Date: Saturday, October 23, 2021
Time: 6:00 PM (CT)
Location: Joe Aillet Stadium; Ruston, Louisiana
Radio: KXKZ 107.5 FM (La Tech); Ticket 760 AM (UTSA)
Providers: (TV) Stadium 24/7, Sling TV, YouTube TV, Fubo TV
(Radio) TuneIn (La Tech); iHeartRadio (UTSA)
UTSA (7-0), Conference USA (3-0). Last game: win over Rice 45-0
La Tech (2-4), Conference USA (1-1). Last game: loss to UTEP 19-3
La Tech leads the series 7-2
The UTSA Roadrunners will take the field on Saturday as the 24th ranked team in college football. In every prediction, I had contemplated before the season began I did not once think that I would write that sentence. I wrote in my season preview that UTSA had many “firsts” for the program that it could accomplish this season and conspicuously absent was any mention of being nationally ranked. In other words, UTSA has accomplished a major program-defining “first”, yet they still have the same goals to check off by the end of the year—the first championship and the first bowl win just to name a few. It is simply remarkable what head coach Jeff Traylor has done in his short tenure in San Antonio.
UTSA comes into this game a perfect 7-0 with a chance to go 8-0 before a much-needed bye week. On paper, the matchup appears favorable for the Roadrunners. On offense, UTSA averages 38 points per game and 446 yards per game—split between 266 yards through the air and 180 yards on the ground. On defense, they allow on average 324 yards per game and give up under 20 points per game. Comparatively, La Tech—who is 2-4 on the season—averages 28 points per game and 391 total yards of offense while giving up 31 points per game and 458 total yards. Top-to-bottom, UTSA is the better team.
Even so, this game will likely be competitive and ripe for an upset if the Roadrunners come out listless. The line currently sits at -6 for UTSA despite the disparate records. Since the first game was played the programs have brought a level of intensity rarely seen outside of formal rivalries. La Tech owns a commanding 7-2 series lead and lost last year 27-26, giving up the lead in the final minutes of the game. Moreover, UTSA has never won in Ruston and the closest UTSA has ever come to winning on the road was a 20-27 contest back in 2014. There is a reason I called La Tech the “Sword of Damocles” over UTSA’s football history in my preview.
While La Tech doesn’t look as dominant as they have in recent years, their on-field play this season reveals just how dangerous the Bulldogs can still be in any given week. They nearly upset SEC opponent Mississippi State on the road, lost at home to AAC opponent SMU on a last-second hail mary, and lost by a touchdown to 23rd ranked North Carolina State. Instead of an 0-3 record against these teams, La Tech could just as easily have been 2-1 and right in the thick of the C-USA western conference race.
But the Bulldogs are also vulnerable this year. Last week they lost on the road to the UTEP Miners 19-3. It was the first loss to UTEP that La Tech has suffered since head coach Skip Holtz took over the program and prior to this loss La Tech had an 8-game winning streak over the Miners. La Tech also nearly gave up a 24-point lead to North Texas, a team that is 1-5 on the season. Basically, La Tech has simultaneously shined and faded in an unusually inconsistent season for the Bulldogs.
Expect both UTSA and La Tech to come out with some fire because both teams have something to play for. It is LA Tech’s homecoming weekend and an upset win against a ranked UTSA team would be exactly what the Bulldogs need to right their season. Conversely, the Roadrunners need to (1) validate their national ranking, and (2) exorcise their winless streak in Ruston.
To win, UTSA needs to keep the momentum they have had all season. It starts with quarterback Frank Harris. Last year the Roadrunners relied heavily on running back Sincere McCormick, but it has been Harris that has elevated the program to new heights. He is in the midst of a career year and is likely to have the best season that any quarterback has ever had in UTSA’s history. Last year Harris threw 1630 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions by the end of the season. At the midpoint of this season, Harris has already thrown for 1600 yards, 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He has already eclipsed his best season and still has five games left to add to his stats. It is hard to believe UTSA would be undefeated without Harris’s improved level of play.
The biggest benefit to Harris’s improved playmaking is that it has turned UTSA into a true dual-threat offensive attack through the air and on the ground. McCormick was the biggest playmaker UTSA had last year, and he was largely responsible for the Roadrunners beating La Tech in last year’s game. Defenses are now more focused on stopping McCormick, but because Harris has been so good opposing defenses have to account for both McCormick and Harris. As a consequence, McCormick is getting the same opportunities to dominate the running game, which he did against Rice last week. La Tech may be forced to pick its poison on which offensive attack to focus on, so it will be up to McCormick and Harris to play to their potential, especially if the Bulldogs’ defense successfully stops one of UTSA’s dual-threat attacks.
For La Tech, the key will be minimizing turnovers and forcing UTSA to commit turnovers. Quarterback Austin Kendall can keep up with Harris and UTSA’s passing attack—the Bulldogs average 267 yards through the air, one yard more than UTSA—and Kendall has thrown for over 1300 yards and 10 touchdowns. But Kendall has also thrown for 8 interceptions and the Bulldogs are only +2 in turnover ratio while UTSA is +7. La Tech will need to stymie UTSA’s offense and prevent the Roadrunners from scoring to have a shot at pulling the upset. Even more importantly, La Tech’s defense will need to avoid any collapse at the end of the game, which it did against Mississippi State and SMU, and even did last season against UTSA. Turnovers will be the key to having both of those matters go the Bulldogs’ way.
Like with WKU, I predicted UTSA to lose this game at the start of the season. And like WKU again, I am changing my prediction for this game. The reasons for a loss are still there: La Tech remains a competitive team despite their record and will be playing in front of a homecoming crowd, and UTSA has never won in Ruston. But unlike prior years, coach Traylor has kept this team focused for road games. Indeed, some of UTSA’s best wins this season have come on the road, and I have no reason to doubt Traylor will have the Roadrunners prepared to face La Tech in Ruston.
Thus, this game will probably come down to pure physical play. I expect the play to be intense, and so far UTSA has demonstrated it can meet any team blow-for-blow, whether it be through the air (WKU), on the ground (Memphis), or on defense (Lamar, Rice). La Tech has, unfortunately, had some defensive collapses late in games and struggled offensively against lower competition. Through four full quarters, the more complete team often wins.
Final Score: UTSA 38, LA Tech 20