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2023 Scooter’s Coffee Frisco Bowl Preview: UTSA Roadrunners vs. Marshall Thundering Herd

Frank Harris and the Roadrunners look for their first-ever bowl win against a former CUSA opponent in Marshall.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 04 UTSA at North Texas Photo by Christopher Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Game notes

  • Time and date: Tuesday, December 19 at 9:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPN
  • Location: Toyota Stadium — Frisco, TX
  • Spread: UTSA (-11.5)
  • Over/under: 52.5
  • All-time series: Marshall leads, 2-1
  • Last meeting: Marshall 23, UTSA 0 — November 17, 2018
  • Current streak: Marshall, 1 (2018)
  • UTSA last bowl: 2022 Cure Bowl, 18-12 loss to Troy
  • Marshall last bowl: 2022 Myrtle Beach Bowl, 28-14 win over UConn
  • 2022 Frisco Bowl matchup: Boise State 35, North Texas 32

Setting the scene

The town of Frisco, TX takes center stage on Tuesday night as a standalone bowl game. The UTSA Roadrunners and Marshall Thundering Herd meet in the growing suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex for the sixth iteration of the Frisco Bowl.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco is not unfamiliar territory to UTSA (8-4, 7-1 AAC). The Roadrunners played in the 2021 Frisco Bowl, but San Diego State left with the trophy in a 38-24 decision. Two years later, UTSA still remains in search of its first-ever bowl win, faring 0-4 all-time including 0-3 in the past three seasons.

Marshall (6-6, 3-5 Sun Belt) may be new to the Frisco Bowl setting, but the Thundering Herd are certainly well-acquainted with bowl season. They are bowling for the seventh consecutive year and the 10th time in the past 11 seasons — looking to add their 10th bowl trophy to the facilities in Huntington, WV since 2009.

The former CUSA foes — which only squared off twice as conference mates — meet once again in an AAC vs. Sun Belt matchup Tuesday night.


UTSA Roadrunners outlook

NCAA Football: Texas-San Antonio at Houston
UTSA QB Frank Harris plays his final collegiate game Tuesday. The fourth-year starter can end the storied career with the Roadrunners’ first-ever bowl win.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

UTSA quickly transformed into a juggernaut of a program when head coach Jeff Traylor took over prior to the 2020 season. The Roadrunners only had one bowl appearance prior to Traylor’s takeover and in the past three years, the program claimed two CUSA championships and posted a 7-1 record in their inaugural year in the AAC.

Still, one thing is missing. UTSA has never won a bowl game, dropping three consecutive bowls including the 2021 Frisco Bowl. But this time, they enter as considerable favorites. UTSA started 1-3 with a brutal non-conference slate, but the Roadrunners claimed seven consecutive victories over AAC opponents — six by at least 14 points — and fell one contest short of qualifying for their third-consecutive conference championship game.

Save for its conference finale at Tulane when plagued by five turnovers, UTSA scored 34 points or more in every AAC matchup this season. The architect of that on-field success is quarterback Frank Harris, who will be making a grand exit in his final game wearing a UTSA uniform. Harris is unquestionably the most impactful player in the program’s young history, and he enjoyed a senior night for the ages in November which saw 411 passing yards, 112 rushing yards, and six total touchdowns.

Despite multiple offseason leg surgeries and suffering a turf toe injury which held him out of games in September, Harris remains a lethal dual-threat quarterback. The program statistical leader in virtually every passing category, the San Antonio native looks to wrap a storied career in victorious fashion and accomplish something UTSA has never done before.

There are other notable seniors making final statements in Frisco on this veteran laden team. One is wide receiver Joshua Cephus, the program’s all-time receptions and receiving yards leader. Cephus caught at least six passes in 11 of 12 games this season and recorded 1,049 yards and nine touchdowns. With a versatile route tree, the fifth-year senior is certain to be a premier target of Harris’ as the two make one last showing as a pair.

UTSA features above-average ranks in both the passing offense and the Kevorian Barnes-led run game, ranking 39th nationally in total offense. Offense is usually the strong suit of the team, but UTSA’s defense inflicts some damage as well, mainly around the line of scrimmage.

However, the Roadrunners are without AAC Defensive Player of the Year Trey Moore. The outside linebacker, who ranks third nationally in sacks, entered the transfer portal. Thus, UTSA is tasked with replicating Moore’s 14.0 sacks of production when no other player on the roster has more than 4.0. The 6’6”, 235 pound Jimmori Robinson — one of the two players with 4.0 sacks — is expected to fulfill Moore’s role as the lead rusher from the outside backer spot.

