Every week of college football, perfection becomes increasingly difficult to find across the nation. Unblemished records are dropping one at a time, yet one young program in the confines of San Antonio continues to rattle off the victories with no signs of slowing down.
UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor often reiterates the phrase, “don’t eat the cheese” to prevent his up-and-coming program from overlooking an opponent or becoming complacent. Not a single scrap of cheese was present in the corridors of the Alamodome on Saturday night when the Roadrunners eviscerated Rice in a 45-0 shutout en route to a program-best 7-0 start. The result also stood as the second shutout for both programs this season — UTSA’s second as the victor and Rice’s second on the wrong side of a beatdown.
“This game was probably the funnest game of the year to be honest,” UTSA cornerback Corey Mayfield Jr. said. “For us to come out today and pitch a shutout, it means a lot to the defense, it means a lot to the staff, and it means a lot to the city too.”
UTSA’s offense out-gained Rice, 403-102, and it was evident from the opening quarter that the Roadrunners were prepared for domination. The offense glided down the field on the first drive with ease, and quarterback Frank Harris wound up in the end zone on a read option less than four minutes after kickoff. The offense headed to the sideline and UTSA’s aggressive defense applied relentless pressure on the quarterback and stuffed the run game to force routine punts by the Owls. The neverending cycle sustained until triple zeroes appeared on the game clock.
“Momentum’s such a big deal in this world,” Rice head coach Mike Bloomgren said. “When we get momentum our way, we’re pretty fun. We have a lot of fun on the field when we’re scoring points and stopping people. We’ve got to find a way to make that momentum go our way early in games.”
Roadrunners running back Sincere McCormick proved why he’s one of the elite halfbacks in the country by bolting for an 81-yard run after Rice pinned UTSA near its own end zone in the latter portion of the first quarter. Stopping McCormick was a tall task for the Owls’ 108th ranked run defense, and the All-C-USA back exceeded the century mark for the fifth time this season with 117 yards. The run game also worked wonders for Harris and running back B.J. Daniels, and the two generated 54 and 47 rushing yards, respectively, and both players struck paydirt in the end zone.
“Whatever the defense gives us, we know Sincere can do that each and every game,” Harris said. “And it worked out for us to finally get B.J. in the end zone… And my knees were kind of rusty, so getting out there to run, it was a great feeling.”
Skill position success wasn’t limited to the backfield. UTSA wide receiver Joshua Cephus led all receivers in the game with 63 yards, and the junior snagged both of Harris’ touchdown strikes. His second touchdown served as the featured highlight of the evening, as Cephus made an extended diving grab in the back of the end zone for the Roadrunners’ final points of the night with 4:08 remaining in the third quarter.
“Coach tonight put me in great position to make the plays, especially No. 0 (Frank Harris),” Cephus said. “No. 0 threw great balls all day, and he had an amazing game.”
In a clinic of a defensive performance, UTSA cashed in on a pair of pick sixes. In the first half, outside linebacker Clarence Hicks flew in unblocked on a pass rush and batted the ball high into the air. Inside linebacker Trevor Harmanson sprinted under, corralled it, and flashed the peace sign in the midst of his 40-yard runback. To open the second half, Mayfield jumped a curl route from the cornerback spot to earn an unobstructed 49-yard touchdown. Those touchdowns marked the first two pick sixes of the year for the unit in its most complete performance of 2021.
“We stayed disciplined, we stayed together. We were more physical than them,” Mayfield said. “We just came together and played how we play every day in practice in the game.”
Rice’s offense displayed considerable progress right before its bye week, but the Owls reverted to square one against the C-USA’s lone unbeaten squad. The Owls only crossed midfield once, and that possession traversed only as far as the UTSA 47-yard line. Scoring position was never attained as Rice compiled 36 passing yards and 66 rushing yards while sending out the punter 10 times. Third down scenarios especially produced nightmare results for the visitor. UTSA defensive coordinator Jason Rollins drew up a slew of blitzes on third down and the Owls failed to respond to the pressure. Rice ended up successfully converting just 3-of-14 third down attempts.
“We can’t be 3-of-14 on third down,” Bloomgren said. “It starts with being more efficient on first and second down to put yourself in third and reasonable. When we’re 3rd and 11, 3rd and 9, and they’re able to go back there in their 5-across defensive look, there’s not many great plays for that. They were doing a good job of applying pressure to the quarterback in those situations.”
The Owls’ brief run at perfection in league play came to a drastic halt with the shutout defeat. The road doesn’t ease up in the immediate future, however, as Rice heads to Birmingham next Saturday to battle reigning C-USA champion UAB. Before that matchup transpires, Bloomgren understands his program cannot afford to replicate a sliver of the showing at the Alamodome.
“We got out-coached and out-executed. We had too much error in our game and made a lot of mistakes, and we paid dearly for them against a very good football team,” Bloomgren said. “Our fans deserve better and we’re gonna work our butts off to give it to them.”
Meanwhile, UTSA’s quest for perfection takes a transit east of the Texas border, as the Roadrunners are slated to face Louisiana Tech in Week 8. As one of 11 remaining unbeatens in the country, the spotlight on Traylor’s team magnifies. But his players don’t want to see one bite of cheese consumed with an opportunity to tie the program’s single-season wins record.
“Making history means a lot, but again, we can’t eat the cheese,” Cephus said. “We just gotta continue to stay focused, stay on the grind, and go get 8-0.”