Another week and another offensive milestone for the UTSA Roadrunners (3-2). Just six days after setting the program record for passing yards in a game, quarterback Frank Harris again broke the record, passing for 414 yards on 27 competitions, and scored four times in Friday’s win over the MTSU Blue Raiders (3-2). But the Blue Raiders defense came alive in the second half and picked off Harris three consecutive times to keep the game within one score until the end.
UTSA walked out of Murfreesboro with a 45-30 win to start 1-0 in conference play and while MTSU starts their conference season 0-1 these two teams could very well meet again. It’s not out of the question that MTSU reaches the C-USA championship game.
If that happens, MTSU will need a new game plan to stop UTSA’s offense. Harris came out red hot and nearly went supernova. In just the first half Harris eclipsed 300 yards passing and scored three times: two passing touchdowns to wide receiver Zakhari Franklin and a 5-yard rushing touchdown. The middle of the field was particularly vulnerable to UTSA’s passing attack as the wide receivers feasted all game on the slant routes for large gains or scores.
UTSA’s lead then ballooned to 38-20 at the start of the third quarter when Harris marched the Roadrunners downfield and scored another rushing touchdown, where even a good defensive stop could not stop Harris from punching in a one-yard score.
"[Frank Harris] told us grew up loving Michael Vick and we're seeing some of that right now in this game. Unbelievable, dual threat QB for UTSA."— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) October 1, 2022
—@DaveRyno12 on @UTSAFTBL QB @thefrankharris pic.twitter.com/n79Hp2xqTe
So why the closer score at the end of the game? Credit MTSU’s passing defense. Having forced three turnovers against No. 25 Miami the week before, the Blue Raiders forced another three turnovers on three consecutive drives, picking off Harris at their own 2-yard line, 15-yard line, and returning a pick for a touchdown. It was the second pick-six in as many games for MTSU and the touchdown brought the game back to a one-score possession with over 10 minutes left in the game.
The other two interceptions were not flukes either. Cornerback DeCorian Patterson made two athletic plays, first reading and jumping in front of Harris’s pass, and then beating out Franklin on a 50/50 sideline pass. Patterson leads CUSA with 4 interceptions on the year and is tied for first in the country.
Offensively, Chase Cunnigham kept UTSA’s defense on their heels all game. Cunningham only threw one touchdown, but he passed for 368 yards and constantly evaded tackles in the backfield. He was just as mobile as Harris and often extended drives with short passes just as his protection collapsed. He also distributed the ball well, connecting with wide receivers Jaylin Lane 10 times for 179 yards, Izaiah Gathings nine times for 97 yards, and Yusuf Ali four times for 40 yards and a touchdown.
But ultimately it wasn’t enough. After a lackluster running performance last week, the Roadrunners were able to amass 167 yards on the ground and iced the game in the 4th quarter. Senior running back Brendan Brady ran 19 times for 98 yards and a touchdown—the score coming on a 25-yard run in the 4th quarter—while Trelon Smith, who returned after missing two games, added 31 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
Additionally, wide receiver De’Corian “JT” Clark caught eight passes for 139 yards while Joshua Cephus caught seven passes for 91 yards. Combined, UTSA’s elite wide receiver trio accounted for 328 of the 423 total passing yards for UTSA’s offense. And as a team the Roadrunners converted 10 of 14 third down attempts after only converting one of eight attempts against Texas Southern. Going forward, if UTSA’s offense continues to click on this level the Roadrunners will have a solid chance at repeating as conference champions.
For MTSU, the Blue Raiders will need to regroup if they want a rematch against UTSA. The defense kept UTSA from the blowout and against the rest of CUSA that defense can keep in, if not outright win, MTSU’s remaining games.
UTSA vs WKU in San Antonio on Saturday, October 8 @ 5:00 PM CT.
MTSU @ UAB in Birmingham on Saturday, October 8 @ 2:30 PM CT.