Location: Bobcats Stadium, San Marcos, TX
Kick Off: 6:30 pm CT
TV: KEYE (CBS Austin) and KMYS (CW35 San Antonio)
Live Stats: Stat Monitor
Audio: Ticket 760 (SA) and AM1300 (San Marcos)
Betting Odds: UTSA -13.5, O/U 45
Series History: UTSA won the lone meeting of the I-35 Showdown 38-31 at the Alamodome in 2012.
There’s no bigger rivalry than the one that both programs deny exist, right? While UTSA and Texas State have only met on the gridiron once, the two fanbases are constantly at each others’ throats. Fueled by a history of raucous crowds and upsets in olympic sports, the I-35 Rivalry has spawned endless Twitter flame wars and friendly ribbing between friends.
Does the rivalry carry the same fire now that the two schools have been playing in different conferences for five years? While the student and alumni bases are clearly fired up for the game, players and coaches on both sides of the fence have downplayed any true rivalry on the gridiron which makes sense considering not a single coach nor player on either team has faced off against the other team.
Nonetheless, Bobcat Stadium should be rocking on Saturday and whichever team takes home the HEB I-35 Showdown Trophy will likely boast of the victory until the next meeting on the field.
UTSA Outlook - Jared Kalmus
The Roadrunners are certainly enjoying a hot start to the season but given the level of their competition so far it’s hard to gauge just how good UTSA actually is. UTSA’s home opener against Houston was canceled due to Hurricane Harvey, Baylor looked absolutely discombobulated in UTSA’s first win, and FCS opponent Southern was forced to trot out an injury-stricken line up as UTSA demolished them with a 48-0 halftime lead. It’s really hard to say what we can learn from any of those performances.
If there’s one thing we do know about UTSA it’s that senior quarterback Dalton Sturm is absolutely locked in this season. The former walk-on from Goliad has been one of the most efficient passers in the nation this season, completing 81% of his passes for 447 yards, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions. He’s also been a rushing threat, amassing 154 yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts (12.8 yards per carry).
UTSA’s offense has been buoyed by an exceptional start to the season from junior running back Jalen Rhodes. The first-time starter has looked fantastic running the ball this year as he’s racked up 164 yards and a touchdown on a 5.5 yards per carry clip. Tyrell Clay has seen a lot of snaps at RB2 this season but don’t be surprised to see mammoth true freshman BJ Daniels start working his way into more snaps after bruising Southern’s defense for 48 yards on 11 carries last week behind second and third string offensive linemen.
Production has been well distributed for UTSA’s receiving threats thus far this year. Senior Josh Stewart has continued to impress this season, bringing in seven catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns. His brother Kerry Thomas has been both explosive and efficient, totaling 134 yards and two touchdowns while catching all nine of his targeted passes. Tight end Shaq Williams also emerged as a receiving threat last week after snagging two touchdowns in the first half against Southern.
While UTSA has yet to face a truly strong offense, the Roadrunners have locked down their competition so far. Ranked 8th in total defense, UTSA also ranks well in opponent-adjusted advanced statistics: 9th in opponent offensive efficiency, 8th in finishing drives, 4th in opponent passing success rate, 8th in overall defensive “havoc”, a stat which tracks a defense’s ability to disrupt the offense with negative plays.
The key matchup to watch in this week’s game will be UTSA’s stacked defensive line against Texas State’s undersized and inexperienced offensive line. Appalachian State was able to really harass Damian Williams in the pocket last week and UTSA is even more talented up front. If UTSA can get relentless pressure on Williams with just four rushers then UTSA will be able to single or even double spy Williams and force him to make tough passes or throw the ball away without a scrambling lane.
Texas State Outlook - Vidal Espinoza
Defense wins championships and even though State may be a year or two away from competing for a Sun Belt title this Bobcat defense will act as though this game is a championship matchup. With a slow start but strong finish against Houston Baptist in their season opener, an impressive first half performance versus the defending Pac-12 champion Colorado Buffaloes and a last-minute near upset against powerhouse Appalachian State, the Texas State Bobcats have looked impressive especially in the front defensive seven.
