UTSA’s ground-and-pound offense proved entirely too much for Middle Tennessee’s defense as the Roadrunners ran for an outstanding 270 yards on the ground.
On the other side of the ball, UTSA’s defense forced four takeaways to put the game completely out of reach for MTSU by the end of the third quarter.
The Roadrunners came in as 20-point underdogs and completely reversed the spread. They came in prepared and played their best football of the year, finally crushing their road woes and keeping their bowl hopes within reach.
To make matters worse for the Blue Raiders, their star quarterback and the leader of their offense Brent Stockstill left the game after the first quarter and would later have his arm in a sling on the sideline. Fortunately, his throwing arm appeared to be fine. He was replaced with redshirt freshman Josh Urzua who finished 14 for 27 with 161 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions.
UTSA entered the game with a priority to control the clock behind the run game, and did so on the opening drive out of the gate. Behind tailback-duo Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes, UTSA picked up 47 yards on the ground and shed nearly five minutes off of the clock to go up 7-0.
Offensive tackle and premier blocker Jevonte Domond would go down with a minor ankle tweak on the end of that drive, but would later return. It was the first of many injuries the game would see.
Stockstill answered back by completing three of his first four passes for 73 yards and a touchdown, getting the Blue Raiders on the board in less than 90 seconds.
At that point the game looked like it was going to shape out to be a dogfight. The defenses would both hold their ground on the following drives, with UTSA’s Eric Banks hammering Stockstill on a third down sack that set the tone for the Roadrunners' physicality in this game.
The number one difference in this game was UTSA’s fronts. The offensive line opened up enormous running gaps to control the pace of the game, and their defensive line pressured the passing backfield while also limiting hometown running back I’tavius Mathers to just 93 yards. He is the leading rusher in Conference USA.
Jalen Rhodes scampered 26 yards to the house to up the score to 14-7, and Middle Tennesse wouldn’t catch the Birds for the rest of the game. They would attempt to answer on the next drive by going for the first on fourth down and 17. UTSA safety Michael Egwuagu broke up a pass attempt to turn the downs over.
UTSA then converted their own fourth down with a quarterback sneak as Dalton Sturm would do some more running himself. On third and eight in the redzone, the quarterback broke away from a potential sack and streaked around the outside toward the sideline.
Anyone that has watched Sturm run before knows he’s not the type to slide, and as he neared the first down marker he dropped his head and collided with MTSU safety Alex Dale, who bum rushed Sturm in attempt to clean his clock. Sturm stayed on his feet while Dale went down with a possible concussion, and ended up getting his own clock cleaned.
UTSA’s Williams would score on the next play. Stockstill did not return to the field on the following drive after receiving a huge hit from UTSA defensive tackle Baylen Baker. He finished eight for 11 with 198 yards and a touchdown. Urzua entered the game and proceeded to throw an interception on just his second pass attempt, as graduate-transfer Jordan Moore finally nabbed his first pick of the season.
UTSA would activate their leading wide receiver Josh Stewart on the next play, as Sturm tossed a bullet through defenders to hit him on a third down conversion. Stewart would then make a leaping grab in the corner of the endzone for a 16-yard score.
MTSU was threatening UTSA toward the end of the second quarter as they were moving the ball down field with ease. The Blue Raiders nearly scored a touchdown when Urzua hit wide receiver Ritchie James inside of the five yard line. UTSA corner back Teddrick McGhee came across and obliterated James to force the drop, but the play was ruled a helmet-to-helmet targeting penalty and McGhee was ejected from the game. However, the penalty may have been the biggest play of the game for the Birds. The drive would end in a field goal instead of a touchdown, and UTSA went to the locker room with 28-10 lead rather than face a two-possession game.
The Roadrunners were phenomenal through the first half, converting nine out of 11 first downs and controlling the ball for 20:44 in comparison to MTSU’s 9:16. Not to mention 152 yards on the ground to the Blue Raiders’ 16.
McGhee’s replacement, Devron Davis, intercepted Urzua on the opening drive of the second half. Urzua bounced back and hit Richie James for a touchdown as he appeared to finally be settling in.
The 28-17 score was the last surge of hope for MTSU. On the critical ensuing offensive possession, kick returner Matt Guidry took the ball across midfield to the MTSU 40 yard line. Jarveon Williams then ran for a 22 yard touchdown, his third of the day. He would finish with 109 yards on 21 carries (5.2 avg) and three touchdowns. It was the sharpest the back has looked all year, making cuts and bulldozing tackles in the manner he did during his 1,000-yard 2015 season.
The quick score would be the final nail in the coffin for the Blue Raiders, as the team was completely gassed at that point.
On a very whacky sequence in the fourth quarter, both teams exchanged two turnovers with one another. You read that correctly.
Egwuagu picked off Urzua, and then the Roadrunners ran a trick play while up 18 points, letting Guidry throw a lob to the endzone just to get picked off. UTSA’s gadget plays have happened entirely too frequently and proven to be offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo Achille’s Heel.
Urzua would then get hit by La’Kel Bass, fumbling the ball. Sturm then threw a pick of his own to cap off the ridiculous sequence.
The Roadrunners’ defense best moment came on middle linebacker’s Josiah Tauaefa’s batted pass. The redshirt freshman dropped to the floor and began doing pushups in effort to punish himself for not getting the interception. The act spoke volumes as to where this team is setting its expectations.
The win puts UTSA at 5-4 (4-2 C-USA) with back-to-back conference wins. The team is still in contention to win the West as they take on current division leader LA Tech next week in Ruston.
Middle Tennessee takes a big step back, now 6-3 (3-2 C-USA) with two conference losses. Blue Raider fans can only hope that Stockstill's injury is more minor than it first appeared.