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Army’s prolific offense overwhelms Harris-less UTSA, 37-29, in the Alamodome

Army finishes 6/6 on fourth downs and wins without committing a penalty or turnover.

NCAA Football: Army at Texas-San Antonio Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio is nicknamed “Military City, USA.” The seventh-largest city in the United States, San Antonio is home to one of the largest military base populations in America. While West Point and San Antonio are separated by over 1,800 miles, many local Army fans funneled in for a Friday night showdown with UTSA at the Alamodome. And the result was a successful military venture in Military City, USA, as Army raced past UTSA in a 37-29, offensive-oriented battle.

“We got a lot of love from fans, even UTSA fans,” Army quarterback Bryson Daily said. “They were very appreciative toward us. There were a lot of Army fans in the stands. I don’t even know if they like football, but they came to cheer for us which is really cool to see. Doing that in a state like this that supports the troops, it’s really awesome.”

Nothing is more emphasized in Army’s program than the concept of discipline, and disciplined resonated throughout San Antonio on Friday night. The Black Knights refrained from committing a single penalty or turnover and converted all six fourth down attempts to keep control in a wire-to-wire victory.

“We put a big emphasis on communicating out there,” Army running back Hayden Reed said. “Week 1, that was our issue. Lack of communication and missing assignments. We took last week and this week of practice to focus in on that, and it showed very much on the field.”

Despite defending their home turf in the Alamodome, UTSA faced adversity before the opening kickoff left the tee. Star quarterback Frank Harris, the reigning CUSA MVP, was sidelined in a walking boot and held out of Friday night’s contest. The seventh-year senior was as much of a fixture in the lineup as any quarterback in America, snapping an ironman streak of 36 consecutive starts. Harris’ unusual absence thrust backup Eddie Lee Marburger into the lineup.

But the sophomore shined in his first collegiate start. Marburger connected on 17-of-25 attempts, firing for 239 yards and three touchdowns which all exceeded 40 yards. The sophomore inflicted most of his damage in the passing game in the second half, bringing the Roadrunners back within one score after facing a 16-point fourth quarter deficit.

“He played great,” UTSA strong safety Rashad Wisdom said. “I knew that coming into this week. Eddie’s been waiting on his time, and like I said, stay ready so you ain’t got to get ready... He was ready for this moment, and he made the most out of it, for sure. He had a great game.”

Over the years, Army has established itself as one of the most identifiable brands of football under head coach Jeff Monken. But this season, the Black Knights have mixed it up more than ever. While the run game serves as the foundation of the offense, first-year offensive coordinator Drew Thatcher has implemented more shotgun, more personnel groupings which showcase wide receivers, and more passing. The Black Knights consulted the air 18 times (a threshold they only exceeded once in 2022), completing eight passes for 188 yards. Every single connection resulted in a first down, and all but one pass resulted in a double-digit pickup, equating to 23.5 yards per completion.

“It’s a nice plan of what they’ve done before. They just added a new wrinkle to it,” UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor said of Army’s new-look offense. “The quarterback played an unbelievable ballgame. The kid is a scrapper. We couldn’t get him down.”

NCAA Football: Army at Texas-San Antonio
Army head coach Jeff Monken celebrates the 37-29 road win in front of the Army portion of the Alamodome crowd.
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Army’s greatest passing display transpired in the third quarter when UTSA sliced the deficit to two points. The Roadrunners initially appeared to recover an onside kick, but a booth review determined illegal touching occurred, so a re-kick was necessary. Army instantly responded by unleashing its bag of tricks, calling a double pass on first down. No UTSA defender was seemingly in a 20-foot radius of wide receiver Isaiah Alston, who picked up 55 on the play. On the ensuing snap, a blown coverage provided Bryson Daily an uncontested 25-yard shot to Noah Short in the end zone. With an uncharacteristic 2-play, 80-yard, all-aerial drive, Army captured a 30-21 advantage over UTSA.

“I think Drew called a game that fits us and fits our quarterback, so being able to throw the ball some and hit some big plays… I thought it was a good mix,” Army head coach Jeff Monken said. “Really happy with Coach Thatcher and the job he did tonight and the whole staff.”

The Black Knights initially constructed a 14-0 lead thanks to a series of successful fourth down gambles. Army converted all six fourth down attempts throughout the night and even moved the chains on an additional fourth down, thanks to drawing a pass interference deep in UTSA territory. Daily, who had fervent success on QB keepers throughout the night, converted the most critical fourth down by calling his own number on 4th and goal from the 3, vaulting Army to a 37-21 fourth quarter lead.

