Date: Saturday, October 2, 2021
Time: 5:00 PM (CT)
Location: Alamodome; San Antonio, Texas
TV: ESPN Plus - https://go.web.plus.espn.com/oey0yn
Radio: Ticket 760 AM
UTSA (4-0), Conference USA. Last game: win over Memphis 31-28
UNLV (0-4), Mountain West Conference. Last game: loss to No. 22 Fresno State 38-30
This is the first meeting in the series (0-0)
The UTSA Roadrunners are off to a hot start to the 2021 football season, and the team is 4-0 for just the second time in program history. Head coach Jeff Traylor has not only met fan expectations but has arguably exceeded anything the fanbase expected when he was hired two years ago. Traylor has notched two “upset” wins in this season alone and could lead UTSA to its best start and best record ever. To do that, the Roadrunners will first have to take care of business against the UNLV Rebels on Saturday.
UTSA is coming off one of the best wins in program history, and arguably its greatest win in terms of national exposure. The Roadrunners overcame a 21-0 deficit in the first quarter—its largest ever comeback—and bested Memphis on the road 31-28. UTSA marched itself play-by-play to get back into the game and did so behind the legs of running backs Sincere McCormick and Brendan Brady. Quarterback Frank Harris bounced back from a poor first quarter, managed a balanced offense, and avoided major mistakes, while UTSA’s defense suffocated Memphis’s offense in the second half and forced key turnovers. It all led to 31 points while Memphis was held to just 7 after the 21-0 lead, and now UTSA can claim a signature come-from-behind road win against a quality G5 opponent.
I write about the Memphis game in part to highlight that the game against UNLV could deflate UTSA’s momentum. Memphis was coming off its own upset win against Mississippi State the week before, and the Roadrunners were able to take advantage. A similar fate could befall UTSA if the team treats UNLV as lesser competition. UTSA is the better team on paper, but UNLV is still a capable team and is coming off a hard-fought game against No. 22 ranked Fresno State last week.
To avoid a letdown game UTSA will need to do two things: (1) eliminate bad offensive possessions and turnovers, which were present in the last two weeks against Memphis and Middle Tennessee, and (2) continue to play excellent defense, especially against the run.
The first matter carries the most problems, because if the Roadrunners cannot take advantage of its own offensive possessions, then UNLV will be able to hang around and even threaten to steal the win. But the second matter is arguably the most important. The defense has been the strength of this program through four games, giving up only 100 yards rushing once and mostly denying the big plays. When the offense has struggled, UTSA’s defense has been the key to keeping the opposing team from capitalizing. Indeed, UTSA’s defense is the epitome of a “bend-don’t break” defense—the defense suffocated Memphis’s offense after the first quarter, denied Middle Tennessee the endzone until the fourth quarter, shut out Lamar, and kept Illinois’s offense in check all game long. Basically, if UTSA’s offense struggles, the defensive play will matter even more.
UTSA will once again look to establish the run. Despite his stats it seemed like McCormick was not generating the type of runs he had done last year until the Memphis game. There, McCormick ran 42 times for 184 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was even more impressive considering that McCormick didn’t start off running well but seemed to get better as the game wore on. He and Brady will be key to sustaining long offensive drives to deny UNLV time to score.
UTSA will also need its passing game to be better against UNLV than it was against Memphis. Wide receiver Zakhari Franklin had a quiet 51 yards despite averaging nearly 100 yards a game. He and wide receiver Joshua Cephus will be key to UTSA’s passing offense. If Frank Harris can connect with them all game long, then UTSA should be able to establish its run game early which will play into UTSA’s strengths.
UNLV is 0-4 but its schedule has been brutal. The Rebels faced FCS opponent Eastern Washington, a strong FCS team, before facing three ranked FBS teams in a row. First it was No. 23 Arizona State, then No. 14 Iowa State, and finally No. 22 Fresno State. And UNLV was quite effective against Fresno State. The Rebels led at halftime and even led 30-29 in the 4th quarter before Fresno State pulled away. So UTSA poses a solid opportunity for UNLV to notch its first win of the season and I would expect the Rebels to come out with some energy to achieve that goal.
Unfortunately, UNLV will be dealing with a few notable injuries that will make it harder for UNLV to pull off the upset. Quarterback Doug Brumfield will likely not play against UTSA, leaving backup Cameron Friel to run the offense. Friel played alright against Fresno State, going 9/15 for 138 yards but the true freshman was unable to find the endzone. He will certainly try to correct that on Saturday. Another injury of note is wide receiver Kyle Williams, who did not play against Fresno State. If he is unable to suit up against UTSA then UNLV will be without one of its top wideouts for the game.
Defensively, the Rebels are giving up over 400 yards total a game. If UNLV cannot stop UTSA’s offense, then their offense will have to keep up against UTSA’s defense to keep the game competitive. They did so against Fresno State but could not against Arizona State and Iowa State. If this game is close, it will likely be because UNLV’s offense has been able to move the ball against UTSA’s defense.
This game has the potential to be a trap game for UTSA if the Roadrunners are not careful. That said, I’ve bet against this team twice now based on previous UTSA seasons and teams. It is clear that I am wrong; Jeff Traylor clearly has this team playing at a higher caliber than any other team in UTSA history. I do not expect UTSA to sleep on UNLV and the Roadrunners should have the same amount of energy for the Rebels as they had against Memphis. I expect the offense to be consistent and the defense to remain stout in its “bend-don’t break” mentality. The score may be closer than expected, but I don’t believe UTSA will ever trail or be in danger of losing this game.
Final Score: UTSA 35, UNLV 17