UTSA 21 North Texas 13: Rivalry?
Let us get this out of the way: I’m still hurting. I began this Cooler (neé Coker) Chronicles adventure with my heart firmly belonging to my alma mater as far as college football was concerned. My Runner fandom stems from my love of my hometown and the desire for good and awesome things to occur within her borders. Saturday’s game was one I thought I’d see some time, but likely not for a long while. I hoped North Texas and UTSA would be in the same conference because I knew it would be good for both schools. I think I have been proven right.
I am okay taking the first hit. I am a long-suffering North Texas fan that is used to losing games – if not quite like this, a meaningful November game. If anyone is suited to taking the first blow it is North Texas Fan Adam. My North Texas Mean Green has an in-state rival and it is glorious.
But seeing my team lose hurts. A lot. That it was to my second favorite team was some kind of cruel joke that I do find kind of hilarious. Mostly because I enjoy dark humor.
The part of me that has never doubted the ability of the City of SA to outdo expectations wasn’t surprised that UTSA came up to Denton and won. I am unsurprised in the same way I am unsurprised that the Spurs continue to win long past the point where anyone was comfortable with them doing so. This is similarly solidly run program. The only difference is that it is new. Also, a ton of the kids on the UTSA roster are from San Antonio or surrounding area and have a chip on their shoulder – the one put there by everyone who forgets that San Antonio has nearly 2 million residents, has a long, colorful history, and can put on a show.
Here is my reaction, while fully rooting against UTSA in my role as Mean Green alumnus:
The start was surprising in that I didn’t think throwing the quick bubble screen stuff would work as well as it was. More surprising was the option on the edge. In any case, it was the fact that Eric Soza was crisp, the line was stout and the skill players were decisive that made all the difference. Getting the early lead and playing solid defense was how everyone (Jared, myself, and others, namely) thought UTSA could pull this out. The Runners played their game, stuck with stuff that Eric can do and didn’t try to get too cute.
Whereas UNT had feasted on freshman quarterbacks that scrambled after their first read, or even more experienced quarterbacks who didn’t have the tools to break down the defense, Eric Soza was able to hit his second and third reads when he had to and that made all the difference.
The thing is that he didn’t have to make second or third reads often. The plan was quick passes to the flat to avoid having to deal with blocking the very good North Texas line. Occasionally when the play call was a deep drop, he got sacked some, and he scrabbled some other times. In other words, he was Eric Soza.
The second half started exactly like the first one. An early UTSA score and only a UNT field goal in response. By now UNT was showing signs of nervousness. The fan base was getting shaky, section 204 was feeling good. The defense was getting cocky and hitting hard. I said on the podcast that UTSA has an aura of imperviousness. When people don’t believe you should be on the same field with them you put them at a disadvantage when you show up and hit them hard. I don’t know if all of UNT was doing that – but apparently Mason Y’Barbo thought that UTSA was soft and ‘unphysical.’ That aside, North Texas had the pressure on them and UTSA didn’t. The Runners played loose and executed. It was amazing to watch. Eric Soza, the guy that was throwing terrible ducks in the first year against very beatable competition was looking like Peyton Manning out there. He looked completely in command of his offense.
All those conversions – by the middle of the fourth quarter it was at a 68% rate – had worn out the Mean Green defense. Coach Brown, who has been criticized this season for his play calling, was dialing up gems all game. He had the right mix of play-action and aggressiveness. Play-Action counter to a throw back WR tunnel screen neutralized the defensive aggressiveness. UTSA ran that a handful of times and got two or three first downs on it alone. The quick bubble screens and play-action off jet-sweeps and inverted-veer looks got Seth Grubb and Kam Jones open in from of the safeties.
By the fourth quarter North Texas’ defense looked frustrated. On senior day with everyone expecting this NT team to be controlling this game UTSA was the team doing the controlling. Once Eric scooted in for the score to put the team up 21-6 some fans started leaving. The ones who stayed (me) knew that it didn’t look good. UTSA was firmly in control and there would need to be some miracles if there was to be a comeback. There was still time for one but Larry Coker’s crew was squeezing the game with every first down and every stop by the defense. UNT got away from running the ball, sure, but some of that was because there was no success to be found running up the middle. Stopping the offense was never really the biggest concern, however. Controlling the ball was effectively controlling Brelan Chancellor. When you don’t punt, you don’t have to worry about a dangerous punt returner.
Still, there was some worry. Missing a field goal left the door open. Hell, I fully expected Larry Coker to try to win the game by going for it on fourth down with a minute left. When you are converting third downs on a 75% clip a short conversion on fourth does’t seem so difficult.
That last drive was … strange. I hate the prevent defense. Derek Thompson was unable to hit anyone downfield all game, but he can hit 15-20 yard passes. I mean, that is what teams practice all game. The conservative defensive strategy nearly cost the team. I don’t know if UNT should have been allowed that last play with one second on the clock – not because it wasn’t legal, but because it is so unusual. Everything about those refs was strange.
I said at various points in time that to have a rivalry you have to play meaningful games. Someone has to beat someone when it hurts. Losing to UNT wouldn’t have hurt UTSA very much. Beating UNT hurts the Mean Green a ton. It cost them a Conference Title berth, and a lot of goodwill among the casual DFW fan.
I like UTSA a little less, sure. I mean they messed up my favorite college football team’s perfect record at home. I can’t say I’m surprised by it though, having followed this program for three years now. There’s no denying that this program is fun to watch and fun to root for.
That is, unless you were a UNT alum on Saturday.
Next Week: La Tech.
Editor extraordinaire, UTSA grad student. Twitter