On Growing and Belonging
After driving nearly ten hours on a chartered bus full of DIEHARD Roadrunner fans I took time to reflect on the program’s maturation while watching hundreds of UTSA fans file into UNM’s stadium. I could barely recognize the team on the field. As the game began, it became clear that UTSA had an advantage in talent over the Lobos, a team that had been fielding a football program for over 100 years. Roadrunner fans were the loudest in the stadium, though they certainly had more to cheer for throughout the evening. While watching Kam Jones break through four tackles as the Roadrunners approached a clinching touchdown after a 99 yard drive that will go down in UTSA folklore, it was hard to comprehend that this was only UTSA’s 23rd game. The rise was too atmospheric, the improvement too rapid, the support too passionate. But this was reality, and the reality is that in just its third year of competition, UTSA has a strong and competitive Division I program, regardless of the outcome of a tough match up against Big XII favorites Oklahoma State this week.
I’ve mentioned before that the drive for acceptance as a Division I program will feature many moving goal posts (Idaho isn’t a real DI team! Anybody could win eight games in the WAC! New Mexico is rebuilding! The Beef O’ Brady Bowl sucks!) but last week’s win was a great step towards the end goal of respectability for the fledgling start up. To win on the road against a favored team is impressive, to do so while coming back from a two-score deficit is nearly miraculous. While the leadership and focus needed to come back against a solid team like UNM speaks for itself, the third-and-inches stop followed by a fourth-and-inches stop and a 99 yard drive for the offense shows just how good this team can be. Coach Coker has mentioned this in interviews; yes, the UTSA program may be young but the team itself is not. These kids have played a lot of football together. Experience minimizes mistakes. Confidence in your squad’s ability to execute leads to aggressive play calling, forcing pressure onto the opponent. UTSA will certainly be outgunned against the likes of Oklahoma State and Arizona. The Roadrunners will likely lose both games, but they won’t be pushovers for anyone on their schedule. After watching several Conference USA games last week, I failed to find a reason why the Runners wouldn’t be able to compete against any team in the conference.
With the big picture out of the way, here are a few stray observations from the game:
- As good as Eric Soza is, this game served as a reminder as to why his future in the game will come through the coaching profession and not through the NFL. With more and more quarterbacks under 6’2″ getting chances to play on Sundays, some fans were starting to entertain the idea that Eric could sneak on to an NFL practice squad. Unfortunately, his deep passing is still too inadequate to make it in the League. In the first half we saw Soza miss out on several big plays by placing the ball just outside of his target’s grasp. While receivers were getting plenty of separation from defensive backs and the offensive line provided adequate protection, Soza was only able to connect on two pass plays that went for over two yards– a hitch route to Kam Jones and a beautiful play action toss that found Brandon Armstrong completely uncovered, though Soza still underthrew Armstrong.
- Speaking of Armstrong, I was thrilled to see him score his first touchdown as a Roadrunner. Armstrong is a guy that has filled many roles on the squad, providing quality snaps despite being overshadowed by Evans Okotcha and David Glasco. If Jarveon Williams is as talented as the coaching staff and media have lead us to believe then Armstrong probably won’t be getting too many touches this season. I’m glad Brandon was able to state his case for playing time before Jarveon returned from injury.
- How about that defensive line? UTSA completely shut down any semblance of any interior rushing attack for UNM, forcing the Lobos into unfavorable down and distance situations. All four defensive tackles had phenomenal games, especially Ashaad Mabry who looked unblockable. Richard Burge was camped out in the backfield all evening and Ferrington Macon knocked Cole Gautsche out of the game on a punishing blow.
- An unlikely factor in UTSA’s ability to shut down UNM star running back Kasey Carrier was the play of the Dawg safeties and cornerbacks. The guys on the outside stuck to Carrier on the option, ensuring that the Lobo quarterback would have to keep the ball and be greeted by UTSA’s linebacking core. This strategy greatly paid off as Carrier managed under 60 yards and Gautsche became worn down from the violence.
- Andre Brown was a nice surprise. He never really stuck out to me in the spring and didn’t receive much love from the coaches during fall camp but Brown played early and often. Brown had a nice pass breakup and looked solid in man coverage.
- If anyone had any doubt, Jens Jeters is legit. He tied for second in tackles (5) and had a two-yard tackle for loss against UNM. Jens flew all over the field, fighting through blocks and swarming to the ball. It’s encouraging to remember that Jeters is just a sophomore. UTSA will be in very good hands after Steven Kurfehs graduates.
- Many fans scoffed at the prospect of 260 pound Jordan Gray starting at right tackle. Once again, the coaching staff proved their brilliance as Gray more than held his own in his first game along the offensive line. The sophomore locked up his defender in pass protection, showing great strength and nimble feet. The offensive line as a unit didn’t create many huge running lanes but Gray did have a nice down block to open up an easy touchdown for David Glasco and flattened a defender to spring Aaron Grubb on a jet sweep. I’m willing to bet that Gray grades out very highly for his performance against New Mexico.
- Kenny Bias dragging Kam Jones up the field with him for a huge gain is one of my favorite Roadrunner plays ever. I love when receivers block (especially when down field!) as it’s one of the small things that makes a good offense a great one. Bias didn’t have a great game receiving but his small contribution in that play helped lead to a Roadrunner victory.
A UTSA alumnus that has been cast away to Austin, Jared enjoys live music and a craft beer. He thinks four verts is the best play in football but loves a QB sneak on fourth and inches. Twitter