Craig Has The Scout - UTSA 2021

Sep 2, 2021

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Coming Up

Who: UTSA Roadrunners

When: 6:30 pm - September 4th, 2021

Where: Home Sweet Home

How: BTN

Opponent Primer:

Head Coach: Jeff Traylor. Traylor is a Texas high school coaching legend. He was the head coach at Gilmer HS for 15 years, winning three state titles and making five championship game appearances. He accomplished this while Gilmer moved up the class system in Texas HS football. Traylor was an early adopter of the Malzahn-style power spread, which got him on the radar of college coaches. He parlayed his recognition to a staff job on Charlie Strong's Texas staff, then was picked up by Chad Morris' SMU program. Morris brought Traylor with him to Arkansas. The Morris experiment went sideways, but Traylor parlayed his time into the UTSA head coaching job. Traylor is the right type of coach to succeed in this role. The Texas coaching ranks treat him like a celebrity which allows him to recruit above UTSA's station in Texas.

Offensive Style: Power Run concepts with a pro-style passing game and tempo. Barry Lunney is a familiar name for Bret Bielema, as he was the TE and ST coach for Bielema at Arkansas. Lunney is the OC and utilizes TEs heavily. The WR coach is a disciple of Shawn Watson and grew up with the power spread Charlie Strong's Texas teams ran. The OL coach was part of the Dino Babers core group that moved from Eastern Illinois to Bowling Green, and a Briles disciple. The blocking schemes and passing attack are varied and hard to plan against.

Defensive Style: 3-4 base mixing coverages between Cover 1 and Cover 4. I think, but to be determined. Tyrone Nix was brought in as the DC for the first year of the Traylor era. Nix was moved on in the offseason, and Traylor promoted from within with co-coordinators. All eleven starters return from last year on a defense that improved mightily running the base 3-4 mentioned above.

Specialists: UTSA returns both the best Punter and Placekicker in CUSA. Traylor has placed a focus this year on excelling on special teams. Traylor has improved recruiting and plans to get the increased athleticism on the field playing special teams. Traylor believes it is important to get experience for his young players and is wanting a focus on the special teams units to help build skills.

Three Things to Watch

  1. Frank Harris rushing yards. Harris is similar to Adrian Martinez in being a mobile quarterback. Harris is a more consistent passer than Martinez but lacks the arm talent. The press coverage by Illinois will create tight passing windows, but his mobility will prevent the Illini from swarming him.

  2. Illini Rushing Yards. UTSA went 2-5 last year when opponents rushed for 175 yards. The two wins were a blowout of North Texas and a wild game against Middle Tennesse State. Teams that had a controlled rushing attack (Louisiana and BYU) played close games but controlled the and defeated the Roadrunners.

  3. Sincere McCormick rushing yards. Traylor's theory is to run the ball to win but throw the ball to score. The Roadrunners need to establish the run to enable throws downfield. They need a credible run threat to allow Harris to hit open receivers beyond the short passing game.

Scouting Review - Offense

Jeff Traylor was never a coordinator before he took the head coaching job at UTSA. This can be a risky proposition for schools. The list of incredibly successful coaches who have been incredibly successful probably begins and ends with Urban Meyer. Dabo technically was the OC his year as interim head coach. The entire list of current FBS coaches that were not a coordinator prior to being a HC: Traylor, Ryan Silverfield (Memphis), Sam Pittman (Arkansas), Jim Harbaugh (Michigan), PJ Fleck (Minnesota), Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern), Charles Huff (Marshall), Jeff Monken (Army), Maurice Linguist (Buffalo), Brady Hoke (San Diego State (prior to Ball State)), Herm Edwards (Arizona State), Mario Cristobal (Oregon (prior to FIU)), Ed Orgeron (LSU), Shane Beamer (South Carolina), Chad Lunsford (Georgia Southern), and Terry Bowden (Louisiana-Monroe). {Note, that list is a lot longer than I expected}. The list of failures is myriad and the hiring teams typically are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle (like David Beatty at Kansas). The skills these coaches were hired for were either recruiting chops in the region or as a stopgap coach to hold together a team. Traylor would fall in the category of recruiting guru.

Traylor was definitely involved in the offensive scheme and design at SMU and Arkansas, but that means he was in part responsible for the Chad Morris debacle at Arkansas. Traylor brought Barry Lunney with him from Arkansas, but the offensive scheme they are running looks closer to Lincoln Riley than Chad Morris. The offense leans heavily on read-option, but as opposed to solely attaching it to a zone-blocking scheme they are adding multiple power run schemes in front as well.

