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I feel like I’m still wiping sweat from my brow after a boiling humid tailgate and four quarters and three overtimes of intense competition with the 24th best team in the country. Houston showed that they were very worthy of their preseason ranking… while the Roadrunners showed that they’re just a play or two worse than the nationally-ranked Cougars right now.
With the season back in swing, so are my film breakdowns. Let’s take a closer look at the performances of some of UTSA’s newcomers, and dissect some of the largest plays of the game.
One of the bigger question marks for UTSA coming into this season was where the pass rush was going to come from. The first sack from UTSA showed that the Roadrunners will still be able to get after the quarterback despite losing Clarence Hicks. The Roadrunners sent six on the third and long blitz, with Donyai Taylor lined up at inside linebacker. Taylor bull rushes through Houston’s 5’7″ running back to break down the pocket, then freshman Trey Moore shows great pursuit to finish off the sack. These two were very impressive against Houston, and should form the back bone of UTSA’s pass rush for years to come.
Joe Evans made an instant impact at UTSA just as expected. Evans takes on his blocker with violence as he moves the line of scrimmage back into the backfield, while having the upper body strength to bring down the ball carrier without making solid contact. Evans was a force, and should really dominate against Conference USA competition. Him and Lamonte McDougle paired up really nicely when lined up next to each other.
Brandon Brown remains a bad, bad man. Three different Cougars block Brown at some point on this snap, but he still manages to knock the ball loose from Clayton Tune’s hands, leading to a huge turnover. Unfortunately the Roadrunners were unable to capitalize off of the turnover, while the Cougars were able to get seven points off of their turnover. Definitely one of the key differences in the outcome of the game.
It’s a huge credit to Zakhari Franklin that he can post over 100 receiving yards despite playing a game that’s certainly not up to his standards. This drop on fourth down was really uncharacteristic of Zakhari, and killed a critical drive off of a turnover. Zakhari might have been in his own head a bit, dropping three different first down passes by my count. Expect him to bounce back in a big way against Army.
Add West Virginia transfer Nicktroy Fortune to the list of guys making an immediate impact after joining the Roadrunners’ roster. Fortune was very physical and tackled extremely well, as shown on this stop. In the past this play would have definitely gone for seven or eight yards against UTSA cornerbacks, but Fortune’s speed and toughness prevented the play from being a success. This type of physical play with sound technique will be incredibly important against Army this week.
Fortune was also terrific in coverage. The longest pass he gave up was just a four yard gain. He played so well that Dywan Griffin barely got to see the field. Fortune was simply too good to send to the bench.
Clifford Chattman played a good game overall at the safety position, but this touchdown from Houston was all too reminiscent of last year’s secondary. Before the snap you can see Rashad Wisdom hand off his deep coverage to Chattman, but Chattman seems to be unsure of what his responsibility is. The play ends with Chattman looking way out of position, as Tank Dell gets wide open in the corner of the end zone. Really ugly mistake from UTSA, but thankfully these types of miscommunications were greatly reduced from last season.
UTSA is extremely blessed to have three receivers who can take a slant route to the house for a touchdown. While Josh Cephus’s amazing run after the catch is the main story here, we see some incredible quarterbacking from Frank Harris on this play. He quickly identifies the double linebacker blitz from Houston, and immediately checks down to his hot route with Cephus slanting across the field against soft zone coverage. With the middle of the field vacated, Cephus has all the room he needs to get loose for six. Amazing Triangle of Toughness downfield block from JT Clark as well. I say it time and time again — wide receiver downfield blocking is one of the things that differentiates two talented teams from championships.
Look man, I know moral victories suck. But when your secondary forces one of the best offenses in the country to go through each and every check in the passing game, scramble to avoid a three man rush, then force a receiver to make a play like this to convert the first down…. you’re going to win a lot of football games. Great job from Dywan Griffin and the rest of the defense.
Frank Harris had a few plays in the first half where he should have just tucked the ball and took off. This play was the best example. Frank could have easily picked up five yards on first and 10 but instead attempted a really risky shovel pass that had a very low chance of success.
And hey, sometimes when you take off with the ball it turns into a play like this! Another amazing downfield block from Trevon Bradley, and great toughness from Frank to drive through some tackle attempts to get into the end zone. Do note, however, how badly Frankie Martinez got beat at right tackle to force the scramble. Very tough position for Frankie to get injected into action against one of the best defensive lines in the country, but hopefully UTSA can get Hart and/or Allen back on the field soon.
Brenden Brady didn’t have a great day on the ground against Houston, but he made a lot of savvy plays that you would expect from a super senior veteran. The play before this clip Brady earned a pancake block against a Houston defensive lineman, then we see him send a direct snap pooch punt down to the one yard line. Through Brady’s career at UTSA we’ve really seen him do it all. Catch passes, throw passes, run for touchdowns, block, and now punt. Let’s have him line up for a field goal at some point this year. Bet he’d nail it.
