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No. 23 UTSA Survives Scare by Southern Miss, Wins 27-17

The Roadrunners remain unbeaten, but it took some last-minute defensive heroics to defeat the Golden Eagles

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at Texas-San Antonio Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The line was -32.5 for the No. 23 UTSA Roadrunners. Southern Miss was decimated by injuries, playing a freshman at quarterback, and had yet to win a conference game. No one gave the Golden Eagles a chance.

Its fitting, then, that Southern Miss threatened to upset UTSA well into the fourth quarter. The Roadrunners eventually prevailed 27-17 but the final score was in no way indicative of how close the contest was all day. Southern Miss took a 7-3 lead near the start of the second quarter and UTSA wouldn’t retake the lead until 4:39 left in game. Even then, the Roadrunners’ lead was only 3 points, leaving the Golden Eagles with plenty of opportunities to win at the end.

UTSA’s defense would deny Southern Miss repeatedly during those final four minutes but prior to that, the outcome was very much in question.

This game was weird from the start. Southern Miss trotted out running back Frank Gore Jr. as the team’s quarterback. No one, absolutely no one, predicted this personnel change. It caught everyone off guard, including UTSA.

The Roadrunners were dismal on offense. When the 1st quarter ended, the score was 0-0, and when the first half ended, the score was 10-10. UTSA held a 3-0 lead initially, but soon gave it away. This offense had scored 40+ points in their previous four games, but against Southern Miss the Roadrunners could not pick up any momentum.

On the Roadrunners’ first drive, Frank Harris, who has been on the money all season, underthrew a receiver and was picked off for just the fourth time this season. He played an uncharacteristically poor game. His final stats were fine—227 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions—but Harris often missed open receivers or led his receiver out-of-bounds. And his two interceptions came on UTSA’s first drive in each quarter, which seemed to break any offensive momentum the team could create.

His second interception was particularly bad. Harris telegraphed a pass to Zakhari Franklin and Southern Miss cornerback Natrone Brooks took an interception back for a touchdown to put the Golden Eagles back in the lead. It was the second pick-six by the Southern Miss defense in as many weeks and was a key reason behind game’s close score. But it wasn’t the only reason.

Running back turned quarterback Frank Gore had success moving the ball downfield throughout the first half, both on the ground and, surprisingly, through the air. He threw two perfect passes: one that placed Southern Miss at the UTSA five-yard line, and one that would have been a touchdown had the receiver not dropped the ball. And he did most of the damage with his legs on scramble plays, running for multiple 1st downs despite facing second-and-long and third-and-long. Gore frequently broke tackles and displayed tremendous speed to break through holes in UTSA’s defensive line. He finished the night with 20 carries for 123 yards and a touchdown. His stats would have been higher, and the Golden Eagles could likely have won the game, had Gore not suffered a leg injury. He had to leave near the end of the third quarter and what little offense Southern Miss had mustered began to falter.

In the end, it was UTSA’s defense that again sealed the win for the Roadrunners. UTSA held a shaky 3-point lead with less than 5 minutes remaining in the game. The defense then delivered 2 turnovers—a fumble recovery and an interception, both in Southern Miss territory—during those final minutes. It was another case of the “bend-don’t-break” defensive mentality that the Roadrunners have carried all season.

The Roadrunners are a perfect 10-0 but they will have to play significantly better on offense if they want to win out the rest for the rest of the season. This game amounted to a standard “trap game”, as UTSA is set to play a 7-3 UAB team next week, so the Roadrunners should perform better. Nevertheless, it is a great reminder that a national ranking does not guarantee success week-to-week, the Roadrunners will have to continue to earn their ranking.

Although the loss was close this game did little to improve Southern Miss’s season. The Golden Eagles are now 1-9 and 0-6 in conference play with two games remaining on the schedule. Frank Gore’s injury further compounds the injury problem that Southern Miss has experienced, and the game plan was so unusual that any success the team had against UTSA will be hard to replicate.

There are a few positives to takeaway. Southern Miss showed it has some quality talent in its younger players. The defensive line stood strong against UTSA’s senior-laden offensive line, generating multiple negative plays and 3-and-outs. And head coach Will Hall showed that he is willing to take chances with the game plan, which should yield positive results by catching teams off guard in future games.

Up next: 11/20

UTSA faces UAB at home @ 2:30 PM (CT)

Southern Miss faces LA Tech on the road @ 7:00 PM (CT)