Four Down Territory 11.9.16

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 11.9.16

In what may go down as one of the more impressive road performances in program history, UTSA out-right dominated Middle Tennessee in a key Conference USA matchup last Saturday in Murfreesboro. Entering the game as a three score underdog, UTSA got things going early and never looked back. A key story line from the game was the injury to MTSU QB Brent Stockstill. The signal-caller was injured on a sack play early in the game and never returned. Clearly that was part of the Blue Raiders’ offensive struggles that day. But Stockstill’s absence had little to do with how much the Roadrunners dominated in the trenches. On offense, UTSA’s o-line provided huge running lanes for backs Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes. All told, UTSA would rush for a solid 270 yards. And in the passing game, they gave QB Dalton Sturm more than enough time in the pocket. Defensively, UTSA was stout up front. The Roadrunner defense recorded five sacks and made the pocket uncomfortable all game long. And for the second straight game, UTSA forced four turnovers. The way the game played out may have been different had Stockstill not gotten injured, but I do not think it would have impacted the outcome. UTSA simply outplayed MTSU in every facet of the game last week. It was an impressive win. And if things continue to go the ‘Runners way, it will be remembered as one of the all-time best road wins.

To call UTSA’s offensive line much-maligned may be a huge understatement. For the better part of three years, it’s been the most discussed topic after who will be starting quarterback… when will the offensive line improve? When this season started, it seemed like it was going to be the same old. The group struggled in run blocking and were so-so in pass protection. But somewhere over the last month and a half, the unit has come together and played extremely well. The last two games may have been the unit’s most impressive performances, specifically in the run game. UTSA’s ability to run the keys everything. It allows offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo to be methodical in play calling while still being aggressive with certain calls. It drains the clock and helps UTSA’s defense stay fresh. It’s fair to say that a large part of the Roadrunners’ success this season can be traced back to the play of the o-line. Eight offensive linemen saw steady action vs MTSU (Jevonte Domond, Austin Pratt, Juan Perez-Isidoro, Stefan Beard, Gabriel Casillas, Kyle McKinney, David Anzaldua, and Reed Darragh). This group has steadily improved all season long. The question no longer is when they will improve. The question now becomes can this group carry UTSA into the postseason?

Remember that thumping UTSA took to Old Dominion five weeks ago. Remember how you felt after the game and how it seemed this season would be nothing but a rebuilding effort? Fast-forward to now and what’s happened since is remarkable. UTSA has won four of their last five games with the only loss coming in a five-overtime thriller to UTEP that the Roadrunners should have won. But we’ve seen something else these last five weeks beyond the wins and loss. This group of Roadrunners have found their identity. They established themselves as a solid team that plays a physical and exciting brand of football. In sports, we often judge success in the win and loss column and by analyzing various stats. If you look at the first four games of this 2016 season from that perspective, it’s hard to find many positives from that stretch games. But what those four games did was provide a team searching for themselves just enough adversity to help turn things around. Following the lopsided loss to ODU, UTSA had a bye week and came out and played their best game of the season upsetting Southern Miss. Since they’ve played even better vs North Texas and Middle Tennessee. What a remarkable turnaround. 

With three games remaining on their schedule, everything is still in front of UTSA. But what lies ahead may be the hardest three games the Roadrunners will play this season. First things first: La Tech. It doesn’t get much bigger than what we’ll see Saturday afternoon in Ruston. This winner will be in prime position to win the west division of Conference USA and play for the 2016 CUSA title. For UTSA, it’s also their first chance of three to become bowl eligible for the first time in program history. People around these parts have been yearning for bowl eligibility since 2013. Back then, UTSA beat seven FBS teams. But because they were still transitioning into FBS, the only way the Roadrunners could become bowl eligible then was if there was not enough teams to fill all the bowls. Unfortunately, there was and UTSA was left out on post season play that season. What followed were the two worst seasons in program history (4-8 in 2014 and 3-9 in 2015). Now, UTSA has a real opportunity for not just a bowl berth but to compete for the CUSA Championship. It’s a turn around that I’m not too sure anyone could have legitimately expected, at least not this season. But standing in front of the Roadrunners are the Bulldogs. Winners of six in a row, La Tech is the hottest team in Conference USA and may be the most complete team UTSA will face up to this point on the schedule. Oddsmakers have the ‘Runners listed as 20+ point underdogs. Ruston is a tough place to play at too. The Bulldogs have good fan support and the stadium provides an intimate setting. UTSA is 0-2 in Ruston and 1-3 vs La Tech overall. To further complicate things, it’s also homecoming for La Tech Saturday. So here we go. The Roadrunners are huge underdogs on the road with everything on the line. For a team that won just three games last season, it doesn’t get much bigger than this. See you all in Ruston Saturday.

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