Southern Utah Game Recap

Evans Okotcha runs behind a block in the first quarter- Ashwer Swan/University Journal

A mini third quarter comeback wasn’t enough to thwart Brad Sorensen and the Southern Utah Thunderbirds. While the Roadrunners fell on the losing side of a 22-45 affair, the young UTSA team showed admirable resilience and flashes of brilliance against one of the best FCS teams in the nation. Similar to last week’s loss to McMurry, this game exposed more areas of needed improvement for UTSA, while simultaneously allowing certain players to establish themselves as players to be called upon during crunch time. The first drive of the game had “upset” written all over it as Eric Soza led the Runners to a near-flawless opening, endcapped by a 10 yard touchdown pass to David Morgan. UTSA’s first drive consisted of 12 productive plays and ate up 6:17 on the clock. Evans Okotcha made big contributions early with a completion for seven, followed by carries for nine and five yards. I’m quickly becoming a big fan of Okotcha, he puts his head down when necessary and runs hard, while also showing good speed on the end and terrific blocking skills.

Following UTSA’s impressive start, Southern Utah wasted no time establishing their superior size and aggression as running back Deckar Alexander took it 50 yards up the field on the Thunderbirds’ first play from scrimmage. Southern Utah’s offensive line opened up a gaping hole for Alexander to rush through, showing the dominance they would maintain through four quarters. Whether it be manhandling the pass rush to give Sorensen all the time he could ever dream of, or pounding Marlon Smith into the ground every other play, the Thunderbirds’ line showed little struggle outside of some linebacker blitzes and a couple of great rushes from Jason Neill. I will be very surprised if UTSA faces an offensive line as big and physical as this at any point throughout the remainder of the season, maybe even next year in the WAC.

SUU would rattle off consecutive scores on the strength of Sorensen’s arm and nice rushes from Alexander and Minefee to bring it to 38-7 before UTSA would score again on an eight yard rush from David Glasco on an option. As Southern Utah continued to rack up points, UTSA’s weakness on special teams was exposed yet again. Brady Measom totaled 102 yards on punt returns, ensuring strong field positions on almost every Southern Utah possession. Thankfully Josh Ward’s punts were improved from last week and his wind up was a bit shorter. Unfortunately the coverage on punts were this week’s glaring weakness. Poor tackles and bad spacing made it easy for Measom as he sliced his way up the field on four returns. Sean Ianno seems to have usurped Ward’s kick off duties from him, sending his first kickoff of the game into orbit with a kick that escaped the back of SUU’s end zone through the air.

One could easily fixate on the negatives of this game– poor zone coverage in the secondary, dumb penalties (again), lack of a pass rush on Sorensen, some bad decisions from Soza… but I took away a good chunk of positives from this performance. It’s approaching midnight and I’m getting a bit lazy, so let’s step away from paragraph format and break it down:

UTSA Offensive Line– Some break downs, but a net win for the OL tonight. Zero sacks and two QB hurries for Southern Utah, although I’m pretty sure Soza was forced to scramble more often than that. SUU has a quick defensive line so I was quite impressed to see the OL biding some time for Soza and relatively shutting Tyler Osborne down (2 tackles, 1 QBH). Better blocking tonight than against McMurry. The OL opened up some holes for Tevin Williams to produce his most successful game of his collegiate career thus far.

UTSA Defensive Line– Faced a tough task in lining up against SUU’s offensive line and didn’t look ready for the challenge. Sorensen had time to bake a cake in the pocket on most downs, and that’s taking the high elevation into account (har har). After a career game against McMurry, Marlon Smith reminded us that’s he’s only 225 pounds in this outing. Over 80 pounds outpaced, Smith saw many a pancake block and spent a multitude of plays running in place while being stood up by beefy Thunderbird linemen. Smith still has some work to do on his technique. A more athletic three point stance will allow him to fire off the ball and utilize his speed and athleticism to get into the backfield before an offensive tackle can lay a hand on him. Easily fixable and I’d be willing to bet Roark has already made a note of it. True freshman Jason Neill stood his ground well today, collapsing Sorensen’s passing pocket on a few plays and pulling down a tackle for loss that he wasn’t credited with. Richard Burge had a few nice plays at the beginning of the second half, breaking off his block for a TFL then knocking down a pass on consecutive plays.

Eric Soza– Very inconsistent play tonight from the offensive head honcho. Soza came out of the gate flawless, completing all five of his pass attempts in UTSA’s first possession. Eric made good decisions with his feet by picking up yards on zone reads and keepers. When #8 becomes a dual threat the Roadrunners offense is tough to stop. Unfortunately Soza was not able to maintain his early success as pressure mounted. Finishing with 14 completions on 28 attempts, Soza totaled 141 yards through the air which looks elementary across from Sorensen’s 20-28, 287 yd., 3 TD line on the stat sheet. Exercising some brutally ill-advised judgment, Eric forced way too many throws to places where they simply were not going to be caught. Most egregious of all came on UTSA’s first offensive play of the second half. After meeting pressure in the pocket, Soza rolled to his left sideline, staring down Brandon Freeman all the way through. Naturally, SUU’s Dion Turner noticed and hopped in front of the pass to return it for a Southern Utah touchdown. Freeman was never open in the first place, and staring him down only makes matters worse. A wasted down on a thrown-away pass is much more manageable than handing over an easy touchdown. Tough game, but don’t forget that this is only Soza’s third collegiate football game.

