards from Dalton Sturm last weekend in a 14-13 victory at Rice.
“You look at him a week ago, his peers gave him a hard time when he caught the long pass (against Southern Miss) and then got caught at the 1-yard line,’ Wilson said. “Once again, a valuable lesson. Go make a play after you catch it. Go score."
In his last three games, Stewart has made eight catches for 268 yards.
“We were pleased he made the catch a week ago and got it down there, but now, to make that catch and be creative, turning the (Rice) defensive back around, spinning him around, and finding his way to the end zone (on the 75-yarder), that shows his maturity. It shows his desire to better himself than what he was a week ago.”
Wilson said if players can do that at all positions in the last six games, “We’ll be OK.”
UTSA safety Michael Egwuagu welcomes the challenge of proving he plays for a "team that can compete against anybody."
"Everybody is eager," Egwuagu said. "We're eager to stack these wins. We're on, what, like a two-game win streak? I think everybody on the team is just eager to make it a three-game streak and just take it step by step. Everybody's excited. We know we have a good team that can compete against anybody. We want to go out and show that."
With consecutive victories against Southern Miss and Rice, UTSA (3-3, 2-1) hosts UTEP (1-5, 0-3) Saturday night at the Alamodome.
UTSA's defense has played well in clutch situations during the uprising.
The defense stopped Southern Miss early and allowed UTSA to jump out to a 28-7 first-quarter lead in a 55-32 victory. It responded again against Rice, coming through in a 14-13 road victory.
Linebacker Josiah Tauaefa continues to lead the team in tackles (68), tackles for loss (5.5) and sacks (3.0) on the season. Egwuagu has made 45 tackles from his strong safety position. La'Kel Bass, Nate Gaines and Ronnie Feist all have produced more than 30 tackles. Tauaefa and defensive end Marcus Davenport are tied with six quarterback hurries apiece.
In Houston last weekend, UTSA held an eight-point lead at the half, went scoreless after intermission pulled out a victory over the Owls.
Rice misfired on an extra-point attempt and two field goals, including a 42-yard field goal with a little more than a minute remaining.
It's a game that Egwuagu admitted the Roadrunners might have lost last year, when they finished 3-9.
"That's safe to say," he said. "It's safe to say, just because there's been a maturation process within the team. Learning how to finish games like that. Last year we weren't able to pull it out and ... finish. We even showed glimpses of that earlier in the season. That's just something we're continually working on.
"I think it just shows how far we're trying to go and how far we're coming, whenever you can finish a game like that, a low-scoring, one-point game. Like I say it's the maturation from last year to this year."
STEWART BUILDING CHEMISTRY WITH STURM
UTSA receiver Josh Stewart on Monday talked about his expanding role in the offense and the growing chemistry he is developing with quarterback Dalton Sturm.
"They give me the route and I just run the route to the best of my ability," Stewart said. "If I'm open, he's going to find me (with) the ball. "
Sturm and Stewart hooked up for two completions and 103 yards last week against Rice.
Both passes went for touchdowns, one for 75 yards and another for 28, in UTSA's 14-13 victory at Rice Stadium.
Stewart's performance boosted him to first in Conference USA and second in the nation with 27.9 yards per catch.
In his last three games, he's caught 8 passes for 268 yards, for a 33.5 average.
Visiting with reporters Monday, he said both Sturm and backup quarterback Jared Johnson throw passes that are easy to catch.
"Both our quarterbacks have great touch," Stewart said. "They throw great balls ... I'm just happy that we have those guys here, not anywhere else."
UTSA (3-3, 2-1 in Conference USA) hosts UTEP (1-5, 0-3) Saturday night at the Alamodome.
"Rice was a great team and we have another great team coming up," Stewart said. "We just take the same preparation, don't change anything that we're doing and just try to carry the momentum into the Alamodome."
The game will feature three of the conference's individual offensive leaders in Stewart, Sturm and UTEP tailback Aaron Jones.
While Stewart leads C-USA in average per catch, Sturm is third in quarterback rating (155.0), fourth in completion percentage (64) and third in yards per attempt (8.5). Jones is second in rushing (733 yards) and has scored seven touchdowns.
Jones sat out most of last year with an injury. He did not play in his team's 25-6 loss to UTSA in El Paso.
WILSON WARY OF UTEP
Frank Wilson was on top of his UTSA football history early Monday morning on his weekly chat with Mike Taylor on KTKR radio.
Taylor asked Wilson about facing a team like UTEP on Saturday at the Alamodome.
UTEP is on a five-game losing streak.
In that regard, Taylor asked Wilson if he isn't concerned with playing teams that need a win badly.
"Yeah," Wilson said. "Especially when they come to our venue and beat us by 30 the last time they were here."
Taylor reminded Wilson that he wasn't the coach of the Roadrunners when UTEP beat UTSA 34-0 at the Alamodome in 2014.
"No I wasn't there," UTSA's first-year coach coach said. "But it certainly gave them confidence in thinking they can do it yet again. That (coaching) staff was there and a lot of those players were there. Certainly we're a different team and of course we're a different staff.
"I've known (UTEP) coach (Sean) Kugler really well. He's an excellent football coach. Offensive mindned. Big, burly guy. Personifies who he is -- tough. They'll run the ball and they'll play extremely hard. And from what the team is telling me, this is kind of a rival to us. So they're a dangerous team and we'll need to be prepared to play."
UTSA (3-3, 2-1) has won two straight. UTEP (1-5, 0-3) hasn't won since the season opener against New Mexico State. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. at the Alamodome.