New Mexico will host Texas-San Antonio in the New Mexico Bowl and to get to know the Roadrunners from Jared Kalmus of UnderdogDynasty.com
1. First of all, congratulations on UTSA’s first bowl game. Without knowing much about UTSA football, the fact that they are going to a bowl game in just their sixth season, and the first under head coach Frank Wilson, really says something about the program that they have in place. What has been Wilson’s trademark this year to improve the team to 6-6 from 3-9 just last season?
A: Frank Wilson made his greatest impact in year one by increasing the talent level and motivation of the program as soon as he stepped foot on campus. Wilson inherited a very poor recruiting class but he was able to secure some impressive athletes to salvage the class in his only month of recruiting the 2016 class. Several of the freshmen he recruited ended up playing major roles on the team in 2016 such as starting cornerback Teddrick McGhee and reserve defensive end Eric Banks. Wilson was also able to use his connections at LSU to land graduate transfers Jevonte Domond, Ronnie Fiest, and Jordan Moore.
Before Wilson's arrival, the program seemed to be spinning its tires in the mud as the previous staff and roster seemed to just be going through the motions without any real progress. Wilson brought in a fresh perspective and abundant energy which translated onto the field.
2. The Roadrunners had some near upsets over Arizona State and Colorado State that must’ve given fans optimism for the future. At the same time, the team played well enough to earn their bowl bid. What were a couple of the season-defining wins for the team this year?
UTSA's wins over Southern Miss and Middle Tennessee this season were both the biggest wins in UTSA history at the time and paved the way for UTSA to reach bowl eligibility. The Roadrunners won both games by playing highly physical football and dominating in the trenches. UTSA killed a three game losing streak with their win over Southern Miss and ended some serious road woes with their domination over MTSU. The Roadrunners were looking out of luck for a bowl big following a five overtime loss to UTEP but these two major upsets as 20+ underdogs gave UTSA new life on the season.
3. Looking at the Roadrunners’ season statistics, I’m intrigued by the amount of balance that the team has on offense. You had two runners go for over 700 yards in Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes. Josh Stewart and Kerry Williams, Jr. combined for nearly 1200 receiving yards. And quarterback Dalton Sturm makes smart decisions and rarely throws an interception. Is there anyone on this offense that Lobo fans should be particularly worried about? What can we expect when the Roadrunners have possession?
It's really, really tough to pin UTSA's offense down to one guy. Throughout the entire season we've seen games where one of UTSA's top playmakers will just fade into the background while other step up to carry the load. All of the guys you mentioned are the biggest threats in UTSA's offense but also keep an eye on backup quarterback Jared Johnson. The graduate transfer from Sam Houston State never grabbed the starting role away from Dalton Sturm but he has progressed throughout the season and sparked UTSA's stagnant offense in the fourth quarter. He'll definitely get some snaps in this bowl game.
4. UTSA holds its opponents to 152 rushing yards per game. To that end, it was no surprise that guys like linebacker Josiah Tauaefa and defense end Marcus Davenport were just named to the all-Conference USA teams (first team and second team, respectively). It seems that these two and safety Michael Eguwagu anchor this team’s defense. But with all due respect, they haven’t seen a running game like New Mexico’s, which is best in the nation, all season. Can UTSA stop New Mexico’s ground game, especially given the fact that UNM will have home-field advantage?
The Roadrunners defense has really impressed this season, especially against the run. UTSA's defensive effort has taken a huge step forward following a terrible 63-35 loss to Louisiana Tech. Sparked by vast improvement from several freshmen on the defensive line, UTSA's defense held Texas A&M to 23 points and Charlotte to just seven offensive points in their last two games. Charlotte was leading Conference USA in rushing yards per game heading into the contest but left the Alamodome with just eight rushing yards on the day.
The Roadrunners' multiple defense is very strong up the middle as Josiah Tauaefa is always in the mix to cut gains short before the running back is able to hit the second level. UTSA's young defensive line should keep improving over these extra few weeks of practice which should translate to some penetration in the backfield that will put UNM in unfavorable down and distance.
Where I'm worried about UTSA's defense against the Lobos is on the edge. Thankfully for the Roadrunners they'll have plenty of time to prepare for Bob Davie's unique pistol triple option but Tyrone Owens and Teriyon Gipson have the speed needed to turn a blown assignment into a 50 yard touchdown. If the Roadrunners can get smart, disciplined football from safeties Jordan Moore and Michael Egwuagu then I think they'll force the Lobos to throw the ball more often than they would like which is ultimately their key to success.