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Arizona vs. UTSA: Previewing the Roadrunners with head coach Larry Coker

A youthful group of Roadrunners are coming to Tucson looking to make a statement

Larry Coker brings UTSA into Tucson Saturday night for their most high-profile away game in program history
Larry Coker brings UTSA into Tucson Saturday night for their most high-profile away game in program history
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The UTSA Roadrunners are playing just their third year of football at the university. Their roster has just 11 seniors on it, but they are at the key positions.

One of those key seniors is starting QB Eric Soza. Of the program's 24 total games, Soza's started 22 of them.

"He's a very smart kid both on the field and in the classroom," said head coach Larry Coker. Coker said that he has a 4.2 GPA.

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez has talked about how impressed he is with Soza all week as well.

Through two games, Soza has 545 passing yards, 5 passing TDs and a 60% completion percentage. But he's also the team's leading rusher, picking up 73 yards on 17 rushes so far. Coker is not a fan of this.

"I don't like to see him run," said Coker. Coach also says that Soza's best quality as a quarterback is his very quick release.

UTSA runs the spread offense, but not really that similar to the style Arizona runs.

"They're physical," said Jake Fischer. "They kind of try to outflank you and try to cut you down."

"They do a lot of different formations, a lot of shifting, a lot of motions. They run a lot of the same plays out of them. You can tell from their formations kind of what they're going to run, but they have three or four options built into different plays."

"They're a fast team," added Tra'Mayne Bondurant. "They got a lot of switching and rotating. A lot of movements with their offense. We just have to be on cue, communicate out there. That's going to be key for us to keep up with their switches and motions."

"They kind of run it a little differently," continued Fischer. "A lot of two-back sets. They do a lot of jet sweep stuff. A lot of jet sweep read with a power at the end of it. They'll know what they want to do against us and we just gotta stop it."

A similarity the UTSA offense has to the Arizona offense is the duel-threat at the running back position. Evans Okotcha is their version of Ka'Deem Carey, a compact, hard-hitting back. David Glasco II is their Daniel Jenkins, a more finesse, speed guy. "A great strider," said coach Coker of Glasco.

But outside these two running backs, Arizona should be prepared to see more of true freshman Jarveon Williams. Williams had two carries for 14 yards late in the Oklahoma State game, but coach Coker said on his weekly radio show in San Antonio and hinted to me that Williams will see more playing time against Arizona.

The big-time threat at wide receiver is Kam Jones. "He's just a great athlete," said Coker. Jones came into the 2013 season as UTSA's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. He's up to 71 catches for 1,005 yards for his career through the first two games of this year.

Jones did pretty much everything at Edna HS his senior year. He was 132-of-211 as a QB with 1,891 yards and 13 passing TDs. He also rushed for 1,161 yards and 15 touchdowns on just 162 carries. He's probably the most explosive player the Arizona defense has seen up to this point of the season.

The Roadrunners' leading receiver this year is Kenny Bias, who has 113 yards on five catches, including a 67 yard TD catch in the fourth quarter of the Oklahoma State game. While he's not even listed on the depth chart on the UTSA official website, Coker assured me that Bias will be starting for them Saturday.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Roadrunners' cornerbacks coach, Jeff Popovich, returns to Tucson. Popovich played QB and DB at Sabino, and was also a record-setting track and field athlete. Popovich played defensive back at Miami (FL) from 1996-1999 as well as significant amount of play on special teams.

"He grew up in the shadow of the stadium," said Coker. It sounded like Popovich is excited to be coming home. Coach Coker says he's seen a significant amount of improvement at the cornerback position since bringing Popovich onto the staff this year. "He's done a terrific job."

UTSA runs a 4-2-5 defensive package (essentially a constant nickle). FS Triston Wade leads the team with 15 total tackles. Wade was first team All-WAC last year after picking up six interceptions, forced four fumbles, and recovered two other loose balls. Wade and Nic Johnston will be the keys to shutting down Arizona's "passing game", as well as coming on blitzes to put pressure on B.J. Denker.

Off the Field

They've only had football for three years, but it's been a busy three years in San Antonio. The Roadrunners have not been in the same league for more than a year. Their first year they weren't associated with a conference, last year they were in the WAC, and this year they joined Conference USA. "It's been a challenge," said Larry Coker. Saturday night's game will be the 100th career game for Coker as a head coach. His overall record is 73-26.

Overall, the program's record is 13-11 in the two-plus years of play. On the road, they are 4-6, but those four wins have all come in their last six road contests, including a win at New Mexico to start this season.

"Home" may have been a loose term as well. Up until three weeks ago, the Roadrunners were practicing at a local high school. They recently opened up a new practice facility for the team though, as well as updating their weight and training rooms.

When UTSA came to Larry Coker about starting football program from scratch, he says he was excited by the opportunity. He saw great potential as far as football facilities on campus were concerned, great potential recruiting at high schools in the San Antonio area, and a great stadium to play home games in with the Alamodome.

However, it was a lot different than when he was walking into a Miami program in 2001 that was ready to win a National Title, and did so that year after going undefeated and defeating Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. Jake Fischer remembers that game fairly well, since his parents are from Nebraska.

"I watched a couple of their games. They weren't like they were a while back, but they were still very good obviously winning a national championship."

It interests Fischer to play against a guy who's won a National Title. "Obviously he's a great coach. He's won a national championship. He knows how to attack different teams, so it's kind of interesting to see how he'll attack us."

Coker also says he has a "good relationship" with Rich Rodriguez from the old Big East days. Coker was at Miami from 2001-06 and Rodriguez was at WVU from 2001-2007. Coker went 3-0 in the three games they coached against each other. The first two were basically blowouts, but the third one was a 22-20 Miami victory. Some of the Miami players in that game include: Frank Gore, Kellen Winslow, Brock Berlin, Vince Wilfork, Jonathan Vilma, Brandon Meriweather, Antrel Rolle, and the late Sean Taylor.

The point is, Coker remembers the patented 3-3-5 defense that Arizona now deploys under coach Jeff Casteel. Containing the various blitz packages that can be used will be a key to success for UTSA.

Keys to Success for UTSA:

Obviously, containing the Arizona ground game is the top priority for the Roadrunners. Coach Coker first said on his radio show, and then reiterated it to me, that he believes Ka'Deem Carey would be a top five pick overall in the NFL Draft next year if he chose to leave Arizona. Extremely high praise from a guy who has coached his fair share of first round draft picks.

Also, the versatility of B.J. Denker worries Coker. Going up against a QB who presents the threat of taking the ball himself adds an extra element for the UTSA front six to be aware of. Senior LB Steven Kurfehs is the leader of this group, and he along with Drew Douglas will be the keys to shutting down Denker. UTSA's strength is their group of safeties. Look for them to be blitzing and containing Denker and Daniel Jenkins.

For the Roadrunner offense, protecting their QB and giving Soza time to throw will be key to them moving the ball. Center Nate Leonard is the only guy at UTSA to have started all 24 of their games, and his leadership and experience will help their O-Line stop the undersized but quick and athletic Arizona D-Line.

Statistical Comparison

UTSA Arizona
Points/game 28.0 46.5
Points Allowed/game 34.5 6.5
Total Offense/game 449.0 435.5
Yards Allowed/game 441.0 276.0
Passing yds/game 303.0 84.0
Rushing yds/game 146.0 351.5
Passing yds allowed/game 301.0 150.5
Rushing yds allowed/game 140.0 125.5
3rd Down conversion % 38% 45%
Seniors on roster 11 19