Start time: Saturday, September 9 - 7 pm CT
Location: McLane Stadium, Waco, Texas.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest
Stream: Fox Sports GO
Live stats: Gametracker
Series history: First meeting
Betting line: Baylor -17, O/U 58
Exhale. The UTSA Roadrunners are finally set to play a football game. While UTSA is a week late to the party, the Roadrunners first contest of the season is an extremely compelling match up. As the Roadrunners were resting up from an extra practice day thanks to their home opener being postponed by Hurricane Harvey, the Baylor Bears were being mocked across the country as they were toppled by the FCS Independent Liberty Flames. By any measure, this game will provide UTSA with their best chance yet of earning a program-first victory over a Power Five opponent.
There’s no doubt those in the Baylor program would like to wipe their memories clean of the past week. In a weekend that saw UT lose at home to Maryland and the Aggies blow a 34 point lead, the Bears managed to have the worst loss of the week in Texas after the Liberty Flames torched Baylor’s secondary en route to a shocking 48-45 upset.
While most analysts expected the Bears to take a serious step backwards in Head Coach Matt Rhule’s first season in Waco, no one could have predicted the Bears to be bested by a university known more for political scandal and NCAA provocateuring than football results.
Despite a scoreless first quarter, the Bears dug in on offense later in the game but 45 points of offense proved inadequate as the Flames lit up Baylor’s secondary with 447 passing yards. Liberty also found success on the ground as running back Carrington Mosley rushed for 122 yards on 28 carries, good for an average of 4.4 yards per carry.
A quick glance at the Baylor depth chart helps explain the defensive struggles. The Bears are awfully small at linebacker and extremely young in the secondary. Converted wide receiver Blake Lynch was forced to play a ton of snaps at cornerback due to injury to other defensive backs. Junior Jourdan Blake also made the move to cornerback in spring camp.
While Baylor will get a few injured defenders back this week, they’ll be without standout free safety Chance Waz for the first half after he was ejected for targeting in the Liberty loss. The Baylor defense will also likely be missing the heartbeat of their front seven in defensive lineman KJ Smith as he heals from shin splits. If Smith does attempt to play through the pain he’ll probably be a fraction of his typical disruptive self.
The youthfulness is most apparent in the back end of the defense but the Bears are young practically everywhere. Baylor played 10 freshmen against Liberty and plan to play five more true freshmen against UTSA this week.
After losing dynamic running back JaMycal Hasty to a knee injury, Baylor will be leaning on two freshmen to carry the load at running back against UTSA’s imposing defensive front. True freshman John Lovett looks ready to pick up the slack after he racked up 89 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries against Liberty. He’ll be spelled by fellow freshman Treston Ebner who will be seeing the first snaps of his career.
Baylor’s roster is certainly full of fresh faces however the UTSA faithful are quite familiar with Baylor’s new quarterback. Anu Solomon transferred to Baylor from Arizona this off season after beating UTSA in two consecutive seasons. Solomon surprisingly won starting honors over promising sophomore Zach Smith.
While Solomon played in a spread offense at Arizona, Rhule has implemented a pro-style attack similar to what UTSA runs. Solomon looked fairly comfortable in his drop backs against Liberty, passing for 278 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. His completion percentage rang in at just 48% however several of those incomplete passes were due to drops and incorrect routes from his receivers.
Lastly, it's worth noting that Baylor will be without an experienced tight end this week. Starting tight end Jordan Feuerbacher will, you guessed it, miss the game due to injury, leaving converted Baylor basketball player Ish Wainwright as the Bears' primary tight end. It's a fair assumption to imply that Wainwright may struggle to set the edge as a blocker which is imperative for success in Matt Rhule's offense.
Forced to watch week one at home, UTSA should be foaming at the mouth to finally kick their season off. While the bundled energy should lead to some spirited play, it could carry a double-edge. Can the Roadrunners channel their anticipation or will they play a little bit too high strung? How much value lies in Baylor having a game to knock their off season rust off — a luxury UTSA hasn’t been afforded?
Questions certainly abound UTSA this week but on paper we have a pretty good idea of what the team will look like in terms of personnel and play style. Expect a further commitment to the pro-style offense in year two of the Frank Wilson era. With a beefed up offensive line and the addition of two able fullbacks the Roadrunners should be much more capable of pushing the pile and picking up short yardage in key situations.
Unless UTSA is able to come out of the gate and absolutely gash Baylor on the ground this game will likely come down to senior quarterback Dalton Sturm’s ability to react to pocket pressure and avoid interceptions. While the Roadrunners will certainly test Baylor’s secondary early and often, UTSA should aim to extend drives as long as possible to negate Baylor’s quick strike ability in the passing game with speed demons such as Chris Platt and Denzel Mims.
Speaking of those championship sprinters and pass catchers, UTSA’s greatest challenge on defense will certainly be limiting the number of long plays the Bears can make through the air. The Roadrunners top two cornerbacks Austin Jupe, a Baylor transfer, and Devron Davis should be up for the challenge however the depth behind those two is unproven and potentially precarious given the injury to returning contributor Teddrick McGhee.
UTSA will lean on sophomore walk-on Oklahoma State transfer Clayton Johnson behind Davis and a pairing of junior Stanley Dye and true freshman Javontavious Mosley behind Jupe. Dye may see his first meaningful snaps since his freshman year as he has the sheer speed to keep up with Baylor’s wideouts and likely won’t have to defend against the entire route tree.
While the defensive backs attempt to blanket Baylor’s wideouts the defensive line will need to be doing their part to bring a pass rush into Anu Solomon’s pocket while maintaining gap integrity. UTSA has already felt the wrath of Solomon’s scrambling ability and his 97 rushing yards against Liberty proves the move to a pro-style offense hasn’t diminished his potential to make plays with his feet.
The Roadrunners’ defensive front will have a little bit of a new look this week as Defensive Coordinator Pete Golding has opted to play with three defensive tackles against Baylor in a commitment to an even alignment. Nose tackle Baylen Baker will slide out to defensive end in an attempt to negate Baylor’s size advantage in the trenches. Sophomore King Newton will earn his second start this week after enjoying a disruptive freshman season.
Shifting Baker to the outside gets UTSA’s four best defensive linemen on the field at once. While few nose tackles would be able to slide to the edge like Baker will, the sophomore already showed his ability to rush the passer on the edge after delivering a crushing blow to Middle Tennesse quarterback Brent Stockstill last year, breaking the Blue Raider’s collarbone with a vicious hit.
This game will be played under pretty bizarre circumstances given the Bears’ loss to Liberty last week and the Roadrunners absence in week one. I’m pretty certain UTSA would have crushed the Baylor team that showed up last Saturday but it’s a safe bet that Baylor Head Coach Matt Rhule will have some key adjustments in place after reviewing the film from his first game in Waco. I can also see UTSA playing a little too tight in the opening stanzas as they attempt to replicate Liberty’s successful upset. While I think Baylor pulls this one out in a close finish, UTSA should cover the 17 point spread pretty easily.
UTSA 31 Baylor 35
Who emerges victorious Saturday in McLane Stadium?
This poll is closed