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UTSA & Middle Tennessee Face Off In First Conference Showdown

UTSA looks to start 1-0 in conference play, and 3-0 overall, when it welcomes Middle Tennessee to the Alamodome.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Middle Tennessee at UTSA Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Date: Saturday, September 18, 2021

Time: 5:00 PM CT, 6:00 PM ET

Location: Alamodome; San Antonio, Texas

TV: ESPN+

Radio: Ticket 760 AM

Teams/Series: UTSA (2-0), Conference USA. Last game: win over Lamar 54-0

Middle Tennessee (1-1), Conference USA. Last game: loss to No. 19 Virginia Tech 35-14

Series: UTSA leads the series (2-1)


Preview

It’s a repeat of 2020. UTSA welcomes conference rival Middle Tennessee to the Alamodome for its third game of the season. It will also be UTSA’s Military Appreciation Game. The Roadrunners prevailed 37-35 last year and will be looking to start 3-0 for a second consecutive year, while the Blue Raiders will undoubtedly be looking to avenge last year’s loss.

This is the first conference game of the season for both UTSA and MTSU and it should be a great test for both teams. For UTSA, it will serve as an opportunity to gauge how well the team can sustain its early season success. For MTSU, the game will reveal how well the team matches up against similar talent. Whichever team prevails will have a lot to be excited for going into the rest of their season.

UTSA Roadrunners Outlook

UTSA dominated Lamar last week. The Roadrunners racked up 427 yards of offense, forced 2 turnovers, and shut down Lamar’s offense completely for UTSA’s first-ever shut out. It was another 400+ yard game and it gave the Roadrunners time to rest their starters and play their reserves. Running back Sincere McCormick found the end zone and broke UTSA’s rushing TD record. And quarterback Frank Harris played a clean game without giving up a turnover.

A similar game will be needed to dispatch the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee comes to San Antonio with something to prove, having played Virginia Tech well on the road and looking to improve on its success.

UTSA may have won last year but the box score reveals that the win was anything but easy. Middle Tennessee outgained UTSA in every statistical category, gaining 563 yards to UTSA’s 391, gaining 27 first downs to UTSA’s 16, and winning the time of possession 35:40 to UTSA’s 24:40. UTSA could simply not stop Middle Tennessee’s offense from carving them up through the air and on the ground. Fortunately, the Roadrunners capitalized on two turnovers and survived Middle Tennessee’s final drive to tie the game. Unfortunately, the Roadrunners lost Frank Harris to injury in the game, and he had to sit out for a portion of the season.

To avoid a repeat performance the Roadrunners will have to play harder on defense, particularly in the secondary. UTSA has yet to record an interception this season and considering how effectively Middle Tennessee passed the ball last year an interception would go a long way to winning the game this year. Look to star safety Rashad Wisdom for the turnovers but keep an eye out for cornerback Tariq Woolen to shut down Middle Tennessee’s best receivers. Woolen has received considerable praise by the staff and has strong NFL appeal. This would be a great game for Woolen to show off those skills and raise his draft stock.

The offense will need to play a clean game as well to keep the pressure on Middle Tennessee’s defense. As always, expect running back Sincere McCormick to be the focal point of the offense. But if Harris and wide receiver Zakhari Franklin can continue to connect like they did against Illinois then UTSA’s offense will be able to stretch the field to give McCormick better running opportunities. Keeping the offense from stalling will be important and a good passing attack will be key to doing just that.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Outlook

The Blue Raiders went 3-6 overall and 2-4 in conference play in 2020. Last week they played a tight game for the first half against 19th ranked Virginia Tech before VT blew the game open. There is no doubt the team is talented, and Head Coach Rick Stockstill will be trying to bring Middle Tennessee back into C-USA contention in the East Division. Considering how close Middle Tennessee came to beating UTSA in 2020, it is not hard to imagine that the team knows it can pull the upset this year.

Middle Tennessee is most dangerous with its passing attack. Quarterback Bailey Hockman leads the Blue Raiders and can score easily if UTSA is not careful. He completed 19 of 32 passes for 207 yards against Virginia Tech and racked up another 215 yards the week prior when he played FCS Monmouth University. The team’s rushing attack is less potent, so expect Middle Tennessee to pass the ball in volumes against UTSA.

Defensively, Middle Tennessee can contain UTSA’s offense through the air, but its run defense is a little more suspect. Against Virginia Tech, the Blue Raiders gave up 224 yards on the ground, which accounted for more than half of Virginia Tech’s offense. But if Middle Tennessee can slow Harris down through the air, then the run defense might improve enough to contain McCormick and stymie UTSA’s offense.

For the Blue Raiders, the key to pulling off the upset will be to exploit UTSA through the air. They have the talent to do so, and while UTSA’s offense has been humming along, a good defensive game as well would be all Middle Tennessee needs to come out of San Antonio with the win.

Prediction

Vegas has the O/U for this game at 59.5 and it is not hard to see why. UTSA has put up a lot of points this season and Middle Tennessee can do the same. The teams combined for 72 points last year and nearly all the tools are there to repeat that performance.

I expect the game to stay within one score unless UTSA’s defense can come up with turnovers. McCormick will have a prime opportunity to add to his gaudy career stats against a porous Middle Tennessee run defense. But Middle Tennessee’s passing offense makes this team dangerous and I would expect the Blue Raiders to have enough firepower to match UTSA blow for blow. It will probably come down to turnovers and depth, two factors that are in UTSA’s favor.

Final Score: UTSA 41, Middle Tennessee 35