As mentioned above, the offense of UTSA relies on the running game to win, but the running game requires an efficient passing game to thrive. Sincere McCormick is one of the best in the nation running the rock. The OL is veteran, but lacks the top-end talent (if the starters tried to transfer, I'm not sure they are moving up the pecking order). They let BYU and Louisiana take up residence in the backfield. Harris, the QB, is a talented runner but a mediocre passer. UTSA relies on play-action to create throwing lanes for Harris to exploit. His arm is below average, even in 3rd and long situations, UTSA doesn't put much faith in Harris to throw deep.

The running attack of the Roadrunners has option plays with bolted on power run principles. The favorite look the Roadrunners utilize is one made popular by Lincoln Riley of late. The power run action, in this case, is the counter trey run scheme where the backside tackle and guard pull to the play side. Oklahoma uses the play as an RPO, while UTSA will stick with a more conventional read-option with play action at times. Here is the play.

McCormick is a very patient running back and did a nice job of letting this play develop. The Roadrunners will use different formations to give the secondary different looks to account for and open up the running lanes. Here is a 2x2 stack formation with the same run action.

The action here is against a 3-4 look, with the wide splits to spread the running lanes. This is an Art Briles-influenced play set. The other way they spread the field is running a trips formation opposite the play side. Here is that look.

The personnel for all three of these plays is the same, a TE and 3 WR. The staff will mix up the formations to keep the defenses guessing. When the defenses begin selling out to stop the run, UTSA will throw in a play-action pass.

In this case, they throw a WR Bubble screen. Harris is not an accurate passer in the Adrian Martinez mold and misses a wide-open receiver. A good throw gives the WR an alley along the sideline for a big gain.

The next action is a TE wham block across the inside zone blocking scheme on a read-option run play. The QB reads the OLB on the 3-4 fronts.

The OL doesn't get much push in this blocking scheme. The zone blocking scheme for UTSA is more about occupying defenders. Harris is a dangerous runner and will keep in the read-option game.

The top two tight ends are both 275 lbs. and agile as lead blockers. The TE here is the lead blocker for the keep. UTSA started showing Harris keep in games where opposing defenses began stacking the box and line of scrimmage. They will also run play-action out of the look. Against Louisiana they rolled the pocket due to the consistent pass rush the Ragin' Cajuns generated in the middle of the line.

Harris is late with the throw. As he gets the ball to the receiver, the ability to generate yards after the catch was missed. The Roadrunners left yards on the field last season. As Traylor looks to improve the program, they need to improve the timing of the offense.

My personal favorite play I saw them run is a play that would make Rich Brooks smile and has Todd Graham taking notes.

This is a well-designed play and takes advantage of an aggressive pass rush. Just the type of play that is good to put on film to make people prepare for it. No idea if they run this play per se, but it shows the staff's ingenuity on play design and unique solutions to having a systemic talent disadvantage.

The standard blocking schemes for read-option are also in play, although last season they leaned heavily on inside zone. I believe the lack of lateral mobility of the OL prevents them from using more outside zone. Here is the give action with McCormick threading his way through the line.

The play is against the 4-man front, and it is one of the few plays I watched where the OL moved the line of scrimmage as a unit. Harris again will keep on these plays, and it is the more dangerous option as he has the ability to break big plays.

The OLB sold out on the handoff, and Harris took the easy yards on the play. Like all blocking schemes in this offense, there is a play-action counter to teams loading up on the formations.

This is a quick-hitting action to take advantage of linebackers flowing downhill too soon. Illinois struggled with similar plays to TEs last year.

The other power run game scheme they utilize in the read-option game is the power blocking scheme. If Illinois is running a 4-man front, this is a scheme they will utilize more. Unless they went to the Scott Frost school of game planning.

The guard here is religious to his blocking assignment and turns upfield while blatantly ignoring that guy right there ready to make the tackle. Schematically he may get a passing grade but failed the common sense part.

Against an Illini defense that showed the ability to get penetration, the Jet Sweep should make an appearance. They will run the jet motion with the counter trey blocking scheme, the zone-blocking scheme, and others I am sure.

The jet motion action is not all for show though.

Illinois should see this at least twice to slow the attacking front seven.

