A week after the first shutout in program history the UTSA Roadrunners came close to an encore performance in the conference opener against Middle Tennessee.
For 56 minutes and 32 seconds of game action, the Roadrunners held the Blue Raiders off the scoreboard. Middle Tennessee managed to score twice in the final 3:28 but it was too little, too late as UTSA ran out the clock on a 27-13 win.
“I’m disappointed,” UTSA Head Coach Jeff Traylor said. “I wanted (our) guys to get eight quarters in a row (of no points given up). I thought that would have been special. We all talk about the triangle and not being selfish but I wanted those kids to have it.”
The 56:32 of shutout football, when added to the final 1:55 of the Illinois game and the shutout of Lamar last weekend gave the Roadrunners 118 minutes and 27 seconds without any points scored by their opponents.
Even with the win there were plenty of things for the Roadrunners to work on heading into their contest with Memphis next week. UTSA was on the short end of the turnover battle. The Roadrunner offense gave up two interceptions and lost a fumble. The Roadrunner defense managed an interception and a fumble recovery.
“I wish we’d have been better offensively because people like to watch points,” Traylor said. ” It’s the first time we haven’t played well on offense in I don’t know when. I just hate that for the fans. I want everybody to be happy so they’ll keep coming back to the dome.”
UTSA’s offense finished the night with 452 yards of total offense. The Roadrunner passing game accounted for 277 of those yards and the ground game picked up the remaining 175.
The bright spot of the night for UTSA most certainly was the defense. The Roadrunners limited the Blue Raiders ground attack to just eight yards on 25 carries. The eight yards against are tied for the third fewest given up by a Roadrunner defense in program history. Middle Tennessee finished with 191 yards passing but 111 of those yards came in the fourth quarter.
UTSA also recorded their first sack of the season in the first quarter against Middle Tennessee. By the end of the night the Roadrunner defense had sacked the Blue Raiders quarterbacks five times as part of an effort that ended with nine tackles for loss.
“It felt good,” UTSA linebacker Charles Wiley said of the Roadrunners defense getting to the quarterback. “We were just playing our game. We were just trying to go out and get the W.”
The Roadrunner defense made their presence known from the outset of the game.
UTSA won the opening coin toss and deferred their choice to the second half. The Blue Raiders first three drives only managed to pick up two first downs. All ended with punts to the Roadrunners.
UTSA’s offense was also slow starting. The opening drive ended when Hunter Duplessis missed a 52-yard field goal attempt. The second Roadrunner drive ended at the Blue Raider 31 when De’Corian Clark fumbled and Middle Tennessee recovered.
The third drive was the charm for UTSA’s offense. On that drive the Roadrunners drove 86 yards in seven plays. The seventh play was a 33-yard touchdown pass from Frank Harris to Zakhari Franklin.
“Zakhari did a great job of route running. It was a great play call,” Harris said. “We put (that play) in this week to go against their defense and it worked out really well.”
That proved to be the final points by either team until the 6:39 mark of the second quarter. After the Franklin touchdown, the next two Roadrunner drives ended with a Lucas Dean punt and an interception by Harris that was returned 56 yards by the Blue Raiders. It was nearly a pick-six but Sincere McCormick brought down the Blue Raider defender at the UTSA 19-yard line.
The Blue Raiders were unable to come away with any points on the drive. Rashad Wisdom intercepted a pass in the endzone on second and 10 from the 19. A questionable defensive pass interference call wiped off the interception and set Middle Tennessee with first and goal at the UTSA 4. As the old expression goes, the ball doesn’t lie. On the very next play Middle Tennessee had their pass in the end zone intercepted by Corey Mayfield.
UTSA took advantage of the Mayfield interception, driving from their own 20 to the Blue Raiders eight yard line in 15 plays. The 16th play of the drive resulted in a 10-0 lead for the Roadrunners after Duplessis made a 30-yard field goal with 6:39 left before halftime. The Roadrunners 10-0 lead would hold up the rest of the half.
The second half began with UTSA receiving the opening kick. Dadrian Taylor returned it 24 yards but there was a moment where it looked like he might break it for a bigger return.
UTSA’s offense took the opening drive of the third quarter and went 76 yards in 15 plays. The drive ended with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Harris to Cephus with 10:08 left in the quarter. UTSA led 17-0 after Duplessis added the extra point.
The Roadrunners had another drive that looked promising later in the third quarter but it ended at the Middle Tennessee 25 when Harris’s pass to the endzone was intercepted by the Blue Raiders.
“We have to come out there and execute a lot better than we did,” Harris said. “There were a lot of self-inflicted wounds that cost us points.”
Despite the two interceptions thrown, Harris finished the game with 264 yards passing and two touchdowns on 24 completions. Franklin finished with 114 yards on 13 catches. Cephus finished with 12 catches for 84 yards. Sincere McCormick led the Roadrunner rushing attack with 105 yards on 23 carries.
“We know we are capable of so much more than we put out there,” McCormick said. “We’re happy with the win but we have a lot more in the tank and we didn’t really showcase that tonight.”
UTSA held that 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter. The Roadrunners had a chance to go up by 20 but a 31-yard field goal attempt by Hunter Duplessis was blocked by Middle Tennessee.
The Blue Raiders might have been better off taking their chances with the made field goal. On the third play of the Blue Raiders next drive, a third and 10 at their own 20, Trumane Bell sacked the Blue Raiders quarterback at the MTSU 14 yard line. The hit knocked the ball out and Lorenzo Dantzler scooped it up and scored a touchdown. With 12:56 left in the fourth quarter UTSA had pushed its lead to 24-0.
“Coming into this week we reflected on last year,” UTSA safety Rashad Wisdom said. “Last year it came down to the very last play. This week we had a whole different mentality. I feel like that showed throughout the night tonight.”
After Middle Tennessee went three-and-out on their next drive the Roadrunners tacked on their final points of the night with a 38-yard Hunter Duplessis field goal at the 8:01 mark of the fourth quarter.
The Blue Raiders then scored on their final two drives. Their first touchdown came on a 23-yard pass with 3:28 left to play. Middle Tennessee went for two but were unsuccessful. The final touchdown came with 57 seconds left on a 16-yard touchdown pass. This time the Blue Raiders opted to kick the extra point, which they converted.
UTSA was able to field the onside kick and run out the remaining 54 seconds of the game.
“We never could impose our will,” Traylor said. “I kept thinking they would go away and we just could not put them away. We never took their will from them. Much credit to Middle Tennessee.”
UTSA improves to 3-0 for the second straight year, and the fourth time in program history. The Roadrunners will go for their first 4-0 start since the 2012 season next weekend when they travel to face the Memphis Tigers in the Liberty Bowl. Memphis will also be 3-0 entering that game.