UTSA proved the age-old formula that forcing turnovers is the key to victory. The Roadrunners' defense ripped the ball away from North Texas on four occasions as the Mean Green - who forced seven against Army last weekend - were unable to cause just one.
UNT had been riding high after winning three of their last four, averaging 33.5 points per game. That all changed when they ran into a UTSA team coming off of a brutal fifth overtime loss to UTEP. Despite out-gaining the Roadrunners by 91 yards, UNT seemed to turn the ball over anytime a drive was gaining momentum.
The most telling example of this came at the end of the first half, as North Texas drove down to the one-yard line on second and goal. UTSA’s defense stuffed UNT running back Jeffrey Wilson for no gain. The following play, UTSA tackle King Newton stripped Wilson and safety Michael Egwuagu recovered the ball and ran out the clock. UNT’s offense was shut out through the first half as UTSA took their 14-0 lead into the locker room.
Wilson, who was previously averaging 103 yards per game, was held to only 43 yards on 19 attempts (2.3 avg).
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Dalton Sturm led the Roadrunners second drive down field behind two key third down completions. On third and nine from midfield, Sturm hit wide receiver Josh Stewart for a 19 yard gain. A few series later, the Roadrunner were facing 3rd and goal from the seven. Sturm threw up an “X" with his arms at the line of scrimmage, calling an audible for a crossing route. He then found a wide open Kerry Thomas - Stewart’s brother - in the endzone for a touchdown.
The score was 7-0 at the end of the first as UTSA out-gained North Texas 86 yards to 18.
The Roadrunners continued to stick to their identity as a run-first offense that isn’t afraid to go over the top. Sturm only had to throw 19 passes, and completed 10 of them for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
His second touchdown came at the beginning of the second quarter. Sturm led a five-play drive 80 yards downfield by passing three-for-three for 52 yards and scrambling for 25 more. He hit Stewart for 13 yards, dashed down the middle of the field for 25, hit Marquez McNair for 18, and then hit Stewart again for a 21-yard touchdown. The consecutive four-play sequence was a prime example of Sturm’s ability as a quarterback.
UNT had quarterback Mason Fine drop back 38 times, completing 27 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown, but throwing two interceptions as well. Fine was also sacked four times.
His best moment came on the opening drive of the second half. Fine found a hole in a collapsing pocket and broke free for 80 yards on a designed run, getting the Mean Green to the house for the first time of the game. The 14-7 score was the closest North Texas would get to the Roadrunners.
UTSA’s running game then took over as tailbacks Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes both found their way into the endzone. Rhodes had a particularly nice sequence in the fourth quarter, picking up 18 yards and then 19 yards for the touchdown on back-to-back rushes, giving UTSA a 31-10 lead with less than ten minutes left to play.
Fine would lead UNT’s offense downfield on the following drive by completing eight-of-nine passes and hitting Kenny Buyers for a ten-yard score.
Fans gripped their seats a little bit tighter when the Mean Green recovered their onside kick with 5:45 remaining and down 14. UNT drove to a first and goal at UTSA’s three-yard line, but a pass interference penalty on a touchdown completion pushed them back to the 18.
That’s when Josiah Tauaefa’s personal vendetta against UNT became clear as day. The redshirt freshman linebacker, who was overlooked by his dream school North Texas, hurdled over the offensive line and blew up Mason Fine for a sack.
JUMPMAN JUMPMAN JUMPMAN [THIS] BOYS UP TO SOMETHIN pic.twitter.com/g1PfkkPRkG— Conference USA (@Conference_USA) October 30, 2016
That is a mad man right there. The play earned Tauaefa a slot on ESPN’s Top 10.
Players and fans were ticked off at one another alike in the fourth installment of this matchup, which has in fact brewed into a full-fledged state rivalry.
The game puts both teams at 4-4 as they head into the final month of the season. UTSA (3-2 C-USA) goes on a three-road game road trip against Middle Tennessee, LA Tech, and Texas A&M; undoubtedly the toughest road trip the program has scheduled in their short history.
North Texas (2-2 C-USA) will look to bounce back as they take on LA Tech at home next week.