On the back end, it’s the swan song for another pillar of this young program. Strong safety Rashad Wisdom is a multi-time first team all-conference selection, concluding his fifth year with the program. The heart and soul of the defense, Wisdom ranks second on the unit with 58 tackles. After picking off five passes and forcing four fumbles over the years, he’ll look to contribute to a turnover battle which was often the difference between UTSA wins and losses this season.


Marshall Thundering Herd outlook

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 19 Myrtle Beach Bowl
Marshall DE Owen Porter produced 17.5 sacks and 42 tackles for loss in his Thundering Herd career. He looks to conclude it with a second-straight bowl win.
Photo by Charles Brock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the month of September concluded, Marshall rode a 9-game win streak and flaunted a 4-0 record — looking like its defense could carry it to a Sun Belt title, and perhaps, an outside chance at a New Year’s Six bowl.

The Thundering Herd hung tough with NC State in a 48-41 Week 6 defeat, and then the wheels fell off. Marshall dropped its next four Sun Belt contests all by double-digits, watching its record slide from 4-0 to 4-5. However, the Thundering Herd recovered from the midseason catastrophe and defeated two other Sun Belt bowl teams — Georgia Southern and Arkansas State — to clinch a postseason appearance for the seventh consecutive season.

But regardless of how the regular season fared, bowl season is typically kind to the kelly green and white. At 13-5 all-time, Marshall owns the best winning percentage in bowls among all teams with at least 10 appearances, most recently winning last year’s Myrtle Beach Bowl. However, this year’s Thundering Herd will likely be led by a different quarterback in the postseason after two-year starter Cam Fancher entered the transfer portal.

The next man up is freshman Cole Pennington, who started the Georgia Southern and South Alabama games in November. If the name Pennington in a Marshall uniform sounds familiar, he is the son of Thundering Herd great and former NFL MVP runner-up Chad Pennington. Cole completed 49-of-79 attempts for 437 yards. In Frisco, he’ll look to add a touchdown to that stat-line, entering Tuesday’s contest with zero scores and six interceptions.

Marshall looks to open up the passing game with success from running back Rasheen Ali. The junior broke 1,000 yards for the second time in his Thundering Herd career, picking up 14 touchdowns with six multi-score games this year. Marshall is 3-0 when Ali exceeds 130 yards this year, so getting that production from the backfield is of utmost importance of an offense which was extremely volatile in Sun Belt play.

Ali is the one skill position player UTSA’s defense must be hyperaware of, because when it comes to the receiving game, Marshall does not bring a clear No. 1 to the table. Eleven different players have between 112 and 396 yards (which is the team-high), and the only player with more than 28 receptions (Caleb Coombs) is in the transfer portal.

On the defensive side, Marshall entered the year as an elite unit. The Thundering Herd stifled each of their first three opponents to 17 or fewer points, continuing the trend of dominant defense from the tail-end of 2022. Then, everything unraveled on defense which created that midseason losing streak. Marshall is 56th in passing yards allowed per game and 80th in defending the run — significantly sliding after fielding the eighth-ranked total defense a year ago.

Senior defensive end Owen Porter will take ownership of the pass rush in his final collegiate game. The two-time First Team All-Sun Belt selection enters the Frisco Bowl with 15.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, and a pair of forced fumbles, looking to create enough havoc in the backfield to swing the turnover battle.

Other stars to watch on the Marshall unit include inside linebacker Eli Neal and cornerback Micah Abraham. Neal is the leading tackler and with 9.5 tackles for loss in 2023, his presence is pivotal to limiting the run. Abraham, a First Team All-Sun Belt selection, likely draws the matchup of Joshua Cephus and aims to add to his three interceptions and 13 pass breakups in the season finale.


Prediction

It’s an 8-4 team that trended in the right direction after a 1-3 start, pitted against a 6-6 team that trended in the wrong direction after a 4-0 start.

All signs point to UTSA in this matchup, which is a considerable favorite in Frisco — 300 miles northeast of its campus. The Roadrunners will surely dominate the audience Tuesday night, and they have all the tools to dominate on the gridiron as well.

Frank Harris and the Roadrunner offense have been on a roll since Harris returned from injury to launch the month of October, averaging 37.9 points per game in eight AAC contests. Meanwhile, Marshall has struggled to establish consistency on that end, scoring fewer than 10 points in four of its last six games. The defenses were more comparable, but to overcome UTSA’s considerable offensive advantage, the Thundering Herd need a substantial advantage in the turnover battle.

That being said, UTSA wins commandingly. The program earns its first bowl win in comfortable fashion and sends storied seniors like Frank Harris, Joshua Cephus, and Rashad Wisdom out in celebratory fashion.

Prediction: UTSA 42, Marshall 13