In 1969, the Texas Legislature passed into law H.B. 1969-42, which officially authorized the establishment of a branch of the University of Texas to serve San Antonio. In 1981, UTSA finally began sponsoring intercollegiate athletics, becoming one of the last (if not the last) school ever to achieve NCAA Division I membership without having previously competed in varsity sports. Thirty years later, the school finally established football.
We mention this to let you understand just how young this school is, and how meteoric its rise to its current status has been. While some who judge the value of a school on the size of its trophy case may look at UTSA as a relatively insignificant program, it's worth placing it in the proper perspective; with its location, metropolitan population, and exponentially increasing alumni base, UTSA may be but a generation away from being a coveted property on the national state.
Heady waters, to be sure.
In its four years and one game of football, UTSA has had remarkable success, relatively speaking. The program entered 2014 with a flabbergasting 19-15 all-time record under its first and only head coach, former Miami Hurricanes boss Larry Coker. They're now back under .500 after suffering their worst season thus far last year; their loss to Arizona last weekend put the program at 23-24. So they've got that little extra piece of motivation Saturday morning.
To get the inside scoop on UTSA, we have not one but two guests this week. Joining us are Javier Cardenas (@BirdsUpJavi), staff writer for UTSA's Rivals site BirdsUp.com, and our SB Nation colleague Jared Kalmus (@CC_Jared), who covers UTSA and Conference USA for Underdog Dynasty, our excellent sister site devoted to all the FBS teams that don't have their own team blogs. (That site is co-managed by our pal and dual K-State/Texas State alum Will Butler, so you should definitely pay them a visit sometime if you haven't.)
Jon asked the same set of questions to both experts, so the answers will overlap but getting different perspectives will be pretty groovy, yes?
Jon: This series came about, in part, because UTSA Athletic Director Lynn Hickey used to be K-State's women's basketball coach, and that relationship hasn't gone away. UTSA's athletic program is obviously one on the rise. What would you say she's doing well there?
Javi: Lynn Hickey is an idol for UTSA fans. She is seen as the one responsible for bringing FBS football to San Antonio. Students and alumni will forever be indebted to her for her accomplishments at UTSA. Hard to find AD’s that have done more for their respective university in such a short period of time than Lynn Hickey at UTSA. Her vision and passion for UTSA is noticeable right away if you ever hear an interview, or are lucky enough to have a conversation with her. She envisions great things for the athletic department and the university as a whole. UTSA is lucky to have her.
Jared: Lynn Hickey is a true visionary that chose to reach new heights when she could have easily settled. Hickey hasn't just brought success to UTSA's young football program, she's elevated the level of competition and success of nearly every program representing UTSA athletics. She provides an incredible example as a caring and empathetic leader. While the wins the baseball, volleyball, and football programs have enjoyed over the years are great, the character of athletes that UTSA has consistently brought into its program means so much more in the long term.
Jon: Last year, the Roadrunners surprised Houston on opening day, then had that heartbreaking loss against Arizona... and then the season sort of fell apart before ending in a 4-8 finish which was actually a step backward for the program. What happened, and what off-season takeaways did you come away with?
Jared: In the first three years of the program UTSA was able to compete above its weight class as Eric Soza, current Offensive Quality Control coach at Houston, elevated the team to a height that it didn't deserve with FCS talent and zero-star recruits. Once Soza graduated and injuries started to pile up, UTSA's strengths began to peel away and reveal a slightly-rotting core. This year marks a transformation in football. No longer will 5'8" receivers hopelessly battle for jump balls or cornerbacks with 4.7 second 40-yard dash times stare at the back of opposing receivers as they run past the defense for a touchdown.
Javi: Injuries happened. Expectations were too high according to players and coaches. UTSA got complacent during the offseason, and although they looked very good after that hot start things quickly feel apart after some key injuries. UTSA fans learned that college football can be a cruel animal. If there were any takeaways from last year is that UTSA’s young players are very talented. Kansas State fans will get to see what I mean Saturday.
Jon: How familiar were you with Larry Coker as a coach during his days at Miami, and to your knowledge what, if anything, is he doing differently than he did back then? What sort of tendencies has he displayed in his time in San Antonio that we should be looking out for?
Javi: If I wasn’t familiar with Coker’s time in Miami before I am now. He gets asked about it at every possible opportunity. I don’t know if he is doing anything differently scheme wise, but something he does that is very different than Miami is type of ship he runs. UTSA rarely has players get in any kind of legal trouble. This offseason there were no offseason arrests, or even any major suspensions for the game against Arizona. If there are any similar tendencies between UTSA and Miami is the hard hitting safeties. Nate Gaines and Mauricio Sanchez can lay the wood at any moment.
