UTSA coming into Houston's brand-spanking-new TDECU Stadium and delivering a bonafide beat down was shocking. Even more shocking for UTSA fans was how often the Roadrunner coaching staff was willing to insert freshmen into the fold in key situations. With 59 upperclassmen on the roster, UTSA certainly had the flexibility to redshirt their entire freshman class had they so chosen.
Wisely, Larry Coker and company decided to waste no time in letting the program's young guns get some game-time experience before UTSA graduates 37 seniors after this season. The aforementioned seniors have done an unbelievable job of building this program from the ground up but it is important to remember that most of these guys were Southland Conference recruits with gaping flaws in their abilities. UTSA's coaching staff has managed to mitigate these flaws through schematic wizardry but the athletic ability of the next generation of Roadrunner athletes will make the coaches' jobs much easier.
Out of all of the freshmen that saw the field in Houston, Marcus Davenport might have had the biggest impact. The skinny 6'6" San Antonio native was inserted frequently on third down situations where he would rush the edge from a two-point stance, giving UTSA fans a flashback of former defensive end Marlon Smith. Davenport was able to bring Houston quarterback John O'Korn to the ground to force a punt at a point in the game where it appeared as though the Cougars offense was finally starting to click.
While Davenport received a questionable late hit penalty on the play, Davenport also delivered a blow to O'Korn that led to an errant pass. Davenport still has a ways to go before he can be trusted to play on all three downs but coaches have raved about his work ethic. All that stands in the way of Davenport having a great career will be his ability to gain weight as he currently carries just 215 pounds.
Nate Gaines was a late recruiting pick up for UTSA as the athletic safety would flip his commitment from SMU just days before National Signing Day. With Triston Wade and Tevin Broussard enjoying their last season of eligibility in 2014, Gaines has a clear path to starting at free safety in 2015 as a true sophomore. Gaines primarily saw action on special teams against Houston but received a few snaps at safety throughout the game.
While Gaines failed to register a tackle, he looked natural and comfortable playing at the Division I level. Similar to Davenport, Gaines needs some time to let his body grow and mature so I'm a little bit concerned that playing this season will deprive him of the benefits that a redshirt season would provide. On the other hand, if Wade can be an all-conference selection at 175 pounds then why can't Gaines?
Another signing-day flip for UTSA came in the form of former Marshall commit, Stanley Dye. The speedy cornerback out of Florida brings a level of speed to the position that the UTSA program had never previously enjoyed. Most UTSA prognosticators pegged Dye as the most likely freshman to contribute due to his ability to change a game on special teams.
UTSA stuck with sophomore Jarveon Williams on kick returns and senior Kenny Harrison on punt returns but Dye was able to get some snaps at corner in the fourth quarter. The Cougars targeted Dye almost immediately but Dye showed no signs of backing down as he would display excellent closing speed to keep short passes to minimal gains. Dye would finish the game with four tackles and a pass break up after he made up seven yards of ground in a split second to neutralize an open mini curl route.
UTSA's wide receiver rotation is deep. Like ten different guys regularly catch passes deep. In his first game on the UTSA sideline, wide receivers coach Marquis Mosely certainly could have stuck with an experienced player to get some extra snaps with playmakers Kenny Bias and Brandon Freeman suspended. Instead Mosely chose to play the best possession receiver available in Kerry Thomas.
Thomas registered just one catch for eight yards but created separation from the defense repeatedly while also driving cornerbacks off the edge with physical blocking. When watching Thomas take clean breaks out of his cuts and effectively latch on his blocks with authority, it's hard to believe this guy has only been playing football for three years. With a lot of room left to grow, Thomas should end up being a star for the Roadrunner over the next four years.