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UTSA falls to Army 31-13

UTSA’s offense failed to answer Army’s output as the Roadrunners were in over their heads for second straight week.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 22 Armed Forces Bowl - Houston v Army Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A tough offensive performance kept the Roadrunners from remaining competitive against Army’s triple option. Though UTSA’s defense kept the game in reach with a strong showing, an inability to hold Army’s pass rush coupled with an imbalanced offensive attack made for a lot of desperation attempts and playing from behind for the Roadrunners.

Army wasted no time to establish their assertive run game with an opening drive that spanned 75 yards in only three plays. Second string quarterback Jabari Laws got the start as regular starter Kelvin Hopkins was sidelined with a leg injury, and boy did Laws make the most of it. Laws took the first play from scrimmage 34 yards downfield to be followed up with tailback Kell Walker bolting 26 more yards for the quick touchdown. It wasn’t even a minute into the game.

Laws led the corp’s ground attack with 137 yards rushing on 23 attempts (6.0 avg) and a 41-yard touchdown run late in the third.

UTSA took over on offense following the Army score and quarterback Frank Harris took a hard blindside hit in the backfield, leading to a fumble and turnover for Army on UTSA’s third play from scrimmage. After a 40-yard field goal from David Cooper sent the Black Knights up 10-0, Roadrunner fans began to brace themselves for another long afternoon.

However, it was at that point that the UTSA defense was able to settle down. Laws and company had their successes with running to the outside, but up the middle UTSA would give nothing to the Black Knights. Defensive end Jarrod Carter-McLin and linebacker Andrew Martel each boasted 10 tackles, with five and eight solo efforts respectively.

McLin also nabbed 1.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble, all while cementing himself as the emotional and spiritual leader of the defense. Whether he was jawing with offensive linemen after the play or waiving his arms to pump up the audience, the unit really started to feed off of that energy and would hold Army from scoring again for the remainder of the first half.

But the Roadrunner defense couldn’t get any help as UTSA’s offense was without rhythm through the entire game. In fact, the team didn’t cross midfield a single time through the first half. The one opportunity they did get was at the end of the second quarter, when UTSA defensive end Eric Banks forced Laws to fumble deep in Army’s own territory. UTSA recovered the turnover on Army’s 23 yard line, but back-to-back sacks on Harris would only lead to a missed 42-yard field goal attempt from placekicker Hunter Duplessis. It was UTSA’s first field goal attempt of the year. Between the missed field goal, a later bad snap on an extra point attempt, and several penalties, UTSA special teams was a rather rough spot.

A blown-up backfield was pretty much the name of the game for UTSA. Army ended the day with a whopping five sacks and nine tackles for loss. Even when Harris would have somewhat of a clean pocket to throw, his internal clock was so short that he’d take off scrambling anyway and end up thrusting himself right into a stop. Army senior defensive back Elijah Riley led with two tackles for loss and a sack, with linebacker Jeremiah Lowery and linemen Jacob Covington getting one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss each. There was just a general meanness upfront that the Roadrunners were not ready for.

What really caused the most confusion was the inability for UTSA to adapt their playcalling. They clearly had the intention of going bombs away through the air to answer Army’s long, tumultuous run drives. But as that continued to fail, the Roadrunner coaching staff only seemed to try and force it more. UTSA running backs only got 10 combined carries, but with 47 total yards. As much as this offense wants to run through Harris, the fact of the matter is tailback Sincere McCormick is the most talented skill player on the team. He only had five attempts from the backfield.

I’m not buying it.

And the more UTSA forced Harris to drop back, the more Army came rushing in. That only tired out the Roadrunners’ defense and allowed Army’s triple option to rack up 340 yards on the ground. UTSA sustained one full-length drive when they took the opening possession of the second half 65 yards downfield on 13 plays and scored a touchdown. That drive, ironically enough, was the one with the most successful run efforts. Most of those Harris scrambles, albeit, but a more balanced attack nevertheless. There was also a conversion on 4th and 8 that felt like a turning point for UTSA.

At 10-7 it was very much anybody’s game, but the magic from that opening second half drive couldn’t be replicated by UTSA. Another fumble negated a successful fake punt attempt for the Roadrunners where punter Lucas Dean hit safety Rashad Wisdom for 22 yards.

Both teams were sloppy with ball safety and suffered two lost fumbles each, and UTSA’s Harris also threw an interception into the endzone on the last play of the game. Penalties were also rough for both teams, Army with five and UTSA with seven for the second straight week.

It’s clear there are a lot kinks UTSA has to work out on offense. Army, on the other hand, is looking like a well-oiled machine coming off a tough loss to Michigan last week. The Black Knights will have a “gimme” game against Morgan State next week at home, and UTSA kicks off conference play against the C-USA West division favorites and in-state rival North Texas in Denton.