Quarterback Eric Soza directs a UTSA offense that features a variety of formations.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It took exactly three scrimmage plays for Eric Soza to become his team's all-time leading passer.For the record, that was a 13-yard pass to CheRod Simpson in Texas-San Antonio's 31-3 win over Northeastern State (Okla.). Since then, Soza has carried the Roadrunners' offense against opponents from Bacone to Oklahoma State, and has established himself as a potent dual threat.Make that a multi-faceted threat. You never know quite what he and his offense will do on any given down."We try to spread out in a wide variety of formations," Soza said. "We're very multiple - we can run under center, two tight ends, one running back [and] two tight ends, two running backs, three wideouts, four wideouts. ... try to get into a lot of formations to make the defense play as many base coverages as possible."
This Saturday, Marshall fans can try to count the formations, if they dare, when the Roadrunners arrive at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Kickoff for the homecoming game is 2 p.m.Thundering Herd defensive coaches and players can't count all motions, lineups and speed options, but they'll have to deal with them. The extra week the Herd had to prepare may or may not be enough."It's unusual to have a team that can actually execute the kind of perimeter, almost wishbone kind of blocking, if you will," said MU defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, "then come back and throw the ball as well as they're throwing it, 290 yards per game. That's what's pretty extraordinary." UTSA is a third-year program still in the FBS reclassification stage, but Soza leads a team of veterans. The 6-foot, 210-pound native of Beeville, Texas, had a head start himself, being the son of a high school coach.He came to UTSA after putting in a redshirt year at FCS program Texas State in 2009. He knew he faced a season of intrasquad scrimmages, but liked the school's vision and was very impressed by coach Larry Coker.
"The interaction with him was one I'll never forget," Soza said. "He treated me as a person, not as a recruit, and you want to play for someone like that. He had my well being in mind. He didn't just want me to be successful on the field, but he wanted me to be successful off the field. The more I talked to him, I knew he was a man of character and a man of God, and that was something I was really looking for in a coach."With the tutelage of Coker and offensive coordinator Kevin Brown, Soza has grown up with a large nucleus of teammates who have stuck it out through the tough times - he's one of just 11 seniors on the roster, but there are 44 juniors and 35 two-year lettermen.The offensive two-deep has a combined 227 starts in those seasons, even more than Marshall's 190 in four years. The Roadrunners are 2-3 (1-0 Conference USA), but that offense has put everybody on notice.Among their statistical accomplishments:They lead Conference USA with 122 first downs, and are ninth in the country (caveat: Marshall is second with 110, in four games).
Their 20 touchdown drives have averaged 8.6 plays, 71.7 yards and time of possession of 3 minutes, 59 seconds. Eight drives have spanned at least 75 yards, with two topping 90. With those time-gobbling marches, they are 15th in the FBS in time of possession per game, 33:34.
The offensive line has allowed only seven sacks in five games, none in the last two games (Texas-El Paso, Houston). "They take care of me. I'd trust my life with them," Soza said.Soza is third in C-USA in passing yardage (268.4) and total offense (292.0). Career-wise, he has 6,342 total yards in 25 games, 5,575 passing and 767 rushing. He thrown for 42 touchdowns and run for 10.
And he really, really spreads the ball around. He has thrown to a league-high 18 different pass catchers, with up to 15 getting a reception in any particular game. Only four have 10 or more catches, led by Kam Jones' 19 for 222 yards. Kenny Bias is the top speedster, averaging 20 yards on his 10 catches, with a 67-yard touchdown."They play a lot of different guys, and that's to their credit for them to recruit as well as they have, and have those kind of players," Heater said. "That's the best set of skill guys we've seen, as a group. It might be hard to believe, but that's what you see on tape."But not all has gone well for the Roadrunners' offense, as the 2-3 record indicates. Last weekend at Houston, Soza threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter, allowing the Cougars to run up a 59-28 victory.The Roadrunners had a chance to go ahead in the third quarter, but a reverse option pass from Jones to Soza in the end zone fell incomplete. The next play was a blocked field goal, returned for a Houston touchdown.
Earlier in the season, the Roadrunners fell behind 42-7 after three quarters against Oklahoma State and 31-6 after three quarters at Arizona. But a confident team will take to the Edwards Stadium turf, buoyed by a conference win.And by the knowledge of how far this program has gone, this quickly."It's been a journey and I couldn't ask for anything better," Soza said. "The opportunity to play the top guys in college football, it's been a blessing, a great opportunity we have to be on the national stage with TV contracts and everything. I couldn't dream in my wildest dreams that I'd be in this situation here."nn
Oddity: The contest is not airing locally, but is being beamed to San Antonio on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel Texas. Keith Morehouse is the play-by-play man - yes, the former TV voice of the Herd. Matt D'Orazio is the analyst.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.