Game Time: 5:00 p.m., Saturday, August 31
Location: Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
Radio: Ticket 760 AM
Live Stats: GoUTSA
Series Record: First meeting
Betting Line: UTSA -6.5, O/U 58.5
While the Cardinals started their football program before the Roadrunners did, it never felt like much attention was paid to the other feathery mascot in the Alamo city. By the time UIW launched their program, news had already broke that UTSA was looking to pick up the pigskin by immediately launching into Division I football with a celebrity coach.
Even before UTSA field a team, the Cardinals still operated in the Roadrunners’s shadows.
That began to change last year. UIW made a huge splash by hiring away a Power 5 coordinator, a move you’ll rarely see an FCS program pull off. Former Texas Tech Offensive Coordinator Eric Morris wasted no time getting the Cardinals up to a respectable level, as the program won a share of the Southland title after winning just one game in 2017.
Suddenly, reporters started showing up to Incarnate Word’s media availability. Local outlets started publishing pieces on the Cardinals’ explosive offense. Eric Morris even took a shot at UTSA as the Roadrunners stumbled through another season wasted by an anemic offense.
UIW coach Eric Morris after today's 43-26 win against Sam Houston State: "I think we play a fun brand of football. It'll be a team here that I think we can get San Antonio behind. San Antonio is itching for a great college football program right now, right?"— Greg Luca (@GregLuca) November 3, 2018
To say there’s a buzz around the UIW program right now might be slightly overstating it, but it’s clear that the Cardinals are looking for a marquee win to put their name on the map.
The Cardinals return many pieces from their Southland run last year, most notably sophomore quarterback Jon Copeland. The 6’0” Argyle product stayed under the radar as a recruit due to his size and injury history, but there’s no denying his arm is FBS caliber. Copeland has a sweet and quick release and is able to flick the ball down field with minimal wind up. His accuracy is excellent, and he’s decently swift on his feet.
Copeland will be returning to the field after suffering a torn ACL in the Cardinals’ last game of the regular season. It’s a super quick recovery, but all signs are that he’s good to go for this week.
Unfortunately, UIW did graduate their bell cow running back Ra’Quanne Dickens. The senior was nothing short of spectacular last season as he rushed for 1,117 yards (6.3 YPC) and 16 touchdowns. For reference, UTSA’s running backs turned in 1,052 yards (3.0 YPC) and 7 touchdowns as a cumulative unit.
Ameer King will be looked to step into UIW’s leading rusher role after rushing for 460 yards as a true freshman. King showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman, but he’ll need to find consistency this season if the Cardinals’ offense is to repeat their breakout performance of 2018.
With three of their top four receivers also graduated, the Cardinals will be looking for younger players to take the next step this year. While the experience level is low at the skilled positions, UIW does return their entire offensive line this season, including standout center Brandon Floors.
The Cardinals also have several high impact players to replace on the defensive side of the ball.
UIW lost their top linebacker and their two best defensive linemen from last season and will need to find playmakers to step up immediately at defensive end.
Linebacker Mar’Kel Cooks will be the main player to watch on defense for the Cardinals. The senior totaled 75 tackles last season, with 6.5 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage. Expect Cooks to become an even larger factor in the defense this season.
The announcement of Frank Harris as starting quarterback was the biggest display of joy and optimism I’ve seen from the Roadrunner fan base in over a year. While some fans have been quick to call him a “savior”, Harris is still just a sophomore who is three years removed from a healthy, full season.
Regardless, Harris’ debut at UTSA has been a long time coming after a knee injury cost him his 2018 season. With offers from Baylor, Georgia Tech, and UCF, Harris picking UTSA was a colossal recruiting victory for UTSA as the dual-threat Clemens product was the most explosive quarterback to come out of the greater San Antonio area since Johnny Manziel.
Certainly the most athletic quarterback UTSA has ever had, Harris should be worth the price of admission if he’s even remotely as good in college as he was in high school.
Of course, Harris can’t do it all on his own. The Roadrunners return a ton of offensive production, although the returning personnel didn’t exactly light up the stat sheet last year.
To that effect, Head Coach Frank Wilson hasn’t been afraid to let position battles play out through the offseason. JUCO transfer Ahofitu Maka has taken control of the center position, while true freshman Sincere McCormick has catapulted to the top of the depth chart at running back. Another San Antonio prep star, McCormick is UTSA’s fastest running back in program history, so it will be interesting to see if his speed will lead to bigger gains on the ground for an offense that averaged under four yards per carry last season.
Perhaps the biggest change for UTSA is at the tight end position. Last year’s starter Gavin Sharp is battling for back up duties with Kansas State/Cal transfer Carlos Strickland, while JUCO transfer and standout blocker Leroy Watson has earned starting snaps. Watson should make a huge difference in the run game with his ability to seal the edge.
Defensively, UTSA returns a defensive line that’s extremely strong in both starters and backups across the entire front. Linebackers and safeties, however, will have plenty of new faces.
With no returning starters at linebacker, former safety Andy Martel will start at outside linebacker. LaDarian McFarland is the surprise starter at middle linebacker, giving the former UIW Cardinal a chance to make a splash against the program he signed with out of high school. McFarland has good speed and has also moved into the box from safety.
Carl Austin returns to lead the secondary at free safety, while true freshman Rashad Wisdom (again, a former San Antonio high school standout) will be starting at strong safety in his first collegiate game. FAU transfer Savion Harris and redshirt freshman Kelechi Nwachuku will share snaps at weak safety, while Corey Mayfield beat out a few upperclassmen to get the start at cornerback.
It’s an extremely young secondary that will certainly be tested against a potent UIW passing attack.
Lastly, it bears mentioning that UTSA’s kicking game is unproven. Texas Tech transfer Matthew Cluck and junior Hunter Duplessis will likely both get cracks at place kicks.
UTSA is going to have a huge advantage over UIW when it comes to size and speed. Of course football games aren’t track meets, so the Roadrunners will need to put those advantages to use on the field.
With the combination of Sincere McCormick’s speed and the offensive line’s growth and maturation, I expect UTSA to have a productive day on the ground. The score may not depict a blow as I do anticipate UIW having a couple of quick scores, but I think UTSA will be in the driver seat for the majority of the contest.
UTSA 32 UIW 21