Running to daylight: UTSA working to jump-start ground game

SAN ANTONIO -- There’s no getting around it: The UTSA football team’s running game has struggled mightily the past two weeks.

Just how poorly have the Roadrunners run the ball this season?

UTSA’s average of 84.7 yards in a 1-2 start ranks 125th among the 128 teams in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision. Only South Alabama (80.3), Texas State (64.0), Massachusetts (45.3) and Georgia State (45.7) have fared worse in rushing.

The Roadrunners, who have lost two in a row after winning their season opener, begin Conference USA play against Old Dominion (1-2) on Saturday in Norfolk, Va. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m.

That UTSA’s running game has sputtered is an ironic twist for first-year head coach Frank Wilson, considering he coached running backs for six seasons at LSU before moving to San Antonio. The Tigers traditionally have had one of the best running games in the country.

“We have to do a better job of running the football,” Wilson said Wednesday. “We made a commitment to doing that and I anticipate us doing so this week.”

The Roadrunners were held to minus-1 yard on the ground in a 23-14 loss at Colorado State in their second game, and had 93 yards against Arizona State last week. UTSA came excruciatingly close to taking down a Power Five team for the first time in school history before the Sun Devils rallied for a 32-28 victory.

The Roadrunners rushed for 162 yards in 34 carries in their 26-13 season-opening win over Alabama State, which competes in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly I-AA.

Quarterback Dalton Sturm led UTSA with 82 yards on 15 carries against Arizona State, but 34 of those yards came after he scrambled for a TD run on a play that began with him dropping back to pass. The Roadrunners’ running game was so lacking that their top two running backs finished with a combined 11 yards on 15 attempts.

Starting running back Jarveon Williams was held to minus-1 yard rushing on 10 carries a week after finishing with a career-low 10 yards in eight attempts against Colorado State. Jalen Rhodes finished with 12 yards on five carries in the 32-28 loss to Arizona State.

“We continue to work on it,” Wilson said when asked what the Roadrunners have to do to jump-start their running game. “We continue to try to finish from an offensive-line perspective. Continue to try to make the right cuts and give a visualization to our backs of getting vertical is the way to be, and not necessarily east and west going sideways. Collectively, we want our receivers to dig in there and to block safeties and to run the corners off.”

The first three games have been a comedown for Williams, a senior who last year became the first UTSA player in program history to crack the 1,000-yard rushing mark. He finished with 1,042 yards on 173 carries (6.0 average).

Williams did not play in the second half of the season opener after spraining an ankle, finishing with 29 yards on six carries. Williams has rushed for only 38 yards on 24 carries for a 1.6 average this season and has yet to score. Rhodes leads the team in rushing with 129 yards on 34 attempts (3.8).

Williams has been upbeat at practice despite his slow start.

“I feel good, just ready to get back in the flow of things, ready to get back in my rhythm,” Williams said. “I come out here to practice and get the reps that I usually get.”

Given the high expectations this season, Williams was asked how tough it’s been to be hobbled by the ankle injury.

“It’s part of the game,” he said. “You can’t make excuses about it. You’ve just got to take it for what it is. We have a great medical staff here that’s been helping me get back to full speed, so kudos to them. I’m just working hard and coming out here and getting better.”

Junior center Juan Perez-Isidoro, the leader of the offensive line, talked about what the offensive line must do to help the running game get untracked.

“I think our offensive line needs to be a little more explosive, and that’s what we’ve definitely been working this week,” he said. “Yesterday was a big run day. That was great for us. We worked on our explosion off the ball, and it’s really shown throughout the practice.”

So how does the line specifically get that explosion?  

“It’s pretty simple, honestly,” he said. “Just come out here and just hit and come off the ball, and drive our legs until our legs are Jell-O. That’s what we’ve been doing. You have to be under control as well. Having that good ID (line calls) is important by the center, by me, and that will help the rest of the line get to their ’backers (linebackers) under control.”

(© 2016 KENS)


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