UTSA has completed a one-year turnaround, doubling their win total from last season to earn bowl eligibility after defeating the Charlotte 49ers 33-14.
Both teams came out balling, giving the clear impression that everything was going to be left on the field by the end of this one. UTSA playing for a bowl game, and Charlotte playing as the spoiler.
The high-flying acrobatics were in effect early as both teams exchanged big-play touchdowns to start the game.
UTSA was firing on all cylinders as they made their way 90 yards downfield in just three plays. After being benched in the first quarter against Texas A&M last week, quarterback Dalton Sturm threw a 73-yard dime to Kerry Thomas to turn on the scoreboard. He finished 18 for 33 with 286 yards and two touchdowns before being sat in the fourth quarter. Thomas led the receiving corps with five receptions for 145 yards and the score.
Charlotte answered back immediately, leading their own three-play 75-yard scoring drive as quarterback Hasaan Klugh hit Austin Duke for a 73-yard score to tie the game. Klugh finished six for 20 with 146 yards and a touchdown before going out for Kevin Olsen in the third, favoring his shoulder on the sideline.
Things slowed down from there as UTSA’s offense found itself having to work to move the chains. The Roadrunners weren’t helping themselves very much as they committed four penalties in the first six minutes of regulation. The referees were a bit all over the place and overturned a play that shouldn’t have been reviewable in the first place, giving the Roadrunners’ a second third down attempt on what should have been fourth down.
Both teams combined for 23 penalties on the day.
As the teams started to settle in Sturm got his legs going and began tap dancing around defenders. This is when his game is most dangerous; his arm and his legs complement each other and he’s a very hard quarterback to stop when the two components are working together.
Following a completion to Brady Jones, a roughing the passer penalty on Charlotte set up a first and goal for UTSA that ended in a Victor Falcon field goal. Josh Stewart, UTSA’s leading receiver, dropped a touchdown pass on a slant on third down. It was the second drop of the first quarter for the sure-handed wideout. Stewart was targeted nine times but only came down with one catch.
UTSA’s defense tidied things up with a couple of pass break-ups from Nate Gaines and Jordan Moore. Klugh’s 73-yard touchdown was the only completion of his six attempts through the first quarter. They also held the 49ers to negative-one yards rushing through the quarter; going in to this game, Charlotte was averaging 191 yards per game, the most in C-USA.
UTSA was bringing the heat upfront, blowing up the backfield on both run and pass defense alike. They forced eight tackles for a loss on the day.
The pace slowed down to a post-Thanksgiving dinner draw through the second quarter, with enough penalty flags to cover the entire field. UTSA’s offense got into a rhythm about midway through the quarter after converting a third and long and then a fourth and inches on the ensuing series. Sturm hit Brady Jones with a bullet to put UTSA up 17-7. Sturm at this point was 10 for 17 with 200 yards and two touchdowns, hitting eight different receivers on top of that.
When Sturm is rolling, it’s hard to justify why he would ever be benched for Jared Johnson. His raw talent is tenfold better than any quarterback UTSA has ever trotted onto the field.
UTSA’s defense continued to keep Charlotte at bay as the best rushing offense in Conference USA had only five yards on the ground through the first half and finished the game with a total of eight. None other than redshirt freshman Josiah Tauaefa led the way with six tackles (four solo) including a sack.
Charlotte came up with huge stop as UTSA was threatening to score at the end of the second quarter. With 11 seconds remaining, Sturm hit Marquez McNair by the sideline but he was tackled in bounds and the clock expired as UTSA was out of timeouts. The halftime score was 17-7 as Charlotte looked to capitalize on their deferral from the coin toss.
The second half became a grind game, with both teams attempting to implement a run-heavy attack. UTSA running back Jarveon Williams really beat up Charlotte’s defense, playing some his best football of the year. He would finish with 19 carries for 48 yards but added an additional 54 yards on three receptions. Offensive guard Austin Pratt had a lot to do with the line’s success, running multiple pull blocks and winning upfront every snap.
Austin Duke, who was involved in almost all of Charlotte’s positive plays, was ejected after getting into a scuffle with Carl Austin following an incomplete pass on third down. It would be the last play of his collegiate career.
On UTSA’s ensuing offensive drive, the Roadrunners rolled the dice on fourth and ten and yet another penalty flag cost Charlotte the turnover. A pass interference in the end zone set UTSA up in the red zone, allowing Falcon to tack on three more points to the lead. The place kicker was perfect inside of 39 yards on the season before missing from 35 yards in garbage time.
Charlotte sidelined Klugh for Kevin Olsen on the following position after Klugh was seen favoring his shoulder. The redshirt sophomore brought new life to the 49ers offense, completing four passes for 76 yards but ultimately falling short on 4th and third inside of the 10. A questionable call to go for it as the gamble wasn’t completely necessary. A would-be field goal could have made the score a ten-point game heading into the fourth.
Fortunately, Charlotte caught the break of all breaks to usher in the final stanza, as UTSA punter Yannis Routsas dropped the snap on the goal line and Charlotte recovered the ball in the endzone to cut the lead down to six, 20-14.
Then, in the oddest turn of events, Sturm was sidelined as UTSA’s coaching staff opted to put in backup quarterback Jared Johnson with 11:28 remaining. Sturm was playing phenomenal, and the only justification for the decision is head coach Frank Wilson wanting Johnson to get some snaps in his final game. Not worth it in a one-possession game but it ended up working out.
On the ensuing possession Johnson would hit McNair for a 20-yard touchdown to put UTSA up 26-14 in what was the best possible outcome, but you can’t help but scratch your head at the decision. The pass was actually close to perfect on a back shoulder fade to the corner of the end zone, but a roll of the dice nevertheless to put it in Johnson’s hands. What may have been the worst decision ended up looking like a stroke of genius from the coaching staff.
Johnson would lead another scoring drive on his next possession after throwing a toss-up to JaBryce Taylor at the two-yard line. Jalen Rhodes punched in the dagger to put UTSA up 33-14 and cement the win. Johnson finished five for seven with 128 yards and two touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter. By far his best performance as a Roadrunner.
Coach Wilson received a Gatorade bath and was carried off the field as students took to the field to celebrate with their team. With the win, UTSA ties the NCAA record for the fastest route to bowl eligibility for a startup - six seasons.