The Memphis Tigers and UTSA Roadrunners both came into Saturday’s contest undefeated, sporting identical 3-0 records, and boasting quality wins over P5 opponents. The game received considerable national attention, and Vegas oddsmakers tabbed this game at -3 for Memphis, signifying that neither team was particularly favored to win.
It was fitting then that the game would come down to a last second field goal, but no one would have predicted that outcome when compared to the how the game started. In the end, UTSA overcame a massive 21-0 deficit in the first quarter to steal the Liberty Bowl win in what is now, probably, the Roadrunners’ newest “signature win” in program history. UTSA is now on pace with its best start in program history, while Memphis is left to regroup to prepare for conference play.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
The 1st Quarter was an aberration
You’d be forgiven for believing that this game was a blowout in the making after watching the first quarter. Memphis took a 21-0 lead and looked unstoppable while UTSA looked undisciplined and overwhelmed. UTSA’s first offensive possession was disastrous, as a poor snap to quarterback Frank Harris resulted in a fumble recovery and score for Memphis. On Memphis’s second drive the Roadrunners gifted Memphis yards with a clear personal foul by safety Rashad Wisdom and a pass interference call in the endzone. Memphis capitalized and the score was quickly 14-0. Then on Memphis’s third possession, the Tigers converted a 4th down into another score when quarterback Seth Henigan found wide receiver Carl Austin III for a 60-yard touchdown pass. And just like that Memphis was up 21-0 with 6:22 left to play in the 1st quarter.
Memphis would be outscored 31-7 the rest of the game.
This game turned on running the ball
Memphis’s defensive strength was against the run. The Tigers kept their opponents to 100 yards rushing or less coming into this game, with an impressive showing last week by holding Mississippi State to under 50 yards. Meanwhile, UTSA’s primary offensive weapon is all-conference running back Sincere McCormick, who had not seemed as explosive as he was last year in UTSA’s first three games. That changed yesterday, as McCormick ran for 180 yards and scored 3 touchdowns. Even more important though was when McCormick did his damage. Throughout the second half, when Memphis needed a stop, it was McCormick who thwarted that effort. And when UTSA needed to score or move the ball, it was McCormick who got the Roadrunners moving when other efforts stalled.
Conversely, Memphis could not run the ball when it needed to most. That became an even greater problem as UTSA clawed its way back because Memphis really needed to chew up clock. Instead, the Tigers would go three and out or stall at midfield and gave UTSA plenty of time and opportunity to catch up in scoring. Had Memphis been able to get a stronger run game going, UTSA might have simply lost because of the clock.
UTSA is for real
Jeff Traylor is only in his second year, but he has UTSA playing the best football in program history. There were many expectations for this Roadrunner team, and it seems like every one of them has been exceeded 4 games into the season. This game is another feather in the cap. The Roadrunners had not trailed all season coming into this game and then immediately found themselves in a deep 21-0 pit before adjusting and responding the rest of the game to take the lead on a last second field goal. Any other iteration of this team might have imploded; in fact, UTSA had a history of dropping games early and quickly on the road, especially when traveling east. But this team is built different, and Traylor has the Roadrunners poised to play its best season in program history.
UTSA faces off UNLV next Saturday and has a great chance to match its best start in program history at 5-0. Memphis will face off against conference opponent Temple and will need to win if to the Tigers are going to contend for the AAC title.