This third down pass break up from freshman Trey Moore was one of my favorite plays of the game. Learning how to play effective coverage is one of the hardest parts of transitioning to the college level, and Moore probably had to work twice as hard at it since he played defensive end at the high school level. Huge, smart play from Moore while mismatched against a tight end. Future is bright for the young man.
It’s going to take some stability along the offensive line, but there’s plenty of room for optimism for UTSA developing a strong run game this season. Trelon Smith really flashed his ability against an incredibly strong defense, as shown on this run. Great vision, balance, quickness, and elusiveness all displayed in a single carry.
Wow, watch the way Lamonte McDougle single-handedly collapses the pocket here from the nose tackle position. Incredible leverage to drive the center back into the quarterback here. And like I mentioned earlier, there’s Joe Evans right beside him to help finish the sack. Whole lot of nasty up front for UTSA.
Unreal throw and catch from Frank Harris to JT Clark to give UTSA a 21-7 lead. Great pump fake from Frank as Clark executes his double move, and perfect route running and focus on the catch from JT. Frank placed the ball perfectly, and the protection held up just long enough for this slow-developing route.
Hands down the most consequential play of the game. This game was absolutely over in the second between UTSA getting the 4th and one stop and the flag coming out for 12 men on the field. Evidently UTSA did not substitute their packages correctly and left a return man back to field the punt on the play, while having a full 11 up to defend against the run.
Not catching this personnel error is probably the biggest coaching mistake in Jeff Traylor’s career at UTSA, and one that ultimately lost him what would have been a marquee win. While the buck stops with Traylor, keep in mind that this was Special Teams Coordinator Justin Burke’s first game managing the special teams. We’ll have to watch to see if these types of avoidable mistakes are corrected or end up lingering.
Outside of the penalty, I thought this play was a great snapshot of how athletic UTSA’s defense has become. Redshirt freshman Trey Moore sets the edge perfectly, and two power five transfers fill in the gap against a former P5 running back to force what should have been a turnover on downs. UTSA’s defense has never been this fast and physical.
I can’t make out what UTSA’s secondary was going for on this play. It looks like some sloppy mix of zone and man that just didn’t work. Mayfield looked to be sitting in a zone way back in the corner of the end zone, then ran across the field to try to pick up Dell. Was it actually his assignment, or did he realize coverage was busted and made an adjustment to cover it up? Hard to tell, but this was a pretty bad look from the secondary that will need to be cleaned up, whether it’s poor play calling or execution of assignments.
For as much as the UTSA offensive tackles struggled in pass protection, it was actually a missed block from Brenden Brady that led to Frank Harris’s lone interception. It might be too much to ask a running back to take on an edge rusher with a full head of steam, but Brady just got pulverized, causing Harris’s pass attempt to be deflected and picked off. Less than stellar play design to put Brady in this position.
Big missed opportunity on this play for UTSA as Pig Cage lined up at outside linebacker and went unblocked by the Cougars’ offense. Cage had a free shot at Clayton Tune, but came into the backfield out of control and was not able to make solid contact with the quarterback. Trumane Bell also lost his footing in his pass rush, causing him to fall to the ground and lose containment. Bell likely would have forced Tune to stay in a very noisy pocket had he kept his feet which probably would have led to a sack or incompletion. Instead Tune is able to escape the pocket to extend the play, and pick up a critical first down.
Just great football here. Avery Morris got some run in the 4th quarter and made the most of it by getting to the passer on his blitz attempts. We see him fight through a block here and force Tune’s throw. Corey Mayfield then makes an athletic leap to deflect a would-be touchdown away from the receiver. Great to see both the front seven and the back four take care of business on this play.
Donyai Taylor continues to blossom right in front of our eyes. He’s bigger, faster, and stronger than his older brother Dadrian, and we’re starting to see Donyai begin to develop the same instincts and football IQ as his older brother. Donyai shows incredible explosion off the edge as he times the snap count perfectly to shoot into the backfield before the pulling guard can pick him up in the power run play call.
Donyai’s quick penetration forces the Houston running back off of his target, and Donyai is strong enough to get the back down on a knee for a big tackle for loss. Plays like these will be even more impactful against Army as falling behind in down and distance tends to spell doom for their offense.
So Oscar Cardenas has a knack for the miracle catch, huh? Great play call from Will Stein to stretch the defense out, and fantastic read from Frank Harris to find Cardenas in a huge mismatch against a 5’8″, 175 defensive back. Oscar is winning that jump ball every day. Perfectly placed throw from Frank who also did a great job stepping up into the pocket after Frankie Martinez and Venly Tatafu ran the two edge rushers out of the back of the passing pocket. Great stuff all around, especially the way the Roadrunners quickly got up to the line to clock the ball with a spike to set-up the game-tying field goal.
