When it comes to attaining ‘firsts’ in the 2021 college football season, not too many teams accomplished more than UTSA. First conference championship. First double-digit win season. First AP Poll ranking. First College Football Playoff ranking.
As the Roadrunners prepare for Mountain West runner-up San Diego State, one vital ‘first’ remains for Jeff Traylor’s program — first bowl win.
UTSA won’t even need to leave its home state for its postseason endeavor. The Roadrunners travel several hours north to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to test its mettle in the Frisco Bowl, marking the program’s third postseason appearance since joining the FBS ranks in 2012.
UTSA is loaded with talent across the board. The Roadrunners ranked first in the C-USA with 11 all-conference selections, including the C-USA Championship Game MVP — running back Sincere McCormick. However, McCormick won’t be suited up for action Tuesday night. The nation’s sixth leading rusher already wrote the final chapter in his college football career with a 204-yard, 3-touchdown performance to upend WKU for the conference title. McCormick declared for the NFL Draft and although not participating on the gridiron, the First Team All-C-USA selection will be present in Frisco for bowl festivities.
Thus, UTSA will turn to the next man up on the depth chart. Many colleges cycle through several lead halfbacks per year, but McCormick’s impressive durability as a workhorse back made him a staple in the majority of formations over the past three seasons. The lack of McCormick quickly swung the betting spreads. Per DraftKings, UTSA opened as 2.5-point favorites, but the line flipped and now San Diego State is pegged as a 2.5-point favorite*. The point total of 49.5 has been largely unaffected by the 2020 All-American’s absence, however.
The Roadrunners’ second most productive halfback fielded less than six times the carries McCormick received this year. That halfback is senior Brenden Brady, who is expected to field the bulk of rushing attempts in the Frisco Bowl. Brady was pivotal in delivering UTSA a win at Illinois in the season opener, exploding for 67 yards and two touchdowns in a 37-30 victory. The Cibolo, TX native missed the majority of October and November, but he made a triumphant return to the field in the regular season finale at North Texas, where he posted a season-high 71 rushing yards.
Brady is no stranger to a heavy workload. The halfback handled 24 rushing attempts in a 2020 game vs. UTEP, and he cashed those opportunities in for a career-high 124 yards. The halfback also enjoyed several 80-yard games in his first two years on campus, and when present on the field, he elevates the passing game as a frequent threat on halfback screens.
The only other running back on the roster with at least 10 rushes this season is another tenured veteran in B.J. Daniels. The senior took his first snaps in 2017 and saw considerable production the following year. In UTSA’s finest season to date, Daniels attained 161 yards on 34 carries, witnessing a spike in usage toward the end of October and dawn of November — earning eight rushing reps in wins over Louisiana Tech and UTEP.
UTSA is in the upper echelon of the FBS in favoring the run, as only 21 teams ground it more often than the Roadrunners’ 40.8 times per game. But with or without McCormick, heavy reliance on the rushing attack isn’t the optimal strategy for attacking San Diego State.
The Aztecs field one of the nation’s elite run defenses by allowing 77.7 yards per game, checking in at No. 2 in the FBS behind Georgia. In one of San Diego State’s two losses this season, Fresno State was able to muster a 186-yard rusher en route to a 30-20 victory. In the Aztecs’ other slip-up, Utah State averaged a mere 2.3 yards per carry and turned to the passing game to slide past the San Diego State defense. But there was one underlying theme in both showings — the Bulldogs and Aggies each enjoyed prolific 300-yard passing performances in their respective wins.
Thus, UTSA will rely on a strong showing from quarterback Frank Harris as the primary source of offense. Harris’ usage as a gunslinger in the offense varies from game to game. The Roadrunners have blown out opponents in contests which required Harris to throw fewer than 20 times. In contrast to such occurrences, the team needed every yard of his 349 and 323-yard performances against WKU and UAB in order to upend the second and third best teams in the C-USA.
Members of San Diego State’s front seven have done a phenomenal job in contain this year, so mobile quarterbacks haven’t experienced the best rushing outputs. Harris turned up the dial on this element of his game as of recent, attaining 97 and 81 rushing yards in UTSA’s two latest outings. It is well documented that his abilities to attack defenses extend well beyond the pocket.
But the formula to flying past the Aztecs’ 14th ranked yards per game defense likely involves a barrage through the air, similar to the recipe Utah State concocted in the Mountain West Championship. While McCormick will be sidelined in Frisco, Harris still has the luxury of his formidable receiving trio of Zakhari Franklin, Joshua Cephus, and De’Corian Clark. Franklin, the program’s all-time leading receiver, will prove to be a major factor in leading the skill position players Tuesday. The junior assembled four games of 110 receiving yards this season and almost averaged one touchdown per appearance — finding the end zone 11 times in 12 outings.
UTSA’s offense contains a vast array of talent across the board and the Roadrunners. Even with McCormick out of the lineup, Traylor’s 12th ranked scoring offense will have plenty of tools to work with as the program vies for its first bowl win in history.
* Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.