For the second year in a row the UTSA Roadrunners (3-0, 1-0 CUSA) have started their season 3-0, and like last season the third win came against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (1-2, 0-1 CUSA). But unlike last year, this game was anything but close.
Last year was an offensive shootout, as the Roadrunners and Blue Raiders combined for 72 points and nearly 1,000 yards of total offense. This year, instead, was a defensive slugfest. UTSA’s defense dominated all game, recording five sacks and two turnovers, and nearly giving the Roadrunners their second shut-out in as many games, while Middle Tennessee forced three turnovers, two of which came in the endzone. But offensive mistakes and penalties cost UTSA on the scoreboard, and while Middle Tennessee corralled running back Sincere McCormick from having a dominant game, the Blue Raiders could not sustain offensive drives to capitalize on UTSA’s mistakes.
The result was a much more subdued final score, with UTSA winning 27-13.
Football is often a game of runs and momentum, so it is rare when a single quarter encapsulates how the game will play out. But that is exactly what happened in the 1st quarter, as Middle Tennessee’s offense struggled to sustain drives while UTSA’s offense committed mistake after mistake. It was a microcosm for the rest of the game.
The first five drives of the game went as follows: (1) Middle Tennessee punt, (2) UTSA missed field goal, (3) Middle Tennessee turnover on downs, (4) UTSA fumble, and (5) Middle Tennessee punt. It was an unusual start for a game projected to have nearly 60 points scored by both teams. In fact, the first points of the game wouldn’t come until 3:01 remained in the 1st quarter, when quarterback Frank Harris connected with wide receiver Zakhari Franklin for a 33-yard TD.
UTSA wouldn’t score again until 2:22 remained in the 2nd quarter, on a 30-yard field goal from Hunter Duplessis. But sandwiched in between those two scores was an insane sequence that nearly shifted all momentum away from UTSA to the Blue Raiders. First, Harris completed a perfect pass to running back Brendan Brady for a 17-yard TD, but the score was nullified with an offensive facemask penalty. Harris was sacked on the next play and then threw an interception that Middle Tennessee cornerback Quincy Riley nearly returned for a score. Then, on Middle Tennessee’s second play quarterback Bailey Hockman was intercepted in the endzone by cornerback Corey Mayfield. So, in the span of five plays, the score fluctuated between 7-0, to 14-0, to 7-7, then back to 7-0. Put simply, it was wild.
When the half ended UTSA held a 10-0 lead. Both teams had opportunities to score and didn’t, but their struggles were different. Middle Tennessee struggled to sustain drives and could only make it past midfield twice. For UTSA, the issue was penalties, missed scoring chances, and more penalties. The Roadrunners missed out on ten additional points with the missed field goal and nullified TD. But UTSA’s defense recorded three sacks and two turnovers for the half, including the crucial interception in the endzone to stop Middle Tennessee from tying the game.
UTSA opened the second half, marched downfield, and scored on a TD pass to wide receiver Joshua Cephus after he broke a tackle to get into the endzone. It was the only score of the 3rd quarter. Both teams stalled at midfield multiple times and Harris threw a second interception—again to Quincy Riley—in the endzone. And at the start of the 4th quarter UTSA would miss its second field goal of the night. Just like that, UTSA left another ten points off the board and the score remained 17-0.
Despite UTSA’s offensive success in moving the ball, the Roadrunners could simply not put the game away. But Middle Tennessee’s chance to comeback in the 4th quarter was permanently derailed on the next drive when quarterback Chase Cunningham, who took over for Hockman, was sacked and fumbled the ball which UTSA’s Lorenzo Dantzler returned for a TD. It was UTSA’s second fumble return for a score on the season, and it put the Roadrunners up 24-0 with 12:56 left to play. UTSA added a second field goal on its next possession, and the Roadrunners finally put the game on ice.
Unfortunately, backup quarterback Josh Adkins had to come in and relieve Harris after Harris sustained an injury. He was able to walk off on his own but the switch messed with UTSA’s rhythm and Middle Tennessee would not go down quietly. With less than four minutes remaining the Blue Raiders would score twice: (1) on a 23-yard pass to wide receiver Jimmy Marshall, and (2) on a 16-yard pass to Jarrin Pierce. It spoiled UTSA’s shut-out but by then the game was far enough out of reach to change the outcome. Frank Harris did return to the game for UTSA to end the game.
☑️ Fumble recovery— UTSA Football (@UTSAFTBL) September 19, 2021
That's Lorenzo Dantzler for ya.#BirdsUp pic.twitter.com/x0tAFzgPnL
It was a rough game for UTSA’s offense even though the stats show that the team more than adequately moved the ball, converted 1st downs, and racked up yards. As in its previous two games, the Roadrunners racked up more than 400 yards of total offense and balanced their attack in passing and running the ball. But UTSA had the opportunity to score on eight drives and only scored on four of them. UTSA’s four drives where the team failed to score ended as follows: (1) missed field goal, (2) TD called back on a penalty and interception, (3) interception, and (4) missed field goal. A similar inability to score could swing a game against UTSA in the future.
But for all the offensive deficiencies, UTSA was still able to win in convincing fashion again because of its defense. Credit should be given to head coach Jeff Traylor and his staff for building a complete team on both sides of the ball. The defense showed up as aggressive as it was against Lamar, which bodes well for UTSA’s prospects in conference play. UTSA finally got its sacks (5) on the season and had an amazing goal-line stop to deny Middle Tennessee the endzone when the game could have gotten out of hand. It was the epitome of a “bend-but-don’t-break” defense.
For Middle Tennessee, an offensive identity still seems out of reach. With running back Chaton Mobley out of the game, the Blue Raiders failed to see any success running the ball as they were dominated by UTSA’s defensive line. Pulling Bailey Hockman was understandable given his carelessness with the football, but the constant shuffling of the backfield is not doing the offense any favors in establishing chemistry or cohesion.
UTSA will face Memphis on the road next week. The defense should keep them in that game but the offense will need to player a cleaner game to pull the upset.
The Blue Raiders will have a short week to lick their wounds as they travel to Charlotte for a Friday night tilt on CBS Sports Network.