The Miners have now evened their record out at 1-1 after an impressive second half last week in Las Cruces. This week though, will provide a much tougher matchup against a team that has faced some stiff competition in the early going. If you don't know much about the UTSA Roadrunners, have a read of this Q&A with the Cooler Chronicles.
MinerRush: UTSA is only in their second year at the FBS level, but you all have already turned in an 8-4 season. What can you say about the job that Larry Coker has done so far?
CoolerChronicles: There's no short-selling what Larry Coker has meant to this program, both on and off the field. Coker inherited a program with nothing to its name but a prototype helmet. Fast forward four years and UTSA boasts an all-time winning record, plays their games in one of the finest football stadiums in Texas, has hosted a top 15 program in a nationally-televised game, and built on-campus practice and locker room facilities.... and that's all without a senior recruiting class, as the student athletes from the inaugural 2010 recruiting class are all redshirt juniors this season. To say UTSA's trajectory is upward-sloping would be an understatement.
MR: The Runners are off to a 1-2 start after beating New Mexico in the opener, and falling to both #11 Oklahoma State and Arizona. What are your thoughts on the type of out of conference schedule that Larry Coker has put together in UTSA's first year in C-USA?
CC: UTSA certainly has one of the toughest out-of-conference schedules in the nation. A bit ridiculous for a start-up program until you factor in the monetary impact of the "body bag" games. The Roadrunners will collect a cool $1.1 million dollar payout for their out of conference games this season. As the program struggles to fund its growth, it's a necessary evil for UTSA to schedule so many likely losses. While fans have seemingly been pretty understanding of this fact, I think the narrative shifts if UTSA loses to New Mexico to start the season at 0-3. The OOC schedule won't be too much easier in the future with upcoming games against Kansas St, Baylor, Arizona St., and Texas A&M on the forecast.
MR: Eric Soza has completed better than 60% of his passes, and has already thrown for better than 800 yards on the season. Should we expect the Runners to toss it around a lot, or was that more due to the situations they were put in due to playing some high powered offenses?
CC: While offensive coordinator Kevin Brown values a balanced attack on offense, the Roadrunners have been woeful running the ball this season. Ironic, I know. After having the run shut down against all three teams they've faced, the Roadrunners have simply decided to let senior QB Eric Soza air things out. Most rushing yards UTSA has accumulated this season have come from QB keepers, jet sweeps, and the like. While the UTSA offensive line has done a great job of giving Soza time in the pocket, they have not been able to clear many rushing lanes for the running backs. UTEP's defensive line will likely be the smallest and least experienced defensive line UTSA has faced this season so if the Roadrunners aren't able to get it going on the ground then some drastic changes must be taken.
MR: Besides Soza, who are the guys on the offense that Miner fans should be looking out for?
CC: Most of UTSA's top playmakers line up out wide at receiver. After a bit of a sophomore slump last season, junior Kam Jones has been a focal point for the offense in 2013. Kam is returning kicks, catching passes, coming across the edge on jet sweeps, and taking snaps out of the Wildcat formation. The effort has paid off, as Jones leads the team in total yardage, averaging over 127 yards per game by his lonesome.
Kenny Bias has started to come into his own in his sophomore season after torching Oklahoma State for three touchdowns. Bias is leading the team in receiving at 163 yards, averaging over 20 yards per catch. Kenny Harrison and Aaron Grubb are two other guys to watch out for. Both are extremely quick and Harrison is a game changer when returning punts.
MR: The defense had some trouble stopping the better passing teams they've faced, but did a good job containing the best run team they've faced so far in New Mexico. Considering the balance of the Miner offense, what do you expect from the defense this week?
CC: Compared to the past two games I think UTSA's defense will do great. The front seven can hang with any offensive line out there but the secondary has been a sore spot. Oklahoma transfer Bennett Okotcha (brother of UTSA senior RB Evans) played his first game as a Roadrunner against Arizona, lining up as a cornerback. Bennett was immediately named a starter after the game. His physicality allows him to play bump coverage-- something no other corner on the team can provide.
I think it's fair to expect at least a minor improvement from the secondary with Okotcha taking the majority of the snaps on one half of the field. I also think redshirt freshman and walk-on Codie Brooks should be able to get into the backfield and disrupt Shower's delivery. The impressive youngster was named a starter this week, replacing senior Jarron Harris. The Miners' offensive line will have their hands full with UTSA's defensive tackles. The Roadrunners rotate four players at the position and three of them weigh over 300 pounds. They have all done a fantastic job of closing interior rushing lanes this season.
MR: Who are the top playmakers for the Roadrunner defense?
Johnston is a hard-hitting safety that mans UTSA's "Dawg" safety position. Johnston is excellent against the run and really excels against the option with his sound technique. Kurfehs is a former walk-on transfer from Eastern New Mexico that has emerged as a potential NFL talent. Kurfehs has great range for an outside linebacker and is a very sure tackler. It will be fun to watch him chase Aaron Jones around on Saturday. Triston Wade was UTSA's first all-conference selection in school history last year. The lanky free safety seems to always be in two places at once and has a knack for prying the ball loose from defenders. Wade leads the program in interceptions, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries. His temper is a bit of an issue as he has been flagged for several personal fouls.
MR: Around here, much has been made of the UTEP - UTSA matchup, in both football and basketball, becoming a potential rivalry. How does the UTSA fanbase feel about that?
CC: Generally speaking, I think UTSA is just ready to form another rivalry. For the past few decades UTSA's main rival has been Texas State. Unfortunately, it's hard to maintain a football rivalry from separate conferences. UTSA fans feel that they have "passed up" Texas State and are looking for a new intrastate foe in Conference USA. Whether that rival ends up being UTEP, Rice, or UNT remains to be seen but Roadrunner fans are fired up to have regional match ups with colleges that their friends, family members, and coworkers probably attended.
MR: What do you feel are UTSA's key to winning the game?
CC: Contain Showers, force at least one turnover, and gain at least 100 rushing yards.
MR: Final thoughts, prediction?
CC: I have UTSA winning with a late touchdown in the fourth quarter. UTSA running back Evans Okotcha has been completely bottled up this season but I have a hunch that he goes off this week. A player of his caliber can't be held ineffective for too long. I also think Showers will keep the Miners in the game with his arm if he can identify mismatches against the Roadrunner secondary. Looking forward to a great game and hopefully the start of a fun rivalry!
Thanks to Jared from coolerchronicles.com for taking some time out to participate in this week's Q&A session. Make sure to check out CC for more information on the Runners and coverage of this weekend's game.