Kam Jones– Dude, Kam Jones is really good. He did a little bit of everything tonight including catching four passes for 43 yards and reeling in 18 yards on the ground via a reverse on his way towards leading the team in all-purpose yards with 124. Kam deserves extra praise for fighting through some bumps and bruises, especially after enduring a brutal hit early in the game that sidelined him for a while. Lest we forget, Jones had a touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff as well. I wouldn’t mind seeing Coker bench Kam next week against a weaker opponent to ensure he bounces back from the beating he took tonight.

Kenny Harrison– Blazing fast. Ran a beautiful slant route for a first down. Flew with the ball on a kickoff return after both Jones and Armstrong went down with injuries. I’m starting to see why the coaching staff is so high on Harrison and I’m looking forward to seeing him develop as a receiver.

David Morgan– Another great game from the talented, young tight end, amassing 35 yards on just three completions. Hauled in the first touchdown of the game on a very nice catch. David may have the best hands on the team at 6’5, 225. An offseason regiment with a Division I strength and conditioning coach is going to make Morgan a scary option for Eric Soza moving forward. He’s pretty skinny for his frame, yet he still trucked through three Thunderbirds on a five and out route tonight.

Steven Kurfehs– Just how good is Steven Kurfehs? 13 tackles, including 8 solo in tonight’s contest. Kurfehs flashed his athleticism throughout the game, chasing down speedy Thunderbirds with ease and crashing through the line for a loss of five in the second quarter. The anchor of UTSA’s defense is already up to 29 tackles on the year.

Brandon Reeves– Big bounce back from a lackluster performance last week. Reeves enjoyed the Roadrunners’ lone sack in the game while also pulling down seven tackles, five of which were brought down for a gain of four yards or less. You’ve got to admire Reeves passion on the field, you can tell he’s one of those guys that just absolutely loves playing the game of football.

Nic Johnston– We might be entering the zone where it’s safe to say that Nic Johnston is the best player on this football team. Nic had seven tackles tonight, was credited with a force fumble, and delivered two CRUSHING blows to SUU receivers. Nic is great in coverage and does a phenomenal job of getting his hand in between the receiver and the pass. Teams are going to start game planning around Johnston. If I’m a receiver I don’t want my route to run anywhere near this dude.

Play calling– Although it might have been a bit unnecessary, we got a peek into a few wrinkles in Coach Bush’s offense. A lot of motion going on all over the field, some times going into and out of double tight sets. This interests me in particular because it completely changes the mindset of the defense, even if all you did was tell what would have been your slot receiver to go down into a three-point stance. Best play of the game? Soza motioned a back out to a slot receiver position, then handed a reverse to Kam Jones for a big pick up. Set up by the previously described play, Bush later ran a fake reverse to Jones, only to have him continue running out for a pass that Soza completed, nearly leading to a Roadrunners touchdown. The more ways we can get Kam into open space, the better.

Six Fumbles– WHAT….. This is the only answer to these woes.

Triston Wade’s ejection– This is a weird play and it’s always tough to see a player ejected, but Wade could have cause serious brain injury to Measom. Granted, Wade was .1 second away from having made a perfect play on the punt, he still put Measom’s life in danger which is absolutely unacceptable. I hope Measom made it out alright without any type of damage and he learned his lesson about calling for a fair catch. That rule is there to protect you, Brady. Use it, it could have saved your ass tonight

The “Wild Runner” formation– So I guess we could not be lame and just call it the Wildcat, but Bush finally paraded out his wildcat formation. I failed to take notes of who all was involved, but it looked like Jones and Johnson were the two upbacks. UTSA was fairly efficient out of this set. Don’t forget that Jones (and Josiah Monroe) was an all-state quarterback in high school… just sayin’.

I’m fading fast so I’ll wrap this up and hit the hay. Bottom line: A team full of freshmen made their first road trip EVER to a mountain town to play one of the best FCS teams in the nation and played pretty well for about 35~40% of the game. I felt that UTSA had the edge in pure talent, but of course that doesn’t win football games. This team needs to continue getting reps and coaching to be at the level of play that they are capable of. Let’s hope that develops sooner rather than later. After watching this game I’m convinced that UTSA can hang with the rest of the FCS teams on its schedule. Winning those games is a different story. That takes game planning, execution, preparation, and *gasp* maturity.

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Game stat sheet

About jared

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