MinerRush: On the surface, it appears Frank Wilson and his staff are improving the simple football maturity the past two weeks which has been led to win column notches, is that a fair assessment?
Jared Kalmus: I absolutely agree. After UTSA escaped Rice Stadium with a one point road win I immediately turned to my friends and said "there's no way Larry Coker wins this game". While Wilson's contagious confidence has sparked UTSA's in-season improvement, you've got to give a hand to his terrific staff as well. Every single position has improved throughout the season with new, and often unforeseen, contributors stepping up to make plays. It's reassuring to see the new staff give a tangible impact on the field.
I feel UTSA's explosive moments on offense have been due to perfect play calling, that leads to easy execution, how do the Runners get back to that against a UTEP defense that was pushed around by FIU?
UTSA's big plays this year have almost all come on very basic plays that, as you said, were called at the perfect time. Josh Stewart has been the wick of the dynamite for UTSA this season as he's leading the nation in yards per catch at 27.9. If he's shut down then the Roadrunners won't be nearly as explosive through the air. UTSA's longest run plays this season were created with the help of excellent blocking at the second level. The offensive line has done a much better job of opening holes in the interior so the UTSA offense will just need to put all of those pieces together and have running backs Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes run with conviction.
UTSA's defense shut down Rice's run game in an impressive fashion, can they do the same against THE Aaron Jones, and UTEP's struggling offensive line?
Aaron Jones is still going to make a huge impact in this game but I think it will come via cutbacks and out of the backfield. UTSA was very gap sound against Rice and held their ground despite a beefy Rice offensive line. Middle linebacker Josiah Tauaefa is playing like a young superstar and his performance has helped prevent opposing running backs from exploding for big gains. I think it's crucial that UTSA's secondary remains cognizant in the run game as Jones can win this game for UTEP if he can regularly make it to the second level.
Give me a breakout offensive and defensive player who have made huge impacts so far?
UTSA's breakout defender is Josiah Tauaefa. The redshirt freshman recently moved to middle linebacker from defensive end and the transition couldn't have been easier for him. His 68 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, six quarterback hits, and key interception against USM should have him as a favorite to be named a Freshman All-American.
I mentioned him earlier but junior wide receiver Josh Stewart has been the main breakout player on the offense. He's actually the brother of UTSA wide out Kerry Thomas so it's been fun watching them do their thing in the passing game. Fullback Andrew King also deserves a mention. When starting fullback Halen Steward went down for the season it appeared that UTSA would have to move away from the power run game but King quickly picked up the position and has improved in his blocking each week.
UTSA wins if this consistently happens.....
The Roadrunners can do better than a yard or two on the ground on first down. UTSA is looking to establish an identity so they're going to stick to the run. It's key that they're picking up yards early each series.
Score and one stat prediction for Saturday?
Ryan Metz tosses 200+ yards without any interceptions to atone for his disastrous game against UTSA last season but the Roadrunners pull out the win 24-17.