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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Football

The Opposition: An inside look at the challenge UTSA will provide


UH is off to a 3-0 start, but a trip to San Antonio to face UTSA is a threat to their unblemished record. UTSA, which is 2-2 with losses to Oklahoma State and Arizona, will bring a talented dual-threat quarterback to the Alamodome at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Mario Nava, the sports editor of UTSA’s student newspaper, The Paisano, offered insight into the Roadrunners.

TDC: UTSA quarterback Eric Soza puts up a lot of passes, but he’s also the team’s second leading rusher. What’s his skill set and how will he challenge the Cougars’ defense?

MN: Soza has always had a knack for being a running quarterback. He is currently the program’s all-time leading rusher by attempts (192), just ahead of junior running back David Glasco II (187).  This season, UTSA has had issues running the ball, with the exception being last Saturday against UTEP, where they put up a season-high 181 yards; only seven was attributed to Soza. That means Soza is relied upon at times to try and get the chains moving with his feet, especially when the offensive line has not been able to create space for the myriad of UTSA running backs.  However, Soza is a passing quarterback first who prefers to stay in the pocket. He is already over 1,000 yards passing through four games with an efficiency rating of 133.1 and six passing touchdowns.

What makes Soza dangerous for the Cougars’ defense is his decision making. His ability to discern when to run and when to pass is exceptional. Soza’s only issue is turning the ball over. He threw three interceptions in losses to Oklahoma State and Arizona, both teams being the toughest contests to date for the UTSA program. But in their two victories, Soza never turned the ball over and threw three touchdown passes.

TDC: Eighteen different receivers have caught passes this season for UTSA. Is spreading the ball around to different wideouts a key element of head coach Larry Coker’s offense?

MN: Part of the reason UTSA has spread the ball around so much in the passing game is due to the struggles of the running game through the first four games of the season. While Coker and offensive coordinator Kevin Brown prefer to run a balanced offense, the reality is that much of the scoring comes from Soza’s ability to find different receivers at any point in time of the game.

UTSA has either trailed big in their two losses or led big in their recent win over UTEP, forcing Soza to throw more attempts to a variety of receivers in an effort to make a comeback or in garbage time.

TDC: The UTSA defense has yet to force a turnover this season but has faced some stiff competition so far. Is creating more opportunities something the squad is focusing on?

MN: Coker has emphasized in his interviews that the lack of forced turnovers is constantly being addressed with the team. Last season UTSA had a 12-3 turnover advantage in a 4-0 start. This season they are at a 5-1 disadvantage and a 2-2 start.

The Roadrunners have dealt with some explosive offenses in their losses, meaning only one turnover so far is leaving the defense constantly vulnerable. If UTSA plans on beating teams like Houston who have high-powered offenses, they need to focus on creating opportunities for their offense off of turnovers.

TDC: One of UH’s biggest strength is an emerging running game with sophomore running backs Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow who is doubtful for the game. Does UTSA play well enough at linebacker to limit a diverse running game? 

MN: UTSA is coming off of their best performance of the season against the rush, holding UTEP to a season-low 99 yards rushing. UTSA’s linebackers are led by senior Steven Kurfehs, who has 16 solo tackles this season, and sophomore Drew Douglas, who played a big role in last week’s win over UTEP with a career-high 11 tackles.

On paper, UTSA has held teams to just 160 rushing yards per game. Those numbers are helped by solid performances on the road in the New Mexico and UTEP games, but Arizona was able to put up 272 yards rushing over the Roadrunners in a 38-13 win.

Kurfehs and other UTSA linebackers have talked about stopping the run game as a primary focus against every team they face. The attention to detail has been there, but the execution at times has faulted. If UTSA wants to stunt the Cougars’ backfield, they will have to emphasize on finishing tackles.

TDC: UH’s inside receivers Deontay Greenberry and Daniel Spencer challenge the nickel defensive backs, safeties and linebackers of a defense, do the Roadrunners have good coverage personnel at those positions? 

MN: The UTSA secondary has been a sore spot so far. Oklahoma State absolutely torched them in the Alamodome. Yes, the Cowboys were the No. 13 ranked team at that time in the nation, but the Roadrunners had no defensive answer for their attack. The Roadrunners have allowed eight passing touchdowns, two more than last season through the first four games.

The Roadrunners do have three solid safeties in the form of juniors Triston Wade, Brian King and Nic Johnston. Wade leads the team with 35 total tackles. Sophomore cornerback Bennett Okotcha, who was suspended for the first two games, made his first start of the season against UTEP and had nine tackles and a pair of pass breakups.

TDC: Prediction?

MN: UTSA regained some confidence after its big win on El Paso against UTEP. Being on the road for three of the first four games means the UTSA crowd should be ready to lift UTSA to their first home win of the season.

Houston’s offense presents another serious challenge for a UTSA defense that has not held up well against high-profile teams.

I feel — similar to the Oklahoma State game — both teams should have no problems scoring. I will take UTSA over Houston 31-27.

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