SAN ANTONIO – UTSA junior Dalton Sturm got the starting nod at quarterback Saturday and Frank Wilson got a victory in his debut as the Roadrunners’ coach.
Sturm was coolly efficient from start to finish in the 26-13 win over Alabama State before a crowd of 22,380 at the Alamodome, completing 20 of 25 passes for a career-high 274 yards and two touchdowns. Sturm, who had one attempt intercepted, also ran for a 51-yard TD and passed for a two-point conversion.
“It was good,” Sturm said. “This is a team. The O-line was out there. They were doing a heck of a job for me protecting. Made it easy for me to drop back and feel comfortable there. The receivers were doing a great job getting open. It’s pretty easy when the receivers are wide open to hit them.”
Sturm looked confident working behind an offensive line that allowed just two sacks. The Roadrunners trailed 7-6 after one quarter, but led 14-7 at halftime and scored a TD in each of the last two periods.
“Yeah, I tell you, when you go 20 of 25 for 274 yards, that’s pretty impressive, and rush for another hundred-plus yards,” Wilson said of Sturm’s performance. Sturm actually ran for 52 yards on just three carries. “That type of output will put us into position to achieve victory in many games, despite the unfortunate turnovers we had collectively as an offensive and special teams.”
UTSA outgained the Hornets 449-227 in total offensive yardage, but lost three of four fumbles and had one pass picked off.
The season-opening victory came on the five-year anniversary of UTSA’s inaugural game, a 31-3 win against Northeastern (Okla.) State at the Alamodome. The Roadrunners play at Colorado State (0-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Wilson was an assistant coach at LSU for six seasons before getting hired in mid-January to succeed Larry Coker, who was fired Jan. 5.
“It feels fantastic,” Wilson, 42, said. “I’m so excited for our players, our program, this city. We’ve invested so much into just being attentive to detail. To come to this moment and be victorious is certainly gratifying.”
While Sturm kept the Hornets off balance with his passing, the Roadrunners’ defense had a solid game, getting a school-record six sacks and yielding 145 yards rushing and only 142 passing. Linebacker Josiah Tauaefa (13 tackles, two sacks) and end Marcus Davenport (two sacks) led the way.
Sturm got the starting call over senior transfer Jared Johnson, last season’s Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year at Sam Houston State. Sturm and Johnson battled for the starting spot throughout the preseason, with neither securing the position after hours of workouts.
Wilson told Sturm and Johnson after breakfast Saturday that Sturm would start against Alabama State, the first FCS opponent the Roadrunners faced since beating McNeese State in 2012. Sturm did not disappoint Wilson, completing his first 14 attempts and moving the offense with authority.
“It was tough,” Wilson said when asked the decision on who would start. “It was very difficult because they put – both young men put so much work in it. At the end of the day, Dalton had a slight lead and we just felt the game plan that we set forth was best, most efficient, with him leading us at the beginning of the game and it proved to be right.”
Johnson got in the game but completed only 2 of 8 passes for 13 yards in four possessions. Jalen Rhodes led the UTSA ground game with 78 yards on 16 carries. He scored on a 1-yard run that gave the Roadrunners a 20-7 with only three minutes gone in the third quarter.
Jarveon Williams, who last year became the first UTSA player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, finished with 29 yards on six carries before going to the bench with a sprained ankle. Wilson said Williams’ status will be day-to-day.
The Roadrunners struck early Saturday, taking a 6-0 lead on a 5-yard pass from Sturm to wide receiver Marquez McNair with only 1:21 elapsed on the game clock. Sturm’s scoring strike came only three plays after Andrew Marvel recovered a fumble by Alabama State return man Destin Porter at the Hornets’ 6 on the opening kickoff. Eric Banks created the turnover with a jarring hit on Porter.
Wilson was asked if the quick score took some of the pressure off the Roadrunners.
“Yeah, you know what we told the team if we win the loss, we’re kicking the ball off, and we’re going to kick the ball off and we’re going to run down the field as if it were (Interstate) I-10,” Wilson said. “Our intention was to go down there and try to knock the ball loose and set the tone for our season."
“It’s the first play of the 2016 season for us, and we knew that if they won the toss, they would decide to return the ball and that’s exactly how it played out, the way we thought it would, and we were fortunate that it turned out exactly the way that we kind of visualized it happening.”
Alabama State capitalized on a fumble by Williams to take its only lead, mounting a 13-play, 77-yard drive that was capped by Khalid Thomas’ 1-yard drive into the end zone with 3:39 left in the opening quarter. David Albert added the PAT for the Hornets.
The Roadrunners went ahead to stay on Sturm’s 51-yard scoring jaunt with 3:44 left in the first half. The TD ended an eight-play, 85-yard drive. Sturm’s two-point conversion pass to Greg Campbell Jr. put UTSA up 14-7 at the half.
After Rhodes’ TD gave the Roadrunners a 20-7 lead – Daniel Portillo missed his second extra-point kick of the game – Sturm hooked up with Kerry Thomas Jr. for a 25-yard scoring strike at 10:07 of the fourth period. Rhodes’ run on the two-point conversion was stopped short.
Alabama State closed out the scoring with a 36-yard pass from Quinterris Toppings to Palmer Graham with 2:35 left. Toppings’ two-point conversion pass failed.
While UTSA’s victory was hardly a masterpiece, Wilson said it’s important to relish any victory.
“The thing I told our team after postgame was be excited, man, we just won a game,” Wilson said. “They are hard to come by. You only get 12 of them, so we’ll take it how we can get it. And then on Sunday we’ll deal with the rest and build on it.”
(© 2016 KENS)