First-year UTSA coach Frank Wilson on Monday said his team's performance last weekend at Texas A&M may have hinted at the program's direction in coming seasons.
"We’re a couple of players away," Wilson said. "Maybe a year or two away. But we'll get there. We’re making the right strides. To measure ourselves against one of the elite programs in the country, it was a great opportunity, and (we were) pleased with the progress that we made."
Ranked 25th nationally in the College Football Playoff standings, Texas A&M defeated UTSA 23-10 at Kyle Field.
But the Aggies didn't roll to the easy victory that most expected, leading by only nine at halftime.
Both teams were without key players. A&M was missing quarterback Trevor Knight, at least one key offensive lineman and three of their best defensive backs. But UTSA was also short-handed.
The Roadrunners were without running back Jalen Rhodes and two offensive line starters, forcing them to play with a third-team center. Also, linebacker Josiah Tauaefa, one of the team's best defensive players, sat out the first half.
Even with all that, the Aggies never opened a more than two-touchdown lead until the third quarter against the Roadrunners, who never let it get out of hand against a team that had been No. 4 in the nation three weeks ago.
UTSA players have since been emboldened by the effort, Wilson said.
"I think (our players) were confident going into the game," Wilson said. "I think it was validation that we can. That we do belong. That we’re up to the task before us, that when we play the way we’re capable of playing, then we give ourselves the opportunity to compete with anyone."
When UTSA takes the field at the Alamodome on Saturday against Charlotte, Rhodes will be available and will play, Wilson said. The coach said he is also hopeful that center Juan Perez-Isidoro and guard Austin Pratt would be available after sitting out against A&M.
Wilson stopped short of saying that Dalton Sturm would start at quarterback in the regular-season finale.
"I couldn’t say that right now," the coach said. "Probably. But I don’t know that. I’m probably two and a half, three games in (analyzing Charlotte's season). Until we figure out what they’re doing in trying to stop us, we’ll try to put the best guy in to help us."
For the second week in a row, senior transfer Jared Johnson came off the bench to replace Sturm. Johnson played from late in the first quarter to the game's end against A&M.
He completed 15 of 24 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown. He was not intercepted, which was surprising, considering he was sacked by the Aggies' stout pass rush five times.
Sturm was sacked once in a 3-for-7 passing effort. Asked if Sturm is injured, Wilson said he isn't.
"Nothing that hinders him," the coach said. "He may be nicked here and there. As you would expect in the 12th week of the season. But he’s pretty healthy for the most part."
UTSA (5-6, 4-3 in Conference USA) needs a win to become bowl eligible. Charlotte (4-7, 3-4) can't get to the required six victories to go into the bowl consideration pool.
Asked if players are talking about the possibility of playing in a bowl game, the coach said they're thinking more about seniors playing at the dome for the last time.
"We talked about things, those guys who -- four years ago, five years ago -- decided to take a chance on a new program and what it meant for them in their fourth or fifth year," he said. "We talked about those guys who transferred in for one year. To chase their dream. And sending them off the right way.
"They’ve invested in this university and we’ve invested in them, in turn, and so, (we want) to make their last experience the best experience in the Alamodome."