UNLV Football: First Look at the UTSA Roadrunners
The Rebels will head to Texas to dance with UTSA in non-conference play. Here’s our early preview of what to know about the Roadrunners.
A Group of 5 team on the rise?
UNLV Football: First Looks at Non-Conference Opponents
The UNLV Rebels will close out a rigorous non-conference football schedule by hitting the road one last time to face the UTSA Roadrunners on October 2. While not as well-know nationally as some of UNLV’s other non-conference foes, UTSA should be a tough test in its own right thanks to one of the most experienced rosters anywhere in the country.
Location: San Antonio, Texas
Conference: Conference USA
2020 Record: 7-5 (5-2 Conference USA)
Head Coach: Jeff Traylor (second year; 7-5 overall). UTSA has long been thought to be a promising program, but it wasn’t until last year that the Roadrunners looked like they might be turning a permanent corner toward making good on that belief. Traylor’s first year in charge was UTSA’s first winning campaign since 2017 and they showed that they could play tough against quality opponents, losing to UAB, BYU and Louisiana each by just one score.
Now, heading into 2021, only Florida Atlantic returns more production from the pandemic year within CUSA and the expectations have been raised. They were picked to finish second in the conference’s West division but received a significant chunk of first-place votes, so they’re exactly the kind of team on the rise that UNLV itself aspires to be.
RB Sincere McCormick
If you’re looking for the best running back in the Group of 5, you’d be hard-pressed to find a stronger case than the one McCormick has laid out for himself over the past two seasons. He burst onto the scene as a true freshman and was named Conference USA’s freshman of the year in 2019, then strung together an All-American season as the conference’s offensive player of the year in 2020 with 1,467 rushing yards and eleven touchdowns on 249 attempts, chipping in with 20 receptions for 131 yards out of the backfield, as well.
— Mike Spencer Hrynyshyn (@MikeH_Draft) July 2, 2021
S Rashad Wisdom
While his defensive stat sheet isn’t quite as impressive as McCormick’s, don’t let that fool you into thinking Wisdom wasn’t just as impactful on defense. He picked off four passes last fall, tied for the most in the conference, and finished with 95 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles, patrolling the middle of the field as well as anyone in the country.
P Lucas Dean
Because this website appreciates elite specialists, we’d be remiss not to mention that Dean had an All-American-caliber 2020 on special teams. He set the UTSA record by averaging a whopping 46 yards per punt, including 21 kicks that went for 50 or more yards, and landed 27 of them inside the 20-yard line. Anyone who can make that kind of difference in flipping a field is worth taking notice of.
WR Zakhari Franklin
A rising star in his own right, Franklin established a school record last fall with 694 receiving yards on 49 catches. He also scored seven touchdowns in just ten games, giving the Roadrunners a quality number one pass catcher who could have even bigger things in store against unsuspecting defenses.
LB Charles Wiley
The lone Roadrunner to be named a preseason first-team all-conference pick by Pro Football Focus is none other than Wiley, who arrived in San Antonio as a grad transfer from Ole Miss and promptly became one of the Roadrunners’ most disruptive defenders. He led the team with ten tackles for loss and pitched in with two sacks to go along with 43 total tackles.
UTSA didn’t have a ton of glaring weaknesses on this side of the ball last fall, but there’s no doubt McCormick did a lot of heavy lifting since the Roadrunners finished first in CUSA with 5.21 yards per carry but just eighth by passer rating and sixth by completion rate. They also protected quarterback Frank Harris pretty well, allowing a 5.7% sack rate, though all in all they ended up closer to a net of zero points per drive than any other team in the country by ranking just 62nd overall.
Could Harris get pushed for the starting job? New Mexico State transfer Josh Adkins, a multi-year starter for the Aggies, is certainly putting in work to muddy the situation, but whoever wins the job will have a strong supporting cast around him. McCormick and senior running back Brendan Brady make for a well-above-average tandem in the backfield, while Franklin and Joshua Cephus (58 catches, 547 yards, five TDs) make for a dynamic junior wide receiver duo.
If that weren’t enough, the Roadrunners also return 120 career starts on the offensive line, chief among them senior left tackle Spencer Burford. 2021 will be Burford’s fourth year as a starter but his first protecting Harris’s blind side full-time; he and senior center Ahofitu Maka, both of whom were second-team all-conference selections last year, will anchor a unit who could propel the offense to new heights.
Not many teams can boast of returning all eleven starters to any unit, but UTSA’s defense is deep and experienced and could easily improve on a bend-but-don’t-break performance that allowed 5.62 yards per play and 2.23 points per drive. Wisdom, Wiley and linebacker Trevor Harmanson (73 tackles, nine TFLs, three passes defended) make for a strong defensive trio and they could be bolstered by a number of incoming transfers, like safety Clifford Chattman (Texas A&M) and defensive lineman Brandon Brown (Tulane). Should the Roadrunners claim the conference title, this defense will probably be the main reason why.
UTSA probably won’t play at quite the same level as Arizona State or Iowa State, but their experience on both sides of the ball makes this matchup seem like another case of bad timing. UNLV should be able to hang around a little longer on this one, but an upset bid doesn’t seem likely.
UTSA 34, UNLV 16