Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: Entering just their second year with a football program, the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners are one of two squads from the Lone Star State preparing to make an impact in the Western Athletic Conference. Back in March of 2009, UTSA got the ball rolling by hiring Larry Coker as its first head coach, a two-time National Coach of the Year who has given the squad instant credibility thanks to his national tile with the Miami Hurricanes in 2001.
Certainly the squad had some growing pains last year as it played as an Independent in the Football Championship Subdivision before making the transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision. At the same time, the school bought the hype by setting NCAA records for a startup program with an attendance of 56,743 in the season opener and an average of 35,521 per game.
The 2011 campaign started off with a bang as the Roadrunners delivered a 31-3 rout of Northeastern State, but then the squad won just once in the next six outings, that being a 54-7 romp over NAIA foe Bacone College. Down the stretch UTSA added victories over Georgia State (17-14 OT) and Minot State (49-7), the latter being a Division II program.
A 4-6 overall record might not be much to cheer about, but the good news is that the Roadrunners have almost every one of their starters returning for another season. UTSA is only making a pit stop in the WAC for this one season, having announced that its agreed to officially become members of Conference USA on July 1, 2013.
OFFENSE: The offense for the Roadrunners is considered a multiple spread attack, with several receivers lining up in any and all available spaces along the line of scrimmage. The good news for the squad is that every starter from a year ago on this side of the ball is ready to make a repeat performance so at least there will be some level of familiarity between the skill players and the big guys in the trenches who are attempting to keep players like quarterback Eric Soza in one piece.
Soza, now a junior, completed 56 percent of his attempts in 2011, leading to an average of 214.8 ypg and a total of 14 touchdowns. The aerial attack for the squad will have to pick up steam now that the competition has been taken up a notch. Only two players managed to catch at least 30 balls a year ago, as Kam Jones reeled in 39 passes for 578 yards and 2 touchdowns and Brandon Freeman recorded 30 receptions for 419 yards and a team-best 4 scores.
Clearly, spreading the ball around to many players not only keeps them happy and involved, it also creates coverage problems for opposing defenses as well. Junior running back Evans Okotcha averaged 6.5 yards per carry and scored 4 times on 50 attempts, while Soza showed that he could create with his feet in 2011 with 285 yards and 3 TDs, but the signal-caller might have to curb such enthusiasm in order to stay healthy.
DEFENSE: In 2011, the UTSA defense forced a total of 21 turnovers and created 15 scores (12 TDs and 3 FGs) out of those opportunities, so continuing on an upward trend in that department would certainly help the Roadrunners with their transition to this higher level of college football. One of four players to record at least a pair of interceptions, Steven Kurfehs scored on one of his picks and as great of a feeling as that may have been, he's well aware that he and his teammates were young and are still growing along with the program.
"I learned that we needed to mature as a team," Kurfehs said while preparing for the 2012 campaign. "That was a problem we had last year. We couldn't close out games because we were so young. We weren't mature enough. This past offseason, we were all in the weight room. I think that maturity will carry over into this season and we will be able to close out the close ones."
Jason Neill, who is a sophomore at defensive end, only started six games a year ago and tallied 14 overall stops, to go along with his 1 interception return for a touchdown, so it only makes sense that he will continue to grow as he gains more game experience and that potential has to be encouraging to the coaching staff. At the other end position is Marlon Smith who led the way for UTSA with 10 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 7 pass breakups and 5 quarterback hurries, all while starting 8 of the 9 games in which he appeared. Although slightly undersized at just 5-feet-10, Brandon Reeves will see plenty of action at his linebacker position again and could easily surpass the 69 tackles that he registered to lead the Roadrunners last season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Roadrunners bring back both kickers from a year ago which is a good sign, but that's what you would expect given that placekicker Sean Ianno and punter Kristian Stern are still just sophomores. Ianno led the team in scoring as a freshman, converting all 31 of his PATs, but he made just 11-of-18 on field goals, so clearly there is plenty of room for improvement there assuming the UTSA offense will be stopped quite a bit and forced to create scoring chances by way of the kicking game.
OUTLOOK: The Roadrunners don't have a lot of time to make their mark in the WAC considering their pending move to Conference USA. With the first four games of this season coming against non-league opponents, UTSA might have a fighting chance at picking up victories before the start of the conference slate. There could also be a couple of potential wins at the back end of the schedule with McNeese State and Texas State lurking as the final two home dates of the season, but there will be plenty of growing pains for Coker in spite of his sunny outlook.
"My expectations for the team this year are high. I never go into a season expecting not to win. Maybe we aren't supposed to win since we are a young program, but our players don't believe that. I certainly don't believe that and our staff doesn't either."