The passing attack is designed to get the quarterback quick, clean reads and allow him to get the ball out. The concepts appear to be versions of the West Coast passing attack. Harris is Robert's favorite type of QB, one who has a hinky motion and looks like he is straining to throw the ball. As a result, the passing game is designed to get the ball out quickly and into space for Harris to complete passes. The first pass play is the all-slants.

Against the man-coverage Walters has used historically, expect this. The wide split with the WRs creates a throwing lane. Harris locks into his receiver at the snap. Art Briles would not approve of the WR on the hash.

The next pass concept is the dig-drive-post concept with an added route built-in on the drive side. The Dig route is a deep in, the Drive is a crossing route, and the Post route is a post. This is a fundamental passing concept and puts pressure on a single deep safety like Illinois utilized last week.

The concept here is to provide levels for the QB to scan and find an open receiver. The TE clears the LB in man and inadvertently picks the safety who has man coverage on the slot. The slot runs a shallow cross, and the far sideline receiver is running the post. This is typically a shot to the intermediate or deep routes, but in this case, North Texas blitzed both LBs leaving Harris with an easy throw on the cross.

Another concept they use utilizes the crossing route as well, the mesh concept. Harris does not like throwing across the middle though, so he tends to prioritize the window dressing routes on his throws.

Kirk Ciarrocca loved this route. They run the mesh and sneak a receiver behind the mesh point. In this case, though, Harris took the out route which is the window dressing.

The computers like UTSA. Last year they were efficient and beat all the teams they should and return the entire offense. The overall talent level is being raised by Traylor, but the talent is young. The offense is fairly straightforward from a play perspective, but the staff does a nice job of creating doubt with multiple looks.

Scouting Review - Defense

UTSA's DC was let go in the off-season for some personal boundary issues. The scheme was very successful last year, and Traylor hired from within. The scheme last year was a 3-4 defense with a mix of Cover 1 Man, and Cover 4 zone. The DL likes to explode into opposing OL to disrupt the blocking schemes of opposing offenses.

The base defense is the 3-4 Illinois showed in the spring game. The Roadrunners walk the OLBs down onto the line of scrimmage in run situations, and against power running teams sit in Cover 4 mainly. The CBs will be in chase coverage, while the safeties are run first in the base.

BYU broke this play because the play side DT was put on skates and fell down 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The backside DT doesn't occupy the double team and was driven downfield. The NT stonewalled the center but didn't disrupt the play. Both guards had a free release to the second level which meant the first chance to stop the play was at the safety level. Illinois will look to take advantage of the weaker DTs of UTSA.

In passing situations the base D will shift to a 3-3-5 and will run man at times, or stay in the Cover 4 shell.

Here the Mean Green are in a passing situation, and UTSA blitzed the ILB to ensure a pass rush. The secondary appears to be in a Cover 4 (although the topside safety should be keying the RB if that was the case and he assuredly was not). The slow read by the safety turned this into a 3rd and short.

I think Illinois will use more motion this week. Cover 4 becomes vulnerable against certain formations, especially when the offense overloads a side with 3 receivers. In order to cause maximum confusion, overloading with motion to the side pre-snap would cause the defense to change coverage on the fly causing confusion. BYU used motion extensively against UTSA.

This appears to be Cover 4 to me, as the corner on the short side bounces the motion receiver and picks up the TE. The run action freezes the LB leaving the safety in single coverage on the motion receiver.

Here is another motion from BYU. In this case, the Cougars run the jet sweep.

The Cover 4 defense allows for fast safety flow to the point of attack. Louisiana, FAU, and BYU all took a power running game to UTSA. Running sideline to sideline allows the safeties in Cover 4 to fly to the ball. The Illini off-tackle run game needs to flourish, but the TEs need to be a threat to slow the safeties playing downhill. The best defensive player for the Roadrunners is safety Rashad Wisdom, and Petersen will need to scheme him out of plays early and often.

UTSA will bring pressure though from all parts of the defense to create havoc and try and force mistakes. Here are a plethora of plays where the Roadrunners are bringing pressure. The first is a LB Blitz, the next one is a pure CB blitz, the third is an overload blitz with a CB and LB, and the final two are other corner blitzes.

The defense is designed to create havoc and generate turnovers. Last year the Roadrunners were +7 in turnover margin in 12 games. The defense creating turnovers is a core tenet of the Traylor identity, so the Illini offense playing not to lose will be an interesting dichotomy.

