It finally happened. It took 12 weeks but it finally happened. The UTSA Roadrunners were handed their first loss of the 2021 season and the team to do it was the North Texas Mean Green.
The loss itself is surprising to be sure, but the manner in which UTSA lost was more shocking. The Roadrunners were dominated in all facets of the game for all four quarters. A team that up until now looked like a team of destiny—in that the Roadrunners always seemed to have the ball roll their way—looked overwhelmed the entire game. North Texas, a team that started the season 1-6, looked like they were heading to the C-USA title game.
Credit to the Mean Green for showing up on Saturday and securing the final win needed to become bowl eligible on the season. UNT took advantage of a mistake-prone UTSA squad and won handily at home. But the Roadrunners did little to help their cause on offense and were unable to stop a surging UNT running game. UTSA was simply beat, and the Roadrunners will need to prepare differently to ensure they do not repeat this performance in the C-USA title game.
The weather played a factor, but...
Blaming the weather for a game’s outcome is an excuse at best but there is little doubt the weather in Denton played a factor. How else can one explain the large number of turnovers?
The forecast called for a miserable, cold, and wet November afternoon and that is exactly what the players and fans were subjected to. The temperature never broke above 55 degrees and the clouds never parted to relieve anyone from the rain. And rain it did. At best the teams played in a light drizzle but for most of the game the players were bombarded with a steady soak of water.
And it impacted both teams’ ball security. UTSA found itself in a 10-0 deficit before the offense even took the field thanks to poor ball security. The Roadrunners fumbled the ball on their first kick-off return and North Texas capitalized with a touchdown. UTSA gifted UNT two additional touchdowns off a second special teams' turnover—a muffed punt—and a Frank Harris fumble. All within the first half of play. Those three were just the takeaways too; the Roadrunners were able to recover a few fumbles as well. It seemed like the ball was just too slippery to secure consistently.
But ball security also plagued the Mean Green. In the second half UNT gave up the ball twice on the ground during back-to-back drives and there were, like UTSA, a few times when North Texas recovered their own fumbles. Basically, the stat sheet said there were five turnovers but that number does not accurately reflect the difficulty both teams had with securing the football.
North Texas ran all over UTSA, and...
Last year against UNT UTSA broke a program record for total yards in a game, and Sincere McCormick ran for a personal best 200+ yards. The Mean Green paid it back to the tune of 456 total yards, 340 of which were earned running the ball.
UTSA’s defense could simply not stop UNT’s running game. The Mean Green had two running backs break over 100 yards rushing during the game. Ikaika Ragsdale gained 146 yards on 20 carries—an elite 7.3-yard average—while Deandre Torrey gained 108 yards on 23 carries. The two also combined for five of UNT’s six touchdowns. UTSA’s run defense simply collapsed, an unusual event given how dominant the run defense has usually been all season.
UTSA was undone by their own mistakes.
Whether it was a sluggish offense, a vulnerable defense, or a poor special teams play, the Roadrunners beat themselves just as much as North Texas did. UTSA did not play the type of game the Roadrunners have played all season and it cost them the elusive perfect record.
It started with the first drive. The defense gave up 22 yards on the ground on the first play and let North Texas march downfield into the red zone. They held UNT to field goal but immediately gave the Mean Green possession on the ensuing kickoff with a fumble on the return. UNT would score and bury the Roadrunners into a 10-0 hole early in the game.
No matter what they did UTSA could simply not swing momentum back into their favor. UTSA would cut the lead on a field goal in the first quarter but immediately gave the ball back to North Texas on another special teams fumble to give North Texas a two-touchdown lead. And during the second quarter UTSA cut the lead to four before spotting UNT another 14 points, 7 of which coming off of Harris’s fumble. By the time the half ended the score was North Texas 31, UTSA 13. This time, no adjustment could make up for UTSA’s deficit in the second half. UTSA went 3-and-out on their first possession of the second half and then gave up another touchdown on North Texas’s next possession.
Here’s a critical stat to show how lopsided the offensive and defensive showing by the two teams.
When the game ended both teams had thirteen third down attempts. UTSA converted just two. Conversely, UNT converted seven. UTSA’s offense could not stay on the field to keep up with UNT’s scoring and UTSA’s defense could not stop UNT’s offense from scoring to give the offense much of a chance to keep the game close.
The stats aside it was clear that UTSA was just not playing their best football from just watching the Roadrunners play. The defense missed tackles or allowed long 3rd-down conversions. The offense could not open holes for the running game and Harris missed open receivers. Overall, the team looked less physical, less motivated, and less energetic than the Mean Green. This is not to say the players did not want to play or did not come prepared. It just means that UNT outplayed the Roadrunners by hustling more than them.
North Texas just seemed to want it more, and a road game in cold weather was something the Roadrunners could not overcome.
UTSA plays Western Kentucky for the CUSA title in San Antonio on December 3rd.
Both teams await their bowl invites and will see who they draw for the postseason.