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Week 6 AAC notebook: Harris returns for UTSA, UAB offense rolls South Florida

Roadrunners and Blazers are among the big winners in Week 6 after dominant offensive showings.

UTSA v Temple Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Midseason is swiftly approaching. Teams are racking up their fifth and sixth data points of the season, while the October air gives off a cooler, crisper feel. Conference contenders and cellar dwellers are separating themselves, and bowl eligibility or ineligibility is becoming a reality for many teams.

Week 6 was an entertaining one in the college football landscape, highlighted by inexplicable chaos. Miami (FL) decided to forego a traditional QB kneel down, fumbled, and wound up losing to Georgia Tech in a truly breathtaking fashion. USC and Arizona kept the insomniacs speechless with a triple-overtime finish featuring countless twists and turns. Oklahoma and Texas kicked off the Saturday with a back-and-forth thriller decided in the final seconds.

But the AAC flew somewhat under the radar in a week with so many jaw-dropping finishes. Five conferences games and one non-conference matchup transpired Saturday, ranging from Philadelphia, PA to Birmingham, AL. Let’s dive into the action:

UTSA 49, Temple 34

UTSA (2-3, 1-0 AAC), Temple (2-4, 0-2 AAC)

UTSA v Temple
UTSA averaged 19.3 points prior to its Week 6 matchup at Temple. With QB Frank Harris back in the lineup, the Roadrunners posted 49 on the Owls.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

After missing two contests with a toe injury, Frank Harris returned at quarterback for UTSA and everything suddenly fell into place. The reigning CUSA MVP looked like the same gunslinger who led the Roadrunners to back-to-back conference titles in a 338-yard, 3-touchdown, turnover-free performance. UTSA entered the contest averaging under 20 points per game, but exploded for its first 30+ point performance since the 2022 CUSA Championship Game.

Harris diced the Temple defense with solid contributions from the receiving trio of Devin McCuin, Tykee Ogle-Kellogg, and Joshua Cephus, who combined for 258 yards and each found the end zone. But the Owls’ offense also saw its best showing of the year thanks to eyebrow-raising numbers from true sophomore E.J. Warner. The quarterback attempted 65 passes and completed 42 for 472 yards and five touchdowns — all without an interception.

But two things made the Roadrunners fly higher than the Owls in the first-ever meeting between the AAC foes. Temple, which hasn’t seen any player attain 50 rushing yards against an FBS program this year, was stifled on the ground and averaged 2.4 yards per carry. UTSA countered with 157 yards in the run game complemented by four rushing touchdowns. The other factor was the turnover battle. Prior to Saturday, UTSA ranked last in the FBS with one takeaway all season. But that script was rewritten as Temple coughed up two fumbles which were cashed in for immediate UTSA touchdowns.

Navy 27, North Texas 24

Navy (2-3, 1-2 AAC), Temple (2-3, 0-1 AAC)

Navy registered its first AAC victory of 2023 thanks to a program record eight sacks, which forced two game-changing fumbles.
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the first matchup between these geographically distant programs since their ludicrous 74-62 shootout in 2007, the scoreboard operators were far less busy. Still, this matchup was a stylistic clash between two high-powered offenses and defenses which struggled to start the 2023 season. It was a back-and-forth affair until the middle of the third quarter, when a critical turnover turned the tide in favor of the Midshipmen. Navy charged into the backfield for its second strip sack of the game, and one play later, Alex Tecza rushed 21 yards for a touchdown to open the lead to 27-17.

As suggested by the pair of strip sacks, Navy absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage and that proved to be the difference. The Midshipmen generated a monstrous 8-sack performance with Clay Crowell leading the charge with two of the eight. Outside of sacks, North Texas moved the ball quite well with 473 yards on the afternoon, fueled by 125 rushing yards by Ayo Adeyi. But the Mean Green defense, which entered the matchup yielding the highest scoring output in the FBS, struggled to counter Navy as well.

Led by Tecza’s 137 yards and two touchdowns, Navy generated 331 yards and three touchdowns in its option-based run game — notching three of its four touchdowns on sustained 75+ drives. After running out of gas against Memphis and South Florida in offensive track meets, Navy finally got the job done against the Mean Green to register its first AAC win of 2023.

UAB 56, South Florida 35

UAB (2-4, 1-1 AAC), South Florida (3-3, 2-1 AAC)

NCAA Football: Alabama-Birmingham at Georgia
UAB QB Jacob Zeno was the ringleader of the 56-point explosion with 353 passing yards and four touchdown strikes.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The annual Children’s Harbor game is one of the greatest traditions in college football. UAB dedicates one home game per year to patients of Children’s Harbor, which is an organization that serves ill children and their families in the Birmingham area. UAB dons special grey and neon green uniforms, and each Blazer plays with a name of a Children’s Harbor patient on the back of their jersey, which is later gifted to the patient.