But before we dissect the inner workings of the defense let’s start with the offensive side of the ball. Damian Williams has been steadily improving with each passing game. After struggling to find his touch in the first two games, Williams excelled at leading the offense last week against App State as he channeled his inner Steve McNair by eluding the pass rush while his protection disintegrated in almost every drop back. Williams reached a career high of 260 yards passing and season high of 43 yards rushing. Indeed solid stats against a usually stout Mountaineer defense and he’ll need another one of those games, sans turnovers.
If one of the three running backs Texas State has been putting out there feels like taking over a game and wants to slice up UTSA for a couple of big runs please feel free to do so. Anthony Taylor and Robert Brown have had a handful of big runs and proved that speed and patience can pay off. Both have had almost identical workloads with Anthony Smith who was a non-factor in the Appalachian State game, tallying 6.8 yards a carry while getting about half the carries Taylor and Brown have had. But ultimately the offensive scheme is going to have to find a way to spread out the Roadrunner defense and keep them from exploiting the Bobcats’ offensive line woes.
Another factor Texas State must consider is being consistent throughout the whole damn game. To be fair, they are improving in this category which to be honest hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention. Last year the Bobcats scored early a couple of times then flamed out, let’s not be content with that. This year has been drastically different as Texas State has been able to sustain (gasp!) whole halves! Part of it is early season jitters as one of the nation’s youngest teams finds their footing and the other part is non-aggressive play calling.
With weapons like receivers Thurman Morbley, Mason Hays and Elijah King able to get separation Texas State needs to feed these guys. I know I know. The offensive line. See what I said above. Show UTSA the running attack and then throw a bomb out there. And for the love Spergon Wynn please get tight end Gabe Schrade involved. A talented tight end with only two catches through three games does nothing to improve the offense.
Defensive is what has been making a name for itself in San Marcos and as someone who has been following Bobcat football for a long time this has potential to be the greatest defense Texas State has ever produced. 2.4 yards per rush allowed, nine sacks through three games when they only had nine all last year and 1.48 points allowed per drive (30% percent of opponent’s drives have ended in scores). I don’t know how those last numbers compare to last year’s but when the games were usually ending in the first quarter in 2016, it’s a big improvement nonetheless.
Bryan London II and Gabe Loyd have picked up where they left off last year as the Loyd’s of London duo but we’ve seen some excellent play from the other linebackers. Easy Anyama was the Sun Belt’s defensive player of the week after the Houston Baptist game and Frankie Griffen is leading the Sun Belt in sacks and forced fumbles so far. Also look out for safety A.J. Krawczyk who has been solid in a secondary that is still looking for an identity and some aggression to match the defensive front seven.
A usually solid special teams is the one side that cannot make any mistakes. A tipped punt, missed field goal and botched punt coverage in the Colorado game is what changed the tide in that game in favor of the Buffaloes. When it comes down to stopping the Roadrunner offense and importantly quarterback Dalton Sturm is field position and punter Marcus Ripley may be the unsung hero of this game. Also this game could come down to the wire so kicker James Sherman will need to put liquid nitrogen into his veins in front of a hostile visiting crowd.
Jared Kalmus: My expectations for this game have been on quite the roller coaster ride. This preseason I expected TXST to put up a really tough fight against UTSA. After the majority of their transfer help failed to materialize, I flipped to expecting UTSA to wipe the floor with the Bobcats. That sentiment was solidified after I watched Texas State in person against Houston Baptist in week one. Texas State has clearly improved since that game though. Their defense is very solid and Damian Williams is good enough to beat any team remaining on the Bobcats’ schedule. Ultimately I think UTSA has an extreme talent advantage in the trenches and will ride that mismatch as well as their superior depth to a comfortable win after a first half of fairly equal play.
UTSA 34 Texas State 10
Vidal Espinoza: Throw out all the stats because this is good ol’ fashioned rivalry shootout. In the end emotions are in play and this could make for costly turnovers and foolish mistakes and hopefully Everett Withers has his squad disciplined enough because I believe that what it comes down to is who can play mistake-free football. If the defense can duplicate the success of last week’s game it will give the Bobcats a greater chance at beating UTSA. The offensive line needs to find a way to protect Williams and give him a chance to work some magic and maybe open up some aggressive play calling. This will be a fun one and it’ll come down to the fourth quarter.
Texas State 31 UTSA 28
Who takes home the I-35 trophy?
This poll is closed