Rice football will break a deadlock in their all-time series with UTSA in 2018. The Owls and Roadrunners have picked up three wins apiece in their first six matchups.
UTSA enters their seventh season with a D1 football team in 2018 and its third under head coach Frank Wilson. The Roadrunners have been moderately successful in their short time with a football program, averaging a hair shy of six wins per season.
Wilson guided his program to a 6-5 finish last season but the Roadrunners sat at home during bowl season. UTSA was one of only a handful of six-win teams that didn’t go bowling, an unfortunate set of circumstances for a program still seeking its first-ever bowl win.
After one season in the WAC, UTSA joined Conference USA where they began an annual game with Rice. The Owls and Roadrunners have met six times on the gridiron with the series tied 3-3. UTSA won in 2017, can they repeat on the road in 2018?
The biggest question facing the Roadrunners in 2018 revolves around the starting quarterback position. Dalton Strum (5,768 career passing yards) leaves San Antonio with a gaping hole to fill at quarterback and not a lot of options behind him.
Graduate transfer DJ Gillens, JUCO transfer Cordale Grundy and true freshman Jordan Weeks comprise a three-man competition to be the next signal caller. None offer any form of meaningful experience and any of them could have the job come midseason.
The offensive line has three starters to replace and the Roadrunners will be without their top three receiving options. That will put the weight of the offense on the shoulders of junior running back Jalen Rhodes. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound tailback from Rowlett, Texas was the most productive back last season, averaging 4.9 yards per carry on 134 carries, gaining 690 yards and scoring five touchdowns.
UTSA finished third in Conference USA in rushing offense, averaging 184.6 yards per game on the ground. They were able to accomplish that despite finishing 10th in rush attempts and 13th in total touchdowns. It didn’t take volume for the Roadrunners to find success on the ground in 2017, making an increased workload for Rhodes troublesome for UTSA’s opponents.
The receiving corps remains a shot in the dark. Freshman Tykee Ogle-Kellog will be in the mix, as will upperclassmen wideouts Treyvion Shannon and Greg Campbell Jr. Whoever steps up over the start of the season will earn himself the lion’s share of opportunities through the air.
UTSA was one of the better defenses in Conference USA a year ago. So good, that even Nick Saban took notice. The head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide swooped in to hire Pete Doling, the Roadrunners’ defensive coordinator as the co-defensive coordinator in Tuscaloosa. Filling in behind him will be linebackers coach Jason Rollins. 2018 will be his first year as a defensive coordinator in his coaching career.
On the field, this unit loses Marcus Davenport, a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints this offseason, but should still be plenty deep in 2018. Filling in behind Davenport are Kevin Strong and Solomon Wise. Neither of those players holds a candle to Davenport’s dominance, but the combination should be enough to keep the pressure on the passer in his stead.
Backing up the new edge rushers is a linebacker unit that also has a major hole to fill. 2017 leading tackler La’Kel Bass is gone, but a fully healthy Josiah Tauaefa could make for an even better piece for UTSA to build around. Tauaefa set the school record with 115 tackles in 2016 and player sparing last season as he battled with injuries.
The secondary won’t have many new faces this year, but several role players will be asked to do more than they’ve done before this season. Corner Stanley Dye Jr. and Clayton Johnson are both upperclassmen, but the duo combined for just 10 tackles last season. Sophomore Javontavius Mosley will also be in the mix.
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