In the seventh-annual Children’s Harbor game, UAB’s excellence wasn’t limited to off-the-field. The Blazers saw their strongest performance of the year, dominating the Bulls offensively with an efficient 608 yards in a 56-point explosion. Jacob Zeno fired for 353 passing yards and a career-high four touchdown strikes, while Jermaine Brown Jr. thrived out of the backfield with 116 rushing yards and a Week 6-best four rushing touchdowns. Explosive plays were a theme for UAB, as Zeno connected on four passes of 49 yards or greater in the win, averaging over 14 yards per attempt.

Although South Florida managed 35 points guided by the dual-threat abilities of Byrum Brown, UAB created its commanding lead thanks to its defensive presence. The Blazers recorded two first quarter takeaways and forced three first half three-and-outs en route to a 35-14 lead at the break. But UAB continued its offensive barrage after halftime with three more touchdowns by the 13-minute mark of the fourth quarter to upend an improved South Florida team for its first-ever AAC victory.

Florida Atlantic 20, Tulsa 17

Florida Atlantic (2-3, 1-0 AAC), Tulsa (3-3, 1-1 AAC)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 07 Georgia Tech at Miami (FL)
Larry McCammon has been fielding handoffs regularly for FAU since 2019. Saturday featured his highest yardage output with 130 yards, complemented by a pair of touchdowns.
Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In a week full of 300+ yard passing excursions in the AAC, one matchup in Boca Raton presented a more defensive-oriented showdown. Florida Atlantic racked up its first conference victory since joining the AAC after, and it didn’t even require a touchdown in the final three quarters. The Owls forced turnovers on Tulsa’s first two drives of the evening and cashed both in for touchdowns to secure a 14-0 lead.

Larry McCammon was the offensive star for Tom Herman’s team, and the longtime senior managed career-highs in both rushing yards and touchdowns with 130 and two, respectively. McCammon received a nice assist by secondary tailback Kobe Lewis, who attained 87 yards from six carries in the low-scoring victory. It was FAU’s second game of the season starting Daniel Richardson at quarterback — operating without quarterback Casey Thompson due to a season-ending ACL tear in Week 3 at Clemson.

Tulsa won the final three stanzas by a combined score of 17-6 but that wasn’t enough to offset the early offensive miscues. Cardell Williams and Braylon Braxton combined to complete 13-of-28 passes for 182 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions in the wire-to-wire defeat, which transpired just nine days after exploding for 48 points on Temple. The Golden Hurricane sit at .500 in the overall and conference standings after struggling to pile the points in Boca Raton, while Florida Atlantic can claim perfection in the conference standings after its first taste of AAC play.

UConn 38, Rice 31

UConn (1-5, Independent), Rice (3-3, 1-1 AAC)

Rice Quarterback
Rice QB JT Daniels threw for 362 yards and two touchdowns on the UConn defense, but it wasn’t enough for an Owls victory.
Jason Fochtman/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images

UConn exited the AAC after the 2019 season while Rice officially joined the league on July 1. In a non-conference matchup between the ghost of AAC past and the ghost of AAC future, the past claimed victory. At the time of kickoff, UConn was one of three FBS teams marinating in a winless record but the Huskies shed that status after winning the turnover battle 4-0 in Rice Stadium.

Rice’s offense headlined by the star tandem of JT Daniels and Luke McCaffrey came out firing on cylinders for a 14-0 first quarter lead. But rampant fumbling quickly reversed the story of the game. The Owls fumbled on back-to-back possessions — one which went to UConn inside linebacker Jackson Mitchell for a scoop-and-score — to let the Huskies back into the game. From that point forward, Rice’s defense began to unravel and Ta’Quan Roberson finished with an efficient 15-of-19, 215-yard, 2-touchdown performance in the Huskies’ highest-scoring game since October 2019.

The Owls didn’t get a knock in the conference standings, but blowing a 14-point lead against a winless team was a tough blow for a program which hasn’t seen six wins since 2014. Rice, which moved the ball extremely well sans turnovers, gets a week to mull over the loss before returning to AAC play on Thursday, Oct. 19 at Tulsa.

