Coaches often give lip service to how important spring football is. In most cases it is only truly important for individual players, namely guys that are on the bubble and could end up looking to transfer if they don’t put up a fight for playing time by holding off freshmen in the spring.
That's not true for the Roadrunners, who will replace starters at seemingly every position this fall. The sting will be felt the most on the offensive side of the ball where Larry Coker will be tasked with rebuilding an offensive line with several underweight sophomores.
Not only will UTSA’s offense be tasked with replacing personnel across the board in 2015, they’ll also be introducing a faster offensive tempo this season.
Needless to say, this spring was an adventure for the UTSA offense. To the relief of Roadrunner fans, it ended with an encouraging performance that hinted towards a resurgence for an offensive unit that rated near the bottom of the FBS in practically every offensive metric imaginable.
Blake Bogenschutz started the spring game as the starter and left no doubt that he’ll start the fall in the same spot. Bogenschutz started out a little slow and missed several targets high before settling in and impressing the audience with some dazzling connections with receivers.
Bogenschutz finished the day 15-23 with 233 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He wasn't perfect (remember, he’s still a freshman) but he was quick and decisive with the ball and even drew some "oohs" and "ahhs" from the crowd with several deep throws. The Carthage native could have finished with at least 40 more yards and another passing touchdowns without drops from the wide receiver unit.
Austin Robinson and Dalton Sturm also had strong outings under center. Robinson totaled just 90 yards on 10 of 16 passing but his accuracy was much improved. Sturm was extremely efficient as he racked up 109 yards on a 9-12 outing, flashing a strong arm and quick field vision.
The wide receivers didn’t let a few dropped passes stop the offensive surge. Redshirt freshman Greg Campbell stole the show here, amassing 91 yards on eight catches including a 67 yard sprint through the secondary for the first score of the game. A high school quarterback, most figured that Campbell would need another year of learning the technical details of the position before making a major contribution to the passing game. After his performance in the spring game he now looks like the favorite to start at slot receiver against Arizona.
Kerry Thomas and Kenny Bias are the other two anticipated starters and both played pretty well in the spring game with catches for 51 and 75 yards respectively, both good for touchdowns. Larry Stephens, Brady Jones and Blaze Moorhead also made cases for themselves to earn playing time by displaying good hands and smooth routes.
While the offensive line may still be the biggest work-in-progress on the team the five starters did a solid job of protecting against the pass rush. The starting five from left to right was Reed Darragh, Kyle McKinney, Clayton Woods, William Cavanaugh and Juan Perez with Perez sliding down to center and Cody Cole stepping in at right tackle later in the game. Jordan Gray was forced to sit out in the spring but he’ll also put up a strong fight for a starting spot in the fall. In the mean time, new offensive line coach Mike Markuson did an impressive job of improving this young unit in a short time span.
The running backs had a relatively quiet day, lead by Jalen Rhodes’ 43 yards on eight carries. Rhodes has struggled with injuries over the past three years but the former Texas Tech commit showed twitchy speed and sharp vision out of the backfield in his carries this weekend.
Tight ends were similarly low key with the exception of Triston Crossland. The 6’3" freshman made some tough catches and proved to be a tough assignment for the defense. If Crossland can add weight over the summer he could be a nice x-factor at H back or tight end.
Despite a strong showing from the offense several players on the defensive side of the ball turned in solid performances. Leading tackler Marcos Curry helped to stave off competition for starting snaps at outside linebacker by totaling seven tackles and a sack. His leading competition, JUCO newcomer La’Kel Bass, had four tackles, a pass breakup and a sack of his own. It’s probably safe to say both guys deserve to see plenty of snaps this fall.
A fierce competition among the young, talented cornerbacks continued with N’Keal Bailey, Aneas Henricks and Stanley Dye impressing with their speed and length. Bailey won the start opposite of Bennett Okotcha and showed enough to begin the fall as the starter. Dye used his new-found size to break up some screen passes and to help out against the run game. It’s going to be very interesting to watch how the snaps at cornerback will be distributed once Trevor Baker returns from injury this fall.
The safeties gave up some big plays through the air but young guys like Justin Chavez and Carl Austin III made some nice plays, including a 33 yard pick six for the latter. Mauricio Sanchez also provided the biggest hit of the day on a tackle along the sideline.
While the defensive line didn’t dominate the line of scrimmage like one might expect against a young, undersized offensive line, they did show their speed on the edge. Marcus Davenport and Jason Neill lead the pass rush while Vontrell Williams and Kennedy Ubabuike anchored the middle. I also liked the strength and speed redshirt freshman Kevin Strong showed along the defensive line.
Of course we know that spring games don’t give us a very good picture of what a team’s upcoming season will look like but boy does it feel nice to see a Roadrunner offense generate some big plays for once, even if it comes at the expense of their own defense. With a talented young quarterback taking the reigns of an offense that is finally being allowed to enter the 21st no-huddle century please forgive me for slipping into the eternal, often naive, hope that spring football provides.