Before UTSA’s football program began their season Saturday evening, new Head Coach Frank Wilson and the Roadrunners had a fair amount of questions to answer: How will Wilson lead his team in his first ever game as a collegiate head coach? Will both sides of the ball display a high level of energy?
Perhaps the biggest question going into the game was who was going to start at the quarterback position. Was it going to be junior returning player Dalton Sturm or graduate transfer Jared Johnson?
Fortunately for the Roadrunners, they answered those questions and they soundly defeated the Alabama State Hornets (0-1, 0-0 SWAC) 26-13, giving Wilson his first victory as head coach. Given the chance to start, Sturm accumulated 326 total yards (274 passing, 52 rushing) and three touchdowns.
“We played as a team, the offensive line was doing a heck of a job protecting me,” said Sturm. “The receivers were doing a good job getting open. It’s pretty easy when they’re open.”
Johnson, on the other hand, failed to get in rhythm with the offense. The senior transfer from the FCS school Sam Houston State ended with only 13 yards on 2-for-8 pass completions.
Before the game started, Coach Wilson met with both quarterbacks and announced that Sturm would play first and Johnson would split time under center as well. Both quarterbacks split time in the first half, but Sturm ended up playing the majority of the second half.
“It was very difficult because both put so much work in,” Coach Wilson said on deciding the starter. “We just felt that the game plan we set forth was most efficient with [Sturm] leading us at the beginning of the game.”
Sturm was also aided by a positive running game. Junior running back Jalen Rhodes finished the game with 78 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown. Senior starting running back Jarveon Williams ran for 29 yards on six carries before leaving the game with an ankle sprain in the third quarter.
Possibly the biggest component to the offense’s strong performance was the effort of the defense and special teams; both units allowed only 287 total yards akin to UTSA’s 449.
The defense’s strong performance was led by redshirt freshman linebacker Josiah Tauaefa and junior defensive end Marcus Davenport. Together, they accounted for a total of 17 tackles and four sacks. As a whole, the defense sacked Alabama State junior quarterback Jajuan Young-Battle a school record six times.
On the opening kickoff, freshman defensive end Eric Banks forced a fumble on freshman Alabama States’s returner Destin Porter on the Alabama State 12 yard line.
Already in the red zone, the offense needed only three plays for Sturm to find Marquez McNair on a five yard touchdown pass. Starting kicker David Portillo missed on the PAT, giving UTSA a 6-0 lead.
“We told the team that we were going to kick the ball off and run down the field as if we were on the I-10,” Coach Wilson said on the early score.
Two drives later, Alabama State responded with a near seven minute drive that ended with a one yard touchdown run from senior running back Khalid Thomas.
Alabama State remained in the lead for the majority of the second quarter until Sturm changed the game with a 51-yard touchdown run. After a successful two-point conversion play to sophomore receiver Campbell, the Roadrunners didn’t fall behind for the rest of the game.
Beginning in the second half, the Roadrunners strayed away from running the ball and went to the air.
After two long pass completions were waived off due to offensive penalties, Sturm fired a game long 51-yard pass to Shaq Williams that helped set up a one yard touchdown run for Rhodes.
It was the same story in the fourth as Sturm threw a game-clinching touchdown pass to junior receiver Kerry Thomas Jr.
Due to the constant pass rush from the Roadrunners’ defense, most of the Hornets’ second half drives ended in punts.
Alabama State’s final score came late in the fourth quarter as backup senior quarterback Quinterris Toppings connected with freshman receiver Palmer Graham.
Overall, the Roadrunners played a solid game against the Hornets, but not without some error. UTSA ended with eight penalties for 80 yards and fumbled the ball four times, losing the ball on three of them.
Coach Wilson stressed the importance of the team’s victory in spite of the noticeable errors.
“We were able to claim victory and they are hard to come by,” said Wilson. “This team found a way to win in spite of the turnovers. We won’t relish on those things.
UTSA continues their 2016 campaign next Saturday, Sept. 10 in Fort Collins against the Colorado State Rams (0-1, 0-0 MWC).
Last time the two played, Colorado State defeated the Roadrunners in a close 33-31 contest in the Alamodome. Greater challenges await Coach Wilson and the Roadrunners.