UTSA quickly and quietly built an impressive defensive culture in two seasons under defensive coordinator Pete Golding. Having a future first round NFL draft pick on the defensive line didn’t hurt. But just a year after Marcus Davenport and Golding left, the defense took a big step back.
A year after finishing top 10 nationally in several categories, the Roadrunners fell to bottom third nationally in total and scoring defense. Granted, the numbers are slightly misleading. UTSA played three Power Five opponents in the nonconference slate and had to cover up for a struggling offense. But regardless, the performance wasn’t good enough.
Now, UTSA has to replace its four top tacklers. That includes star linebacker Josiah Tauaefa, who declared early for the 2019 NFL Draft. Defensive coordinator Jason Rollins is returning to fundamentals in his second season leading the defense.
“It’s piece-by-piece,” Rollins said. “We’ve broken it down from each game, each quarter, each play, and we’re building it from the ground up so we can have a strong foundation.”
Defensive line easily stands as the strongest unit, perhaps on the whole team. Defensive end Lorenzo Dantzler is poised to take a leadership role after leading all UTSA defensive linemen with 8.5 tackles for loss a season ago. Defensive tackle Baylen Baker doesn’t post big stats, but changes games with his play.
Only UConn gave up more than UTSA’s 9.44 yards per pass attempt a season ago, but there’s experience coming back at cornerback. Cassius Grady and Brenndan Johnson should build on the 2018 season. Top safeties C.J. Levine and Darryl Godfrey are gone, but Dadrian Taylor and Vance Vallair should step into bigger roles.
Linebacker is the biggest hole on the defense. All the top backups a season ago were freshmen. UTSA added JUCO linebacker Trevor Harmanson and Virginia grad transfer Dominic Sheppard, but neither was on campus in the spring. Replacing Tauaefa’s production will be Rollins’ biggest charge in 2019.
“We definitely have to have people step up when [standouts] leave,” Dantzler said. “It’s a big accomplishment for those guys to get up to the next level, but we have to step up to replace them.”
This article is available to our Digital Subscribers.
Click "Subscribe Now" to see a list of subscription offers.
Already a Subscriber? Sign In to access this content.