Jared: Larry left a lot of autonomy to his assistants at Miami and he's continued to do so. That might be the best decision he's made during his time at UTSA as his years away from coaching probably set him behind the curve in terms of Xs and Os. The biggest difference is recruiting strategy. Miami was willing to accept any elite athlete in the area during the U days but the university's perception suffered a hit from it. I know a lot of people that are shocked to learn Miami is a small private university. Coker has made an effort to ensure that the staff does more than their due diligence before each offer is extended. It can be aggravating for fans but the process is paying off.
Jon: Redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Bogenschutz had himself a nice game down in Tucson, and he's on everyone's radar. Who else should we keep an eye on when UTSA has the ball, and what can we expect to see?
Jared: I think sophomore wide receiver Kerry Thomas is going to have a big game for UTSA. KSU's defense should be swarming on David Morgan so Bogenschutz will have to look for his next favorite target. I hate the phrase, but Thomas is deceptively fast and has terrific fundamentals. The running back tandem of Jalen Rhodes and Jarveon Williams is tough but I would really be watching the offensive line. They turned in an impressive performance against Arizona and really opened things up for the offense.
Javi: You have to watch out for UTSA’s stud tight end David Morgan. He had his best game as a Roadrunner versus Arizona, accounting for 109 yards and a touchdown. Kansas State will also have to account for sophomore wide receiver Kerry Thomas Jr. He was named the “number one” receiver by the coaching staff, so look for UTSA to get him the ball early and often. Lastly there is the one-two running back tandem of Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes. They combined for 145 rushing yards and a touchdown. Williams is the starter, but look for Rhodes to get some more touches after an impressive performance last week.
Jon: What's the mindset on defense? And, again, who are the impact players?
Javi: UTSA runs a TCU style 4-2-5 defense. They are aggressive, but lack depth at certain positions. Names to watch out for are defensive ends Jason Neil and Marcus Davenport. Both will be asked to play a lot with the lack of depth behind them. Defensive tackle Brian Price was named the best player on the defense by the staff, so look out for him. Linebacker Drew Douglas was an All-CUSA preseason pick along with cornerback Bennett Okotcha. If there is a downfall for this defense is the lack of depth.
Jared: Defensive coordinator Neal Neathery does a great job of shutting down the offense's best player so I think they'll be focused on stuffing Kansas State's power run offense. The defensive line is terrific year in and year out and has two-gap players in Brian Price and Jason Neill. UTSA's biggest concern should be the secondary showing patience against an offense that thrives off play action. Free safety Nate Gaines and sophomore starting cornerback N'Keal Bailey both have just one start under their belts.
Jon: When you look at the K-State lineup, what do you see as the biggest obstacles the Roadrunners will have to overcome Saturday? Where do you think they'll have success?
Jared: I'm honestly most concerned with UTSA being out-coached. Coker has done a solid job in game management in his time at UTSA but as all of your readers know, Snyder is really, really good at coaching football. Coker will need to stay aggressive in his game-management decisions. One area where I think UTSA will have success is in avoiding turnovers. Kansas State likes to play with safeties high and UTSA is completely content with four yard picks ups. They'll just need to be disciplined and trust the offense to keep the ball moving.
Javi: My biggest concern is UTSA moving the ball. They put up record numbers versus Arizona, but Arizona did not have film on this new UTSA up-tempo offense. Bill Snyder is a wizard so I am sure he will have something ready for UTSA. I think they will have success in the short passing game. If UTSA can find a way to run the ball that might open up deeper pass. Defensively, UTSA needs to get off the field and limit the big play. With the lack of depth UTSA cannot afford to stay on the field for drive after drive.
Jon: Lastly, that predictable old closing question: what's your prediction?
Javi: Don’t want to sound like a homer, but I think this is the one. UTSA is looking for a signature win and I think they have a great chance against Kansas State.
UTSA 24, Kansas State 20
Jared: Sorry but I'm drunk on the Coker Kool Aid. This is a great opportunity for UTSA and having a large home crowd only builds on their chances.
UTSA 34, Kansas State 24
Obviously, our pals from the Alamo City are high on their program, and with our own concerns regarding the offense their predictions aren't wholly out of touch with reality. Just as obviously, K-State fans are going to be hoping they're wrong, but Javi and Jared's confidence in the Roadrunners mirrors our own mild doubts, even as we're more on the side of believing K-State will escape with a hard-fought and stress-inducing victory.
Thanks to Jared and Javi for taking the time to talk with us; it's much appreciated. As is custom, we returned the favor; here's Jon'a answers for BirdsUp, and his answers to Underdog Dynasty's questions.