How many different data points should I throw out to paint the picture of how bad UTSA’s offense was last year? For one, I could point out how UTSA’s 18 total touchdowns in 2018 were matched or eclipsed by nine different individual players at other programs. Pick an offensive statistic, scroll to the bottom of the page, and there you’ll find the Roadrunners, toiling among the bottom feeders in points per game, passing efficiency, and so on.
Despite the morbid retrospective, we’re not here for a funeral as 2018 is dead and buried. With Frank Wilson back in the saddle for another year, it’s time for this offense to find some way to score points against all odds, lest the Roadrunners’ head man be sent to pack his bags.
A complete offensive collapse like the one UTSA orchestrated last year requires failure at all positions, but the revolving door of quarterbacks certainly didn’t help to alleviate the situation. Four different quarterbacks attempted at least 50 passes last season, affording the rest of the offense little time to adjust to each quarterback’s individual abilities and shortcomings.
UTSA isn’t digging itself out of this hole on offense without a leader emerging under center. Fortunately for the Roadrunners, sophomore Frank Harris seems to be doing exactly that.
A former star at Clemens High School in San Antonio’s suburbs, Harris picked up a few Power 5 and notable G5 offers while impressing scouts with consistent big plays and escapability both in the pocket and in the open field. Harris is still ripping off long runs on the ground in practice, but his ability to guide the offense through the air has made him UTSA’s starting quarterback and best hope at a winning season. This proved obvious last week as Harris went 15-15 through the air in a scrimmage, a far cry from the 50.5% completion rate last year’s quarterbacks collectively posted in 2018.
Harris’ talent is evident, his health is not. The dual-threat athlete won the starting job last year as well before an ACL tear sidelined him for the season. If Harris is able to stay healthy then UTSA might actually make this thing work.
Junior running back BJ Daniels returns in the backfield, but his role on the offense may be severely reduced. After rushing for 322 yards and three touchdowns last year on 87 attempts, young talent appears to have forced Daniels down the rotation.
Sophomore Brendan Brady came on strong at the end of last season and was the Roadrunners’ only running back to finish 2018 with over four yards per carry. Brady has looked strong through the fall and figures to take starting snaps for the Roadrunners next week.
True freshman Sincere McCormick has been one of the biggest surprises of the fall. The San Antonio product has been just as electric in fall camp as he was at the high school level. With Brady being held out for preventative health measures, McCormick was UTSA’s starting running back at an open practice last week. The young back darted around the left tackle untouched for a touchdown run on his first snap in front of the fan base. McCormick has the rare ability to make the defenders around him appear to be moving in slow motion. That’s a level of speed that UTSA has never seen before.
On paper, this may be UTSA’s most talented offensive line ever. The Roadrunners return seven offensive linemen with starting experience, sharing 65 starts among them. UTSA’s linemen all seemed to be individually talented last year, often winning one-on-one battles. However, any time the defense threw a blitz or a stunt at the line the communication broke down and defenders were granted a free shot at the quarterback.
Size and strength used to be all it took to have a dominating offensive line. In today’s game, what’s between the helmet earholes is even more important than squat maxes and wingspan. The ability to translate experience to cohesion will determine whether or not UTSA will be able to move the ball consistently this season.
Even with seven returning starters on the line, there’s a new face barking out the protection schemes at center. Honolulu native Ahofitu Maka transferred to UTSA from Independence Community College (KS) in the spring and immediately grabbed a starting spot on the offensive line. At 6’2”, 320 pounds, the sophomore has the size and strength to open up lanes and split the pass rush away from the quarterback’s line of sight.
With Maka taking over at center, Kevin Davis has moved to right guard which may be a more natural fit for him. Senior Josh Dunlop and sophomore Spencer Buford-Watts have all-conference potential, and tackle Treyvion Shannon graded highly in most contests last year.
Ultimately, this unit’s performance will come down to their ability to work as a unit.
By my unofficial count, UTSA boasts eight former three-star recruits at wide receiver on the current roster. While the Roadrunners lost their leading receiver from 2018 to graduation, UTSA has a lot of high-ceiling athletes anxious to see more balls tossed their way.
Tariq Woolen stands to line up as UTSA’s primary “X” receiver this year, after grabbing 15 catches for 158 yards and a touchdown last season. Woolen looks to have sped up his stride this fall and it’s been paying dividends through fall camp as the 6’3” wideout has found the endzone consistently.
Sheldon “Sticks” Jones will operate out of the slot, using his sure hands and third eye for coverage gaps to be a blanket for Frank Harris. Jones isn’t a homerun threat but he is quick enough to pick up yards after the catch.
Tykee Ogle-Kellog, Blaze Moorhead, and Kirk Johnson all return from last season and should see plenty of targets. Freshmen De’Corian Clark and Dywan Griffin have also been spotted working into the rotation this fall.
Of all the shortcomings across UTSA’s offense last year, the tight ends may have had the comparatively worst performance. The Roadrunners simply didn’t have a tight end on the roster ready to compete at a high level, yet former Offensive Coordinator Al Borges continued to trot out 11 personnel on most plays from scrimmage.
The Roadrunners really upgraded their talent over the offseason, bringing in two experienced, instant starters.
6’5”, 260 pound junior Leroy Watson was regarded as one of the top blocking tight ends in the JUCO ranks last year, and Watson has lived up to that billing through fall camp.
Watson is complemented by flex tight end Carlos Strickland, a Cal transfer turned Kansas State transfer, turned Roadrunner. Strickland was a four-star receiver as a high school athlete, but injuries prevented him from living up to his ability at his previous stops. Strickland is finally fully recovered, bringing an intriguing X-factor to UTSA’s offense. His size and speed will be an anomaly in Conference USA, so he could give defenses headaches if used creatively. If all goes according to plan, Strickland could be the G5 version of Lil’Jordan Humphrey or O.J. Howard, “tight ends” that were matchup nightmares for both cornerbacks and linebackers.
Looking across the board, UTSA is clearly in a better spot at all positions than they were in 2018. Granted, that’s not saying much at all. With such a huge influx of talent and an established QB1, it’s easy to imagine UTSA being markedly better on offense this year.
What’s not easy to ascertain is how much an offense can feasibly improve over a single offseason. While this data is a bit outdated, it does go to show how hard it is for offenses to have an overnight transition from very bad to very good.
When comparing 2015 offensive S&P+ rankings to 2016 rankings, only five programs were able to rise 50 or more spots from their previous year’s ranking. If UTSA were to find themselves among this elite group (the most improved 4% of offenses in the country) they would still be ranked around 80th in the nation, a mediocre offense at best.
Such turnarounds are exceedingly rare, and UTSA will have to lean on an offensive coordinator with limited experience to pull it off. Jeff Kastl’s only previous full time offensive coordinator gig was at the Division II level, but the former UTSA wide receivers coach seems to realize that his offense must take more risks than last year if they are to put points on the board.
At the end of the day, this offense is an exceedingly athletic one that seems to finally have the pieces it needs to become a functioning unit. It may be premature to expect a scoring title from this team, but the Roadrunners should at least be enjoyable to watch on offense in 2019.