The UTSA Roadrunners (7-2, 5-0 CUSA) won their first road game in Birmingham and all but guaranteed their appearance in the conference championship.
Meanwhile, the UAB Blazers (4-5, 2-4 CUSA) need to win 2 of their next 3 games to become bowl eligible. It might be a tall order because one of those remaining games will be against No. 10 LSU.
That is the result of UTSA’s 44-28 2OT win on Saturday. The game was a near-even betting spread with Vegas, and the game played out accordingly. The Roadrunners remained in control for most of the game, but the Blazers refused to fold and engineered a 14-point comeback in the 4th quarter to force overtime. In the end, UTSA’s defense outlasted UAB’s offense, and the Roadrunners solidified their hold atop the C-USA standings.
Here are five additional takeaways from the game.
UTSA Continues to Dominate One Possession Games
Since Jeff Traylor took over as head coach in 2020 the Roadrunners boasted an absurd 16-6 record in one possession games. That record is now 17-6 with Saturday’s win.
Part of it stems from UTSA’s ability to come back in the final seconds, as evidenced by Frank Harris’s final drive against North Texas. But some of it is a result of UTSA’s ability to outlast their opponents even when the defense begins to falter, in a bend-don’t-break mentality.
UTSA won on Saturday because of the latter. The Roadrunners had a 14-point lead with roughly 8 minutes left in the game, but the Blazers were able to score twice to send the game to overtime. The defense gave up over 550 total yards and allowed running back Dewayne McBride to amass 141 yards on just 19 carries, good for 7.4 yards per attempt.
Even so, the defense was able to shut down UAB in 2OT to seal the win. They sacked quarterback Jacob Zeno on third down and forced a long fourth-down throw to wide receiver Trea Shropshire that fell short. Against most teams a defense that loses momentum in regulation does not recover in overtime. Yet UTSA was able to once again do just enough to take victory where other teams often fall short.
Whatever the reason is for UTSA’s close game success, there is little denying that the Roadrunners just know how to win when the game is on the line. It seems last year’s success in this area was not just a fluke.
Dewayne McBride is a Generational Talent
The word that best describes junior UAB running back Dewayne McBride is sensational. Since he stepped on campus McBride has been dominant and near unstoppable whenever he has possession of the ball. In his three seasons with the Blazers McBride has averaged over 6.5 yards per carry and is currently averaging 7 yards per carry in 2022.
He showed once again that there is no other running back in the conference that can match his talent.
The Roadrunners last faced a North Texas squad known for running the ball. In fact, the two weeks prior UNT had rushed for 300 and 450 yards, respectively. UTSA held that running attack to just 22 yards on 21 carries.
Against McBride, however, there was little the Roadrunners could do to stop his production. McBride ran 19 times for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns. That stat alone is impressive enough. But McBride also broke off a 68-yard rushing touchdown and a 26-yard scramble. The Roadrunners did a solid job overall limiting McBride, but the reality was that there was only so much UTSA could do before McBride broke off a long run or converted a 3rd-and short.
Do not be surprised to see McBride play on Sundays.
Injuries Continue to Haunt UTSA
There are three truths about this year’s UTSA Roadrunners: (1) quarterback Frank Harris is exceptional and arguably the biggest reason UTSA leads the conference; (2) the team knows how to make the offensive or defensive play when it matters, and; (3) injuries have decimated the Roadrunners all year.
UTSA can add wide receiver DeCorian “JT” Clark to the injury list. Clark was tackled coming back to a pass, fell awkwardly on his leg, and had to be carted off the field. The injury is unknown it appears to be season ending; Clark could not put any weight on his leg and did not return to the game.
Without Clark, UTSA loses its best redzone scoring threat and one of the major three in UTSA’s potent wide receiver trio. Somehow, the Roadrunners continue to win despite their injuries, but losing Clark will undoubtedly be felt by all. If Clark cannot return this season, then UTSA will again have to adjust on offense to compensate.
Jacob Zeno Continues to Improve
Transfer quarterback Jacob Zeno played his third straight game in place of Dylan Hopkins. He has improved in every game, with Saturday being his best yet as a Blazer.
Zeno ended the night with 332 yards passing and 37 yards rushing, 3 touchdowns (2 passing and 1 rushing), and 1 interception. He also engineered the game-tying touchdown drive, made all the more impressive by the fact it was done with only 1:15 remaining and no timeouts. He found Shropshire for a 38-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds remaining and looked comfortable throughout the drive.
UAB will need Zeno to continue improving if the Blazers hope the be bowl eligible. They are 0-3 since he took over but showed they were capable to win against though opponents. Unfortunately, it may be too little, too late as the Blazers must win of their final three games.
Both Teams Should be Fine in the AAC
UTSA and UAB are both leaving for the AAC next year and quantifying how that adjustment will impact the teams is difficult. Transition of any kind is disruptive, and programs often struggle for the first few years.
Even so, there is little doubt that UTSA and UAB have the talent at least to compete in the new conference. Both teams have recruited well and have a cache of upperclassmen that, if they stay, should be nearly as productive. And both teams showed a level of discipline in tight situations that should serve them well against tougher competition in general.
So long as these programs continue to recruit and train elite talent, they should be fine in the AAC.