Week superlatives

Biggest surprise: UAB Blazers. The Blazers, which haven’t seen a losing record since the program returned from the infamous hiatus in 2017, desperately needed a sign of life after a 1-4 start. UAB gave Tulane all it could handle in Week 5, but Michael Pratt and the Green Wave proved their championship pedigree by making several clutch plays to put that game away in the fourth quarter. Trent Dilfer’s team showed a mature response to that heartbreaker by posting an offensive clinic against a South Florida team that led the AAC standings. The Blazers demonstrated two-way dominance in the pass and run game with Jacob Zeno and Jermaine Brown Jr. flying past the same Bulls’ defense which overwhelmed Alabama just several weeks prior. By taking down the Bulls by three touchdowns, bowl eligibility instantly flipped from an afterthought to a feasible possibility, especially given the season-ending schedule.

Biggest letdown: Rice Owls. The Owls’ stock was through the roof in Week 2 when they outlasted Houston 43-41 in a double overtime thriller — the only AAC win over a Big 12 program this season. Rice hasn’t been underdogs in its four games since, yet the team fared .500 in those matchups, losing to South Florida and UConn in offensive shootouts. The Huskies loss was particularly frustrating for the Owls because Rice established dominance out of the gate on both sides of the ball to claim a quick, double-digit lead. But the turnover epidemic was fatal. Rice couldn’t secure one takeaway while UConn recovered three fumbles — including a muffed punt — as well as a game-sealing interception. And as a testament to how costly the turnovers were, the three fumble recoveries turned into 21 UConn points. While AAC contention hopes were unaffected, Rice let a home game against an 0-5 opponent slip out of its hands, and that is something the team must overcome with half the season remaining.

Offensive MVP: Frank Harris, QB, UTSA. Harris endured a rough offseason with numerous surgeries on his left knee, repairing an injury which nearly jeopardized his football career. The turf toe injury suffered in the Week 2 win over Texas State only made matters worse for the two-time CUSA champion quarterback who ushered in the golden era of UTSA football. But a rejuvenated, spry version of Harris was on display at Temple in his first action since Sept. 9. UTSA’s once dormant offense suddenly had their captain back and posted 49 points backed by his efficient 338-yard, 3-touchdown performance. Harris completed 76 percent of passes, refrained from a turnover, and even recorded one rushing touchdown in UTSA’s widest margin of victory all season.

Defensive MVP: The entire Navy pass rush. Picking an individual defensive performance in a week which featured scores like 56-35, 49-34, and 38-31 wasn’t easy, as Week 6 showcased the talent of the AAC offenses. But no team planted a greater defensive footprint than Navy’s front. Yes, the Midshipmen yielded 473 yards to North Texas on 6.9 yards per play. But Brian Newberry’s squad made enough impactful plays in the backfield to ultimately swing the game into their favor. Navy entered the week with seven sacks in four games but unleashed eight sacks on North Texas — recording a new program record. Two sacks resulted in Mean Green fumbles, and Navy cashed in both takeaways for touchdowns, which were certainly needed in the 27-24 victory.

AAC standings through Week 6

AAC Standings - Sheet1.csv

Team Conf W Conf L Conf PCT Overall W Overall L Overall PCT Points Pts Against Differential PPG PAPG Avg Diff
Team Conf W Conf L Conf PCT Overall W Overall L Overall PCT Points Pts Against Differential PPG PAPG Avg Diff
Memphis 1 0 1.000 4 1 0.800 183 107 76 36.6 21.4 15.2
Tulane 1 0 1.000 4 1 0.800 149 87 62 29.8 17.4 12.4
SMU 1 0 1.000 3 2 0.600 169 92 77 33.8 18.4 15.4
Florida Atlantic 1 0 1.000 2 3 0.400 103 125 -22 20.6 25.0 -4.4
UTSA 1 0 1.000 2 3 0.400 126 146 -20 25.2 29.2 -4.0
South Florida 2 1 0.667 3 3 0.500 186 197 -11 31.0 32.8 -1.8
Rice 1 1 0.500 3 3 0.500 196 182 14 32.7 30.3 2.3
Tulsa 1 1 0.500 3 3 0.500 159 173 -14 26.5 28.8 -2.3
UAB 1 1 0.500 2 4 0.333 191 215 -24 31.8 35.8 -4.0
Navy 1 2 0.333 2 3 0.400 108 138 -30 21.6 27.6 -6.0
North Texas 0 1 0.000 2 3 0.400 169 199 -30 33.8 39.8 -6.0
Charlotte 0 1 0.000 1 4 0.200 92 138 -46 18.4 27.6 -9.2
East Carolina 0 1 0.000 1 4 0.200 105 128 -23 21.0 25.6 -4.6
Temple 0 2 0.000 2 4 0.333 139 204 -65 23.2 34.0 -10.8