Ito Smith

Southern defensive back Elijah Allen is unable to corral Southern Miss running back Ito Smith at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. (Susan Broadbridge/Hattiesburg American via AP) ORG XMIT: MSHAT204

Susan Broadbridge

The top defensive priority for Southern this week is the same as it is virtually every other week: keep the other team’s running game in check.

That mission is taking on added importance this week against UT-San Antonio, however.

“If you don’t stop the run against them, you have no chance of beating them,” said Southern coach Dawson Odums.

The Roadrunners are coached by Frank Wilson, the former LSU running backs coach. Southern defensive back Jamar Mitchell said he could see some of Wilson’s old-school, grind-it-out LSU past in his current UTSA team.

In its season opener against Baylor, UTSA ran for 220 yards on 45 carries, leading to the Roadrunners nearly doubling up the Bears in time of possession.

“This is a very physical football team we’re about to play,” Oliver said. “There’s nothing fancy about what they do; they get downhill and they run the football.

“We have to do a really good job of fitting our gaps tackling, and most importantly, we must be physical this week.”

Southern must also be prepared for the UTSA ground attack to come at it a couple different ways.

The Roadrunners’ top option out of the backfield is junior Jalen Rhodes, who totaled 103 yards on 20 carries against Baylor in the opener.

But Southern must also be on the lookout for senior quarterback Dalton Sturm, who nearly topped the century mark himself against Baylor, taking his 12 carries for 98 yards.

With Sturm, it’s not so much designed runs. He usually works from under center, rather than the spread Southern typically sees, and the Roadrunners frequently get him outside the pocket on play action.

“They do a lot of play-action, he just rolls out and if he don’t see anybody open he’ll tuck it and run,” Mitchell said.

FOUR DOWNS

1: TACKLING

Southern has put together one excellent defensive performance and another that was better than the final statistics indicated, but if there’s been one consistent critique of the unit through two weeks it’s that it needs to improve its consistency bringing down opposing ball carriers. That was a focus this week.

2: TURNOVERS

Southern is again in the unenviable position of having to play up a level in classification. It will be tough for Southern to be truly competitive against UTSA’s depth and talent Saturday. But turnovers are the great leveler, and Southern is particularly adept at forcing them.

3: EXECUTION

It’s been a slog through two weeks offensively for Southern, and it won’t get any easier this week. Listen to a Southern coach, and he will tell you the plays have been there to be made, but the execution has been lacking. The Jaguars can’t keep letting opportunities slip away.

4: EXPERIENCE?

How much can one week help a young quarterback? The first extensive playing time of Southern’s youngsters Bubba McDaniel and Darquez Lee did not go well, but do they now have a better idea of what they’re facing? Even against another tough team, Southern is hopeful to see some growth.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

23:6 — UTSA’s run-pass ratio on first down against Baylor. More than 50 percent of its run plays occurred on first down.

247.5 — UTSA’s quarterback rating on its six first down passing attempts.

0 — The number of third downs converted by Southern (in 12 attempts) in its 45-0 loss to Southern Miss.

Follow Luke Johnson on Twitter, @ByLukeJohnson.