“We just can’t handle them in the trenches,” Traylor said. “They physically manhandled us up front. They did a great job on their scheme. They were one play ahead of us on all calls.”

On Army’s final possession of the night, Daily prevented UTSA from a tying shot by moving the sticks with his legs on a pair of third down attempts. The quarterback was one of two Black Knights to reach the century rushing mark, posting 100 yards to complement Hayden Reed’s 107.

“We felt like we needed to extend our drives and not give them opportunities,” Monken said. “The less plays they have, the less opportunities they have to score. We’ve always done that, that’s not anything new for us.”

UTSA never led the entire night, but the Roadrunners flirted with a comeback several times thanks to long touchdown passes by Marburger. With five seconds remaining before halftime and possession on the Army 46-yard line, UTSA appeared bound to enter halftime down 20-7. But Marburger sailed a bomb toward the end zone, and wide receiver Tykee Ogle-Kellogg was the first jumper to emerge from a congested crowd at the goal line. Ogle-Kellogg secured the pigskin and lunged across the goal line as the first half clock expired. That spectacular Hail Mary pass sliced the Roadrunners’ two-score deficit to 20-14, building confidence in the first-time starting quarterback.

NCAA Football: Army at Texas-San Antonio
Eddie Lee Marburger earned his first career start with the Roadrunners, throwing for 239 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

“We call the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half the middle eight,” UTSA wide receiver Joshua Cephus said. “Those minutes are where a lot of momentum can swing a game. I feel like that brought Eddie confidence, it gave us momentum. Tykee made a great play, and I think it gave him more confidence throughout the game as well.”

But that momentum evaporated shortly after halftime, as Army cashed in a Quinn Maretzki field goal (who went 3-of-3 in the win) to respond to a UTSA turnover on downs around midfield. The Roadrunners creeped back within striking distance several times, but like the vertical asymptote in the graph of a natural logarithm function, they never fully caught up to Army.

“Credit to them, they were pretty resilient tonight,” Army wide receiver Noah Short said regarding UTSA’s flurry of comebacks. “We were moving the ball pretty well, but credit to them. They were coming all night.”

Marburger trimmed the deficit yet again with a screen pass to Cephus, who sprinted the ball 45 yards for a touchdown. Two Army touchdowns later, Marburger refused to let the team wither, launching a 72-yard air mail to Devin McCuin and converting the two-point conversion to rewrite the score to 37-29. The defense then rose to the occasion and delivered with a critical 3-and-out with under five minutes to go. But a third down sack — the only sack by either team all night — positioned UTSA into a 4th and 14 punting situation from its own 31 with roughly three minutes remaining.

The Roadrunners never regained possession in the loss, and the inability to cause a turnover certainly hurt their chances. As of Friday night, UTSA is one of 13 FBS teams yet to register a takeaway this season.

“I think for us, man, we just got to go make it happen,” Wisdom said. “We play very sound defense, I feel like. We’re usually where we’re supposed to be. Man, we’ve just got to go make it happen, you know what I mean? We’re still waiting on it, but I feel like, once we get that first one, man, they’re going to start coming in waves.”

Army improves to 2-1, collecting back-to-back victories after a stunning Week 1 loss to ULM. The Black Knights and their new brand of explosive offense, averaging 47 points per game over the last two weeks, hopes to sustain its momentum in an in-state road matchup at Syracuse next Saturday.

NCAA Football: Army at Texas-San Antonio
Army running back Jakobi Buchanan contributed one touchdown run in Army’s first FBS victory of the 2023 season.
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, UTSA is off to its second consecutive 1-2 start. The Roadrunners aim to follow a similar trajectory to last year’s team which rattled off 10 consecutive victories en route to a conference championship. Harris’ return date is unknown at the moment, but the team hopes to figure out a way to turn around their fortune in the meantime.

“I just feel like we’re kind of upset with ourselves really,” Wisdom said. “We didn’t really play our brand of ball, and I feel like this can be good for us. Just get back to it tomorrow, learn from it, and then keep on going forward with the season. We’ve got a long season ahead of us, and this one loss won’t define us for sure. Really looking forward to the season, but I still think we’ll be fine. Like I said, we’re going to use all these tests as learning lessons and keep on moving.”