With Houston facing a third and three in overtime Jess Loepp showed a lot of guts by calling a zone blitz. Donyai Taylor does his job of covering up the left tackle, leaving Trevor Harmanson completely unblocked on his delayed “green dog” blitz. Seeing Harmanson release uncovered causes Tune to rush his throw out quickly. While Asyrus Simon was not able to win his 1 on 1 to generate pocket pressure, he does the next best thing as a defensive lineman by getting his hands up in time to deflect the pass. Great awareness by Simon to keep his eyes up to watch the play develop.
I’ve seen a lot of fans on social media bemoan the ease with which Clayton Tune was able to pick up yardage against UTSA with his legs. “Why didn’t UTSA put a spy on the quarterback?” Well this play shows the complexity of the situation. Trevor Harmanson sits in a shallow zone, clearly keeping his eyes on Tune to watch for him to take off running. Tune is considerably faster than Harmanson, as Tune has been timed in the 4.5 second range in his 40 yard dash.
UTSA had no choice but to double cover Tank Dell all game given his game-breaking ability. Dell starts to become open on this play, so Donyai Taylor zips down below his zone to ensure Dell is covered. Taylor coming down into the tackle box catches Harmanson off guard, and Harmanson gets just out of position to get a really good angle on the speedy Tune. This split-second decision is what enables Tune to use his speed for a big pickup on the ground. Trumane Bell uses an inside pass rush move, leaving the left edge of the field completely open for Tune to take off running. Harmanson just isn’t fast enough to match Tune in a foot race.
As we see so often in football, X’s and O’s can only get you so far. Sometimes even the perfect play call can be beat on accord of one team simply having a better matchup in terms of athleticism.
UTSA was mostly clean in their tackling form (71.1 on PFF), but this missed tackle from Asyrus Simon was really painful. Simon jumped through the two pull blockers on the power run to get a clean look at the running back in the back field, but Simon loses his feet and whiffs on the tackle. Had he made any contact on the back it certainly would have forced a field goal attempt from UH. Also note the egregious missed holding on Brandon Brown. Hurts to watch!
I’m not sure what’s more impressive here — Frank Harris ability to avoid pressure and thread the needle through some great coverage, or JT Clark’s second effort to redirect his route and come down with an unbelievable catch. One of my biggest frustrations with UTSA’s wide receivers in the Frank Wilson era was how often receivers would just stand around after completing their route. Here we see JT read his quarterback’s eyes and run to a spot where we’ll have a chance to make a play on the ball even after his initial route didn’t get him open. Incredibly difficult for a defense to hold their coverage long enough to prevent a play like this from being successful.
I’ve watched the last play of the game at least 15 times now and still can’t figure out what UTSA was trying to do on this play call. Frank Harris mentioned in the post-game press conference that he forgot to send a wide receiver in motion pre-snap, but I’m not sure if Zakhari was supposed to move to twins right, or if Cephus was supposed to move to twins left. Either way, it’s still hard to mentally picture what this play was supposed to look like.
Regardless, UTSA’s slide protection was foiled by Houston bringing pressure from the back side of the slide protection. The defense was able to get to Frank so fast he didn’t even have time to look to his second option Oscar Cardenas who ended up being wide open on the play after the defender fell to the ground. Really tough way for UTSA to lose.
In summary, this game was a real heart-breaker for UTSA. They played a much better game than Houston overall, but an inability to keep the pocket clean, and one of the most ill-timed penalties in the history of Roadrunner football handed this game over to the Cougars.
Jeff Traylor carried a 13-3 record in one-score games heading into this contest, so it’s understandable that Traylor has been so hard on himself in media interviews following the loss. Traylor made some rare but key mistakes in the second half. He should have caught the 12 man on the field before the ball was snapped and used a timeout to prevent a flag. Conversely, he should have pocketed at least one of the two timeouts he called in the fourth quarter when UTSA’s defense was misaligned. Not being able to stop the clock in the last two minutes was a huge handicap that UTSA was very lucky to overcome by forcing overtime.
While Traylor will want to take back some of his decisions, I think this all serves as a great reminder of how thin the margin for error is when playing championship football against winning programs. With a fairly even matching of talent, this game came down to just a few snaps, penalties, and bounces. Thankfully the Roadrunners should be able to out-talent most of the teams on their schedule, but this game was a tough reminder that sometimes even the best of efforts aren’t enough to come away with a win in a one-score game. If the Roadrunners can keep this level of effort and success in play calling then they’ll go on to win a bunch of games down the stretch.
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