Orange is a ubiquitous color in Texas. Go north to the plains, south to the valley, west to the mountains, east to the forests, or stay central to the hills and you will find orange across the landscape, whether it be in nature or on the shirt of a Texas Longhorn fan.
But the Texas burnt orange has been dulled this college football season with the flagship UT system school struggling in a down year for the Longhorns. You'd be forgiven for believing that orange might be harder to come by after Texas lost again on Saturday evening. If so, you’d also be surprised when, not even an hour later, a more vibrant and striking hue of orange resurged on national television.
Last night, the college football world was treated with a highly-anticipated UT System rivalry between the UTSA Roadrunners and UTEP Miners in the Sun Bowl where orange covered the field and dotted the crowd. The two teams were a combined 14-2 for the season, bowl eligible, boasted elite defenses, and garnered national praise for the turnaround both programs have undergone in just a few short years.
For UTSA, there was considerable talk surrounding their resume as a top-25 program in the nation. Last week the Roadrunners were ranked 16th by the AP Poll, 18th in the Coaches Poll, but were left out entirely in the College Football Playoff rankings. Considerable debate raged amongst football fans as to whether UTSA deserved to be ranked or not.
Whatever skepticism and opposition remained on that issue before UTSA took the field should be quashed after UTSA’s dominating performance. The Roadrunners scored on every possession they had, going 8 of 8 with no turnovers or punts. On the same day that saw 7 upset wins by unranked teams, the Roadrunners cruised to a win in which the outcome was never in doubt.
It started with the very first drive. The Roadrunners came into El Paso with the intensity of a team snubbed by the national press and scored in just 17 seconds. The Miners had the second-best run defense in the conference, but couldn’t stop all-conference running back Sincere McCormick from scoring on just his first touch of the game. On UTSA’s second play from scrimmage, McCormick burst through the Miners’ defense for a 75-yard touchdown run.
The Miners struggled to respond for much of the first quarter. UTEP’s first two drives were three-and-outs, which gave UTSA plenty of time to extend its lead. UTSA added to their lead with two Hunter Duplessis field goals—one at 51-yards, his longest of this season—and the score was 13-0 with 7 minutes remaining. UTEP quarterback Gavin Hardison was 0-4 and the Miners had amassed a mere 12 yards (5 on a UTSA penalty) to UTSA’s 144 yards.
UTEP’s third drive was much more promising. Running back Ronald Awatt broke off a 32-yard run and Hardison connected with wide receiver Tyrin Smith for a 35-yard touchdown pass on broken coverage by UTSA. But a missed PAT left the score at 13-6. It was the closest UTEP would get to catching UTSA and the Roadrunners would tack on another 3 points on a 33-yard field goal to end the quarter.
UTSA added two more touchdowns in the second quarter: a one-yard quarterback run by Frank Harris and a seven-yard pass to wide receiver Zakhari Franklin. Meanwhile, the Miners would add a 50-yard field goal to end the half but left another three points off the board when kicker Gavin Baechle missed a 37-yard attempt. The Roadrunners took a 30-9 lead into halftime and it was clear that they were in firm control of the game.
UTEP mustered a strong opening drive to start the second half to cut into UTSA’s lead and hopefully swing momentum back to the Miners’ side. They marched downfield behind Awatt and wide receiver Jacob Cowing, getting to the UTSA seven yard line, before UTSA’s defense tightened up and forced the Miners to a 4th down. An incomplete pass to Cowing kept the Miners from scoring and all but killed the momentum UTEP had built up on the drive. The defensive stop was another goal-line stand in UTSA’s season, demonstrating why UTSA is ranked 1st in C-USA in points allowed.
The teams then traded touchdowns the rest of the game. Harris found Franklin for another seven-yard score and added a second touchdown rush for three yards. Hardison also connected with Smith for a second touchdown pass—this one for 42 yards to Smith on an impressive catch-and-run, then and found wide receiver Justin Garrett for seven yards in the end zone.
Fast forward a bit, and UTSA took the final possession and kneeled down to end the game. Final score: UTSA 44, UTEP 23.
The final stats reveal just how dominant UTSA was in this game. The Roadrunners amassed 561 total yards of offense—split nearly even passing the ball (286 yards) and running the ball (275 yards)—to UTEP’s 374 total yards and dominated time of possession at 33:41 to UTEP’s 26:19. Neither team committed a turnover, which prevented UTEP from taking any advantage to slow down UTSA’s offense. Simply put, the game was a fairly straight-forward affair with the better offensive team amassing the points needed to win.
The win marks UTSA’s first-ever 9-0 start and first-ever nine-win season. The last time the Roadrunners were this good on record was in 2012 when the team went 8-4, but were denied a bowl invitation. It is safe to say the Roadrunners will not be denied a bowl this season.
For UTSA, Sincere McCormick also broke 1,000 yards rushing for the season with his performance, rushing the ball 21 times for 169 yards and a touchdown. Zakhari Franklin added another 100-yard game, catching the ball for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns.
For UTEP, Jacob Cowing also added another 100-yard game to his season, catching the ball for 112 yards but failing to score. He also suffered an unfortunate forearm injury in the 3rd quarter that kept him out for the rest of the game. Hopefully this injury isn’t too serious because Cowing has been UTEP’s best wide-receiver threat all season.
The CFP Poll is released on Tuesday night. Everyone will be watching to see if UTSA is left out again in the top-25 rankings but given the outcome of this game it is even harder to see how the CFP can justify doing so.
UTSA, now 9-0, awaits with earnest to see where they rank in the AP Poll and Coaches Poll, and if they will be ranked in the CFP Poll. The team is healthy and is playing their best football of the season. An undefeated record is still very much in play with only three games remaining.
UTSA faces Southern Miss at home on Saturday, November 13 at 2:30 PM CT. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+
UTEP is now 6-3 on the season and can still work to improve their bowl selection with the remaining games on their schedule. UTEP has lost 2 straight and will need to win another game or two to ensure they are not overlooked. The Miners are capable of doing so behind their defense.
UTEP faces North Texas on the road on Saturday, November 13 at 3:00 PM CT. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+