For the first time this season, the Sun Devils will hit the road when they visit the University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners on Friday.
UTSA is a school whose football program is still in its infant stages, officially starting competition as an NCAA Division I FCS Independent in 2011 prior to joining FBS Division I and Conference USA in 2013.
Larry Coker was the team’s first head coach, however he resigned following the 2015 campaign.
The team is now under the direction of Frank Wilson, a first-year coach who previously served on Les Miles’ coaching staff at LSU as a running backs coach and renowned recruiting coordinator.
Through two games, the Roadrunners are 1-1. They most recently fell on the road to Colorado State, losing 23-14 amidst conceding 220 rushing yards (4.7 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Overall, they’ve allowed 382 rushing yards through two contests, although each of UTSA’s first two opponents rushed the ball 37 (Alabama State) and 47 times (CSU), respectively.
Why are we spewing stats at you? Because, unfortunately, there’s not much film readily available to make use of this week. And while solely watching full replays of LSU games featuring the likes of tailbacks Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice sounds fun, it wouldn’t completely encapsulate what we’re trying to identify here.
With that said, here’s a brief breakdown of UTSA, along with notes on what ASU can do against its opponent.
Head Coach: Frank Wilson (first year head coach; previously LSU RB coach, recruit. coord.)
Defense: Multiple 4-3
Key Players: Dalton Sturm (14-QB)
Here’s what Wilson had to say of his offensive philosophy when he was first introduced as UTSA head coach in January (via NOLA.com):
“Have had the opportunity to watch us on tape thus far and see our personnel and the things that we have. I like the style of spread, not necessarily a dink and dunk team. We will take our shots down the field, we will throw the ball vertical, we will create run lanes within the run game, with an ability to be physical and assaulting, because that's our identity, it's what we have always done, the ability to run the ball but yet the ability to get vertical to make big plays. So we will start there and we will see how our personnel evolves with our team and adjust accordingly.”
There’s not much of this year’s UTSA group to breakdown, but the snippets available do agree: the Roadrunners operate out of spread offense predicated on attacking defenses vertically.
Of the highlights I could find, here’s their most reoccurring offensive formation:
UTSA lines us with four wide receivers and one running back, also denoted as 10 personnel. Here, each of the four receivers runs a vertical route, making it a four-verticals concept play. It complies with Wilson’s desire to push the ball deep in the passing game.
In regards to running the football, UTSA’s leading rusher, running back Jalen Rhodes, is the man to keep an eye on, particularly via power and counter runs. The Roadrunners did line up in formations where Sterum was under center as opposed to shotgun, suggesting Rhodes’ average of 14.5 carries per game isn’t a mistake thus far.
Where ASU’s defense needs to be careful
Having taken a bend-but-don’t-break approach through two games, ASU has appeared to be susceptible to allowing opposing offenses to go after its defense, at least statistically.
The Sun Devils defense won’t face a Case Cookus/Emmanuel Butler or Patrick Mahomes/anybody connection this weekend, but there may be opportunity for the Roadrunners to attack in spades.
Where ASU’s defense has the advantage
Here’s a stat: UTSA finished with negative total rushing yards against CSU, despite gaining 70 rushing yards as a team. How? Quarterback Dalton Sterum finished with a total loss 65 rushing yards, recording a net of -57 total rushing yards gained on 10 attempts.
These highlights help demonstrate how that happened:
ASU’s front-seven has an opportunity to show out against a Roadrunners offensive line that appeared helpless just a week ago.
While UTSA gave up a huge amount of rushing yards, it’s worth noting that its defense has yet to allow a rush of more than 28 yards. The Roadrunners have suffered death by methodical drive as opposed to home-run plays on the ground.
Through the air, they’ve allowed plays of 45 and 36 yards this year, but no others longer than 30.
Where ASU’s offense needs to be careful
Execution. The Sun Devils have enjoyed very clean offensive football through two games. In hitting the road for the first time this season, quarterback Manny Wilkins must continue to show the poise in the pocket he’s demonstrated through two matchups, and the duo of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage must perform adequately.
It shouldn’t take another record-setting performance to come away with the win on Friday.
Where ASU’s offense has the advantage
The line of scrimmage. Let’s credit ASU offensive line coach Chris Thomsen here, as he’s done one hell of a job coaching up his unit to this point.
Albeit against lesser foes, the offensive line has consistently won the battle at the LOS and only grows stronger the deeper into a contest it gets.
Being a run-heavy team, the offensive line’s conditioning can be the difference in this one. ASU can outmuscle UTSA in similar, yet more explosive fashion than CSU did.
Games Viewed: UTSA vs Alabama State (Highlights), UTSA vs Colorado State (Highlights)