Know Your Foe: Q&A With UTSA Insider Jared Kalmus
After last week's crushing loss to Wyoming, non-conference play is officially over. It will be conference opponents the rest of the way for the Owls and this week they get things started with a home game against the Roadrunners of Texas-San Antonio. Kickoff is set for 5 pm ET.
Special thanks to Jared Kalmus of Cooler Chronicles for taking the time to answer our questions and offer his perspective on this week's game.
For more on UTSA football you can find his work Cooler Chronicles: UTSA Roadrunner Football Blog
Q:Former Miami (FL) head coach Larry Coker has done a great job of building UTSA from scratch and is very similar to the job Howard Schnellenberger had done for FAU during his time here. In three years UTSA has gone 4-6, 8-4, and 7-5 in their inaugural season as an FBS member, finishing a game shy of the Conference USA West Title. How has Coker done it and does the UTSA fan base believe this is his last stop?
JK: Man, where to start? In many ways, Coker stepped into a perfect storm to brew up success at UTSA. Between the program's location and the rapidly increasing reputation of the university, Coker enjoyed many of the same advantages Schenllenberger did when he started the FAU program. I identified the establishment of early legitimacy, shrewd leadership and city support, lack of competition, and access to Texas high school talent as key factors in UTSA's rapid growth in an article I wrote earlier this year. If you're interested in reading more you can Do So Here.
The fan base would definitely be stunned if Coker were to take another job. Even though his work at UTSA has certainly been impressive, I don't think many programs are itching to offer a 66 year old a contract. Coker seems refreshed to be away from the pressure that comes with coaching top flight programs with lofty expectations for winning. Much like Schnellenberger, Coker came to UTSA to cement his legacy, not to use it as a stepping stone for another job.
Q: What is the buzz surrounding the team three games in? After a win against Houston, a near upset over Arizona, and a deflating loss to Oklahoma St. is this where the fan base expected to be heading into conference play?
JK: This is about as good or better than most fans could have anticipated. I predicted a 1-2 start to the season so I'm happy with where the team is at today even if the offense has underwhelmed. Even though UTSA missed some opportunities in their first three games most fans are still confident in the Roadrunners' chances at winning the western division of Conference USA and reaching a bowl game in their first season of bowl eligibility.
Q: The Roadrunners are near the bottom in offensive production in FBS rankings, averaging 263 yards per game coming into this week's matchup? How has Tucker Carter done in replacing the only quarterback to ever throw a pass for the Roadrunners in Eric Soza, and is the lack of offensive production attributed to his play or other factors?
JK: Honestly, it's been very tough to assess Carter's performance this year. Outside of a regrettable shovel pass against Arizona, Carter has done a great job of taking care of the ball. Carter is at his best when he can sit back in the pocket and stretch down the field off play action. Since UTSA hasn't been able to establish the run game and the receivers haven't been able to generate much separation from the athletic secondaries UTSA has faced, Carter hasn't really been able to play to his strengths. Carter definitely hasn't been great but I think the bigger issues stalling this offense are the inability to demand defenses respect the run and vanilla play calls from the coaching staff. Now that UTSA is entering conference play and will be on equal footing athletically, some of these issues will correct themselves. If the offense starts slowly again then we may see the coaching staff hand the reigns over to Blake Bogenschutz, a highly-regarded true freshman that impressed on the road against Oklahoma State.
Q: Coming into this week's game the FAU fan base is dejected after last week's heartbreaking loss to Wyoming and are not sure what to expect from the Owls in this crucial conference opener and fear that if FAU comes out flat, UTSA will take advantage. With two weeks to prepare for this week's game, what should we expect from the Roadrunners?
JK: UTSA should be well prepared for this week's game since they are coming off of a much needed bye week. The Roadrunners will still be missing two contributors in Nic Johnston and Richard Burge but the team will be healthy and rested for the most part. The Roadrunners debuted some new plays and schemes in their first conference game last year at UTEP so I wouldn't be surprised if Coker and his staff break out some new tricks against the Owls.
Q: What type of offense do the Roadrunners run and who are the key players Owl fans should look out for?
JK: The Roadrunners are very multiple on offense and like to try to catch defenses off guard with endless substitutions, pre-snap motion, and position shifts. Under former quarterback Eric Soza, UTSA ran a lot of option plays but that wrinkle has been reduced so far this year. UTSA has tried to run in between the tackles more frequently in 2014 with limited success. FAU fans should keep an eye out for wide receiver Kam Jones and running back Jarveon Williams. The duo are very explosive players that are dangerous in open space, much like Lucky Whitehead.
Q: What type of defensive schemes do the Roadrunners have and who should Owl fans be on the lookout for?
JK: UTSA primarily lines up in a 4-2-5 scheme that features a "Dawg" linebacker/safety hybrid. On clear passing situations UTSA often moves to a three man front and brings an extra cornerback or safety onto the field. The Roadrunners are stacked along the defensive line but the most dynamic athlete there is Jason Neill. Free safety Triston Wade is a turnover machine and Oklahoma transfer Bennett Okotcha should bounce back strong after his worst outing of his career against Oklahoma State.
Q: Special teams can play a crucial role in determining who goes home the victor and who leaves with a loss. FAU's Lucky Whitehead has been electric on kickoff and punt returns, averaging 27.6 yards per kickoff return and 32.4 yards per punt return, good enough for best in the nation. The kicking game has seemed to turn a corner too as Greg Joseph went 4-4 last week. How has UTSA performed on special teams this year?
JK: Considering the caliber of athletes that UTSA has faced so far, I think the Roadrunners have fared pretty well in the third phase of the game. Punter Kristian Stern has improved tremendously this season, frequently flipping the field for the defense and pinning the opposition inside of their own 20 yard line. UTSA was able to prevent Oklahoma State's world-renowned sprinter turned football player Tyreek Hill from breaking anything open on returns so I think they'll be able to repeat the feat against FAU. Kicker Sean Ianno has been up and down in the past two season so generating stops at the 35 yard line as opposed to the 25 could be a big boon for the Owls' defense. Watch out for punt returner Kenny Harrison as he's been very special in that role throughout his career.
Q: Prediction time!! This is a pivotal game for both teams as both have only one win on the season. Both teams have aspirations of winning the conference and going to a bowl game and if that is going to happen this game will go a long way in determining that. Who wins?
JK: I'm on record for a 34-21 UTSA victory. While they probably aren't going to light up the box score, I think the Roadrunner offense will take some big steps forward following the bye week and they should finally be able to generate some big plays if they can avoid D'Joun Smith. As you said before, FAU should be pretty deflated following the brutal road loss so an early lead for UTSA could make a big emotional impact. Between Jaquez Johnson, D'Joun Smith, Jay Warren and Lucky Whitehead this FAU team has plenty of talent to keep the game close and spoil UTSA's start to conference play if the Roadrunners play as sluggish as they did against Oklahoma State.