A rolling UTSA team came into Ruston looking to challenge the Bulldogs for the top spot in C-USA West. With wins against Southern Mississippi and Middle Tennessee, fans were certain that the Roadrunners posed a legitimate threat to the division and that this was going to be C-USA’s regular season game of the year.
That was not at all the case. On a day where the Roadrunners couldn’t get anything right and the Bulldogs couldn’t do anything wrong, LA Tech ran UTSA out of the stadium with a blow below the belt, giving the young team quite the reality check.
The tone was immediately set as Bulldog wide receiver Carlos Henderson - whom UTSA pundits asserted their team didn't have an answer for - took the opening kickoff 90 yards downfield for a touchdown. Viewers argued heavily that LA Tech committed an illegal block in the back, but there were no penalty markers on the field after the play.
Henderson would earn two more touchdowns through the air, putting him at three on the day.
UTSA answered with what may have been their most impressive drive of the season. Quarterback Dalton Sturm went three-for-three for 41 yards and picked up 22 more with his legs as the Roadrunners drove 87 yards downfield and took over six and a half minutes off of the clock to tie the game.
Then, the wheels completely fell off of the offense.
UTSA was held to three consecutive three-and-outs while LA Tech scored touchdowns on four consecutive drives. And they were scoring with ease; not one drive took more than seven plays nor any more than three minutes off of the game clock. It was a slaughtering.
For LA Tech’s fourth touchdown, quarterback Ryan Higgins hit Alfred Smith on a 68-yard bomb. He continues to be the class of quarterbacks in the West as he finished 17 for 26 with 293 yards and 4 touchdowns.
UTSA attempted to stop the bleeding on the ensuing drive but found themselves facing fourth down twice as they resorted to punter Yannis Routsas orchestrating quarterbacking attempts twice on the drive. It worked on fourth and two, but the second attempt was miserable. Routsas actually connected with place kicker Victor Falcon for a loss of seven yards and a turnover on downs. A pass play involving kickers as the quarterback and receiver is never a bright idea.
After the Bulldogs went up 35-7 on the following drive, UTSA was able to score with the help of a couple of LA Tech penalties. There was a small beacon of hope for the Roadrunners as they entered the locker room down 35-14 - they would receive the ball to start the second half.
Well, that resulted in another three-and-out. Their next drive was another turnover on downs. It was a weird offensive day for UTSA. If they weren’t going three-and-out, they were actually putting together decent drives moving the ball downfield, but would somehow inevitably stall out at one point or another.
At that point, head coach Frank Wilson opted to change his quarterback to graduate transfer Jared Johnson. He didn’t throw the ball well, but managed to lead UTSA downfield for a couple of garbage-time touchdowns. Sturm finished 12 for 22 with 100 yards and Johnson went 8 for 17 with 77 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Surprisingly, in a 63-point rout, LA Tech was only able to force one takeaway. Their defense was lights out, still, holding UTSA to nine for 20 on third down. They owned the battle upfront and decimated the Roadrunner backfield with five sacks and 11 tackles for losses while knocking down four passes as well.
LA Tech’s offensive line won upfront as well, as a spread out rushing attack accumulated 180 yards on the ground. The Bulldog offense averaged 8.3 yards per play; a new record high set against UTSA’s defense.
The Bulldogs also got a lot of favorable help from UTSA via fouls. The Roadrunners committed eight penalties for 87 yards, including four personal fouls in the first half alone.
To go on top of that, UTSA had a player ejected for targeting for the third game in a row. This time, however, it was leading tackler Josiah Tauaefa in the second half, earning the middle linebacker a first half suspension for next week's trip to A&M.
UTSA also lost second-string tailback Jalen Rhodes in the second quarter to an undisclosed injury. The team’s notorious dual rushing attack ceased in the second half as Jarveon Williams had to carry the load.
Behind Higgins, who’s made leaps and bounds in his ability as a quarterback, LA Tech has a serious shot at taking the conference championship over Western Kentucky. They have already beat them earlier this season. More so than their offense, this team surges behind tough defensive play.
The Bulldogs completed their first unbeaten-at-home season since 2001, a nice send off to the original Joe Aillet Stadium before the venue undergoes major renovations this offseason.
They have a late bye-week next Saturday and then venture to Hattiesburg to take on rival Southern Miss in the season finale. As of now, they’re sitting real pretty at 8-3 (6-1 C-USA).
As for UTSA, their hopes of receiving their first-ever bowl invitation are delayed for now. At 5-5 (4-3), the already over-achieved Roadrunners are just one win away from setting the program mark as they have their target set on Charlotte in the season finale. For now, they get ready to explore SEC land as they head to College Station for the final stop of their three-game road trip.