The Opposition: UTSA’s solid senior class presents difficult challenge for UH
With a new stadium and high expectations, the Cougars open 2014 against the Roadrunners on Friday. UTSA will bring an experienced squad looking to replace arguably its best player ever into TDECU Stadium. The Cougar spoke with Jonathon Garza, the sports editor for The Paisano, which is the official student newspaper at UTSA, about the Roadrunners’ evolving offense, how the team plans to defend the Air Raid offense and about the playmakers who can challenge the Cougars.
The Cougar: UTSA brings an experienced squad into Houston, but lost its great starting quarterback Eric Soza. How do the Roadrunners plan to replace his playmaking ability?
Jonathon Garza: No one can deny the experience and playmaking ability that the Roadrunners lost after Soza’s departure. However replacing him is UTSA next best threat at QB, senior Tucker Carter, who coming off the bench a year ago, connected on 23-of-33 passes (69.7 percent) for 190 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown in the home opener against No. 13 Oklahoma State.
TC: How will the offense be different without Soza, UTSA’s all time leading passer and rusher?
JG: UTSA will have to adjust, and rely on its core offensive threats that it still holds. Twenty UTSA players recorded at least one reception last year, which trailed only UCLA’s national-leading total of 26. The Roadrunners bring back one of the deepest receiving corps in the nation this fall. Seventeen players that caught a pass last season are back and that ranks second behind Syracuse’s 18. Meanwhile, 91.9 percent of the squad’s receptions (236 of 259) are back (No. 3 in FBS). UTSA’s returnees have a collective 416 receptions for 4,927 yards, and rank third nationally.
TC: In last season’s contest, four fourth-quarter turnovers changed the game. Is preventing turnovers a big focus for UTSA coming into the game?
JG: Turnovers are key to any game, and in UTSA’s 2013 campaign, the Roadrunners forced 14 turnovers. UTSA converted their eight interceptions and six fumble recoveries into five touchdowns and three field goals all season. However in the last contest against the Cougars, UTSA’s offense had their second most turnovers with five. The Roadrunners did have their season’s most QB hurries against the Cougars with six, and will look to their senior-laden defense to keep the pressure on sophomore quarterback John O’Korn.
TC:UH will put four receivers on the field, challenging UTSA’s safeties and linebackers across the middle of the field. Do the Roadrunners have linebackers and safeties who can cover receivers?
JG: One of the strength’s in this 2014 squad is on the defensive side of the ball. UTSA’s rush defense surrendered just six rushing plays of 25 or more yards a year ago, which was the third-lowest total nationally. Wisconsin gave up just two, while Alabama yielded four. As for the Roadrunner’s pass coverage, they yielded the most passing receptions to the Cougar’s Greenberry with nine, who racked up a total of 149 yards on the day. The Roadrunner’s will definitely look to tighten up the hinges when facing the Cougars familiar receiving corps.
TC: Who are the players you expect to have a break out season for UTSA and why?
JG: In UTSA’s fourth campaign, the Roadrunners saw five players land on preseason national award watch list. All are seniors, with each looking to make their presence known all four quarters of each contest. Senior Scott Inskeep (Rotary Lombardi Award/nation’s top interior lineman), senior WR Kam Jones (Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award/top offensive player in Division I with ties to the state of Texas), senior C Nate Leonard (Dave Rimington Trophy/FBS’ top center), senior DE Robert Singletary (Lombardi Award) and senior FS Triston Wade (Jim Thorpe Award/nation’s top defensive back).
JG: The Roadrunners are poised for a Conference USA crown, with the experience on both sides of the ball, combined with its induction as a full-fledged member of the FBS, UTSA’s expectations in the eyes of fans are higher than ever before. However, Houston is no stranger to the big stage, and with the debut of their new stadium, one can bet that Cougar’s from all parts of the Greater Houston area will be loud and proud as they host a young UTSA program. Houston’s high powered offense and strong receiving corps gives them the edge in an old fashion Texas shootout.