Roadrunners Shine in the Sun Bowl
It didn’t take long for UTSA to prove their worth in Conference USA. The third-year program marched into El Paso and easily handled a program that has been playing football since Franz Ferdinand caught a bullet in Sarajevo. I guess UTSA knows their place now. The Roadrunners out hit, out hustled, out performed, and out coached the Miners on the back of a dominating second quarter. The talent level was just as lopsided as the score was as UTEP struggled to keep up with UTSA’s receivers or generate control of the line of scrimmage. Considering that UTSA was able to command such a huge gap in talent with just three total recruiting classes, it may be hard for UTEP to truly challenge UTSA as a “rival” for a while. And boy, does that feel odd to say.
OFFENSIVE MVP: Offensive Line, collective. While Eric Soza is a close runner up here for piecing together his best performance of the season, I have to give the nod to the big fellas for dominating the Miners who blitzed, and blitzed, and blitzed. Despite starting offensive guard Payton Rion missing the game (sending much Roadrunner love to the Rion family, we stand with you) the offensive line protected Soza nearly flawlessly and were able to lead the running backs to 181 yards on the ground, by far a season high. Sophomore William Cavanaugh stepped in for Rion and performed admirably. He was rewarded by the coaching staff by being named as a starter again this week against Houston.
DEFENSIVE MVP: I was very impressed with Drew Douglas and his team-leading 11 tackles but Bennett Okotcha stole the show on Saturday. In his first start as a Roadrunner, Okotcha shut down the Miners’ passing attack and had two pass break ups in the end zone. Bennett was also extremely effective in the run game, racking up nine tackles. If that’s not a program record for a cornerback then its damn close. If Okotcha is able to continue locking down one side of the field this Roadrunner defense could generate some serious upsets in Conference USA.
YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: Josiah Monroe taking out two defenders on his cut block in the first quarter, springing Brandon Armstrong to take the rock to paydirt. Monroe, Freeman, and Holmes have all stuck out to me with their blocking this season. This is a huge factor in UTSA’s success running the ball outside of the tackles.
PURE GRIT AWARD: David Glasco II wasn’t takin’ no shit against UTEP. After delivering a crushing blow to a UTEP safety, Glasco went on to have his best performance of his collegiate career by successfully fighting for extra yards on every touch. David capped things off with an impressive touchdown scamper to seal the victory for the Roadrunners.
NOT IMPRESSED: With UTEP’s fans. I’ve got to hand it to them, they were sporadically loud, particularly when UTSA had the ball on third and long. But man are they some inhospitable hosts. My group walked through their “premium” tailgating lot and felt that it had the atmosphere of a company picnic. We weren’t offered a single beer or slice of brisket. In fact, we were generally ignored with the exception of a few drunk fans that cussed at us. Perhaps the identical colors of the school made it hard to identify visiting fans but I’ve never felt less welcomed at a road game.
Inside the stadium a couple of UTEP fans sitting in and near the visitors’ section harassed UTSA fans. One of them was even escorted out of the stadium after attacking the brother of a UTSA athlete. Not cool. The $9 beers were also a bit depressing.
GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN, SIR: Joseph Lizcano is a guy that seems to play well whenever I catch a glimpse of him in action. Unfortunately for Lizcano, a guy named Nic Johnston happens to play the same position as him. Lizcano recovered from an offseason injury to return against UTEP and do a great job of protecting against the run. While true freshman Michael Egwuagu might be a better pass protector, Lizcano is a valuable veteran contributor.
C’MON, MAN: I’m not usually one to complain about officiating but the crew in El Paso was pretty bad. I felt that they were generally short on all of their spots and failed to call for measurements on extremely close spots. After reviewing the film, I counted three missed holding calls on the kickoff UTEP returned for a touchdown. They missed a blatant defensive holding call on Bennett Okotcha, but not before flagging him for a phantom pass interference offense. Let’s do better, guys.
“D’OH” PLAY OF THE GAME: Two great nominees here. Option A: Triston Wade catches up to Autrey Golden after he takes a kickoff return 70+ yards. But instead of simply pushing Golden out of bounds, Wade attempts to strip the ball out, causing Golden to run through Triston’s arms like a scorned lover. Touchdown. Option B: Unknown UTEP cornerback collides with unknown UTEP strong safety (Low resolution YouTube videos make my life hard) to allow Kam Jones to jog into the endzone, as the Runners are essentially playing 11 on nine football.
STAR OF THE WEEKEND: This was my second time to visit Star City Kitchen and Bar in El Paso’s Cincinatti District near the UTEP campus. The food and beer selection was even more impressive the second go-round. I even went so far as to proclaim Star City as one of my top five restaurants in the state. My group split an appetizer sampler consisting of fried shrimp, queso fundido with green chile and chorizo, and mac and cheese garnished with toreados and candied bacon. Surprisingly, it was I and not Matty that ordered the delicious brisket sandwich. Matty had a chucho stack (burger patty, ham steak, crispy onions, chile con queso, fried egg) while Shafer ordered a hamburger. My two other buddies had braised pork belly tacos and a HUGE order of pancakes and bacon. We also drank a lot of craft beer. I think I turned my buddy Andrew into an IPA guy after we kicked back a few Happy Camper IPAs from Santa Fe. If you are ever in El Paso, PLEASE check this joint out. It’s open until 4 AM Tuesday-Thursday and 24 hours on Friday and Saturday.
THAT’S NEW: I noticed UTSA lining up in a traditional 4-3 defense for the first time this year, as Jeters, Douglas/Terry, and Kurfehs were all on the field at once in a couple of red zone situations. Playing to situational strengths– I like that. In a brand new wrinkle, the Roadrunners actually broke a couple of huddles with wide receivers in the backfield before motioning the receivers out of the pocket and the running backs (who were originally lined up wide) back to the inside. Watching five guys in motion at once is beautiful and terrifying. I don’t think this gives UTSA a tactical advantage, but it must have screwed with the defense’s psyche. I noticed that the Miners were extremely unprepared for Brown’s offense. There was a lot of miscommunications, “lost” body language, and extreme mismatches. Had Soza rushed the snap, there were several opportunities to just chunk the ball up to completely uncovered receivers.
We also saw the Roadrunners debut a swinging gate formation on a point after attempt. UTEP must not have many south Texans on the roster because those guys looked mystified by this relic from a bygone era. Holder Seth Grubb had an easy dash past the goal line for two points. I think Coker pointed out in his post-game conference that the staff noticed a flaw in the way UTEP lined up to block field goals.
TAKE AWAY: UTSA is a mature and salty team that is ready to compete in Conference USA. While UTEP might not be the best measuring stick, the performance UTSA put up on the road after taking beatings from consecutive BCS programs shows the resounding resiliency of the Roadrunners. If UTSA builds on this performance instead of peaking at it, a top three finish in the western division of Conference USA is absolutely in play.
A UTSA alumnus that has been cast away to Austin, Jared enjoys live music and a craft beer. He thinks four verts is the best play in football but loves a QB sneak on fourth and inches. Twitter