What does it mean?

UTSA needs to establish the run game to win. McCormick is a B1G quality running back and is patient enough to be dangerous. The UTSA offensive line didn't coalesce until the end of last season but still struggled to control the line of scrimmage. The aggressive Illini DL can cause fits. If UTSA gets the running game moving though it will simplify the passing attack for Harris and put the Illini defense into conflict.

UTSA gave BYU's Zach Wilson fits a year ago. The DL rotates liberally, and they have some disruptive players in the group. The defense wants to be physical and get opposing offenses out of rhythm. If the defensive line doesn't gamble, Illinois will slowly wear them down and grind out yards. So, the Roadrunners need to be more physical than the Illini and force Sitkowski to make tough throws.

Illinois looked a little ragged to start against Nebraska but shined in the middle of the game. UTSA is most likely watching the film and seeing opportunities. The Illini have no film to watch but have the first game jitters out of the way. If Illinois gets up early, expect UTSA to get the same treatment as Nebraska.

For Illinois to Win:

Illinois needs to control the line of scrimmage. The Illini OL struggled to consistently manage the line of scrimmage against Nebraska. UTSA doesn't have a defender in the front seven that would make Nebraska's two-deep. That isn't to say they don't have talent. The Illini OL needs to define this game. On defense, the DL needs to be disruptive between the tackles, forcing Harris and McCormick to move sideline to sideline. If Illinois controls the offensive line of scrimmage, Sitkowski will be able to manage the game.

For UTSA to Win:

UTSA has to get Illinois behind the sticks and force Sitkowski to be a playmaker. Illinois was not flashy last week, but effective. The efficiency of the offense is not where Wisconsin would like it, which illustrates the opportunity for UTSA. They need to pressure the Illini OL and jam up the run game. Sitkowski is a statue in the pocket and should provide a chance for the pass rush to get there.

Offensively last week, Martinez generated 376 yards. He also missed some wide-open receivers. Harris has much better feet as a passer than Martinez but lacks his explosiveness and arm strength. Harris is the type of athlete that can generate challenges for the Illini front, and the Roadrunners need him to show out on Saturday.

Illinois -6.0

Every national pundit has circled this game as their G5 beating a P5 special. Illinois has been a punchline for most of the media and they are looking for a reason to pile on. UTSA is a talented team, but not as talented as the Illini. The Roadrunners are experienced with upper-classmen starters, but not as many as the Illini. There are reasons to like UTSA.

UTSA is a solid team and Traylor made huge improvements. The Illini coaching staff though has the personnel to implement a scheme to exploit the inherent weaknesses of the UTSA team. The talent Traylor is attracting is young and will not be the difference-makers in the game. UTSA has multiple gimmicks and a mix of looks to keep defenses honest. The Illini DTs though are too disruptive and will force UTSA out of their plan. I like Illinois to play a close first half, but open a lead in the second to cover.

YTD Against the Spread:



BelieveInIllinois on September 2, 2021 @ 09:05 AM

Thanks Craig!

San Joaquin on September 2, 2021 @ 09:42 AM

These required reading. Excellent stuff.

BamaIllini on September 2, 2021 @ 10:04 AM

Great read, but we are 1-0 YTD Against the Spread not 0-1. We were a dog and we won, we beat the spread.

reykjavik2020 on September 2, 2021 @ 10:32 AM

I believe that's a reference to his own record vs. the spread, not Illlinois'.

CraigG on September 2, 2021 @ 03:59 PM

reykjavik2020 is correct, that is my record against the spread

ILLINI88ME on September 2, 2021 @ 02:29 PM

Great stuff Craig!! Can't wait to watch the game and go....hey, Craig said they would be doing this!

IBFan on September 2, 2021 @ 03:42 PM

Thanks Craig!

Axllini on September 3, 2021 @ 09:16 AM

Great breakdown. I actually have faith in the coaching staff breaking down tape and coming up with specific strategies to counteract and defeat our opponent. Seems simple, but I haven't gone into a game in years thinking we will be able to make an opponent one-dimensional, or attack their weaknesses. I cannot wait for kickoff saturday.

DB50 on September 3, 2021 @ 02:43 PM

I disagree with your assessment "Sitkowski is a statue in the pocket", last week I remember at least two instances of him feeling the pressure & escaping for yardage. I feel, though not elusive, he can escape pressure at times.

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