UNLV vs. UTSA: Get to Know the Roadrunners
Before the Rebels head to San Antonio, we connect with Jared Kalmus of Underdog Dynasty and the Alamodome Audible to learn about UTSA.
A team on the rise.
Few teams in college football enjoyed the kind of September that the UTSA Roadrunners did, sweeping through the month unbeaten while notching wins over Illinois and Memphis in the process.
The UNLV Rebels will head to Texas on Saturday to face a team that’s suddenly become one of the Group of 5’s best, so we reached out to Jared Kalmus, the Conference USA editor at SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty and co-host of the Alamodome Audible podcast, to get more information on what has prompted the Roadrunners’ rise.
Mountain West Wire: Four weeks into the season, the Roadrunners stand alone as the lone undefeated team left in Conference USA. For our readers who may not pay much attention to what goes on outside of the Mountain West, what have been the big drivers of UTSA’s push to 4-0 so far?
Jared Kalmus: Head coach Jeff Traylor stepped into the driver’s seat in San Antonio in 2020, probably the worst season for a first time head coach to have to manage his first season under the spotlight. Despite having his spring camp cancelled due to the initial outbreak of the pandemic, Traylor instilled his culture and installed his playbook via Zoom, getting the Roadrunners to a bowl game in Traylor’s first season. He’s recruited really well, and the administration and boosters stepped up in a big way to bring back 11 super seniors this year. Everything we’ve seen from this team in 2021 is just a continuation of that progress, but with more time in the system, and more relatively highly-rated recruits entering the program.
It's a Veni, Vidi, Vici recap of Memphis as Jared shares his perspective from the Liberty Bowl as #UTSA notches a headline-grabbing win. We also preview a UNLV team that, despite losing their last 10 games, has the speed to give UTSA fits https://t.co/DkmcXQ5nYf pic.twitter.com/EEvbN3S5EF
— Alamodome Audible (@AlamoAudible) September 28, 2021
MWW: Running back Sincere McCormick has received a heavier workload than any other player at his position in the early going, averaging nearly 26 carries per game. What would you say has been the biggest reason for relying so much on one player?
JK: He’s the best offensive weapon to ever come through the program, and he plays his best late in games when defenses start to wear down. While the carries per game number is inflated by McCormick getting a shocking 42 carries against Memphis, he will continue to be the most important piece of the offense, even in games where UTSA’s rushing attack is slow to perform out of the gate.
MWW: UTSA was expected to come into the year with excellent special teams contributors, which is always one of those subtle factors which can have an outsized influence on games. How has that expectation held up or not to this point?
JK: The Roadrunners’ special teams have been a plus overall, as the place kicking and punting have been excellent. But the unit has been undisciplined, racking up an alarming number of penalties for kickoffs going out of bounds, blocks in the back, as well as making non-penalized errors like fielding punts within the Roadrunners’ own five yard line. From a talent perspective this group is loaded, but their mental errors will present their opponents with opportunities to win in the hidden yardage competition.
MWW: One thing that UNLV has struggled with so far is keeping opponents out of the offensive backfield, since they rank last in the Mountain West in both sacks allowed and TFLs allowed. Some of that has to do with shuffling at quarterback and quality of opponent, but how is UTSA equipped to take advantage of that potential mismatch? Which defenders in the front seven deserve our attention and why?
JK: Unfortunately for the Rebels, this UTSA team is absolutely loaded in the front seven. The Roadrunners are legitimately three-deep at each position on the defensive line, with several NFL prospects up front. You’ll see UTSA do hockey-style line shifts as they rotate fresh legs in on each drive.
Nose tackle Jaylon Haynes is the star among the defensive linemen, while outside linebackers Charles Wiley and Clarence Hicks have terrorized quarterbacks off the edge this season. Inside linebackers Jamal Ligon and Trevor Harmanson are both really talented, while they are backed up by two Kansas transfers in Denzel Feaster and Dru Prox. UNLV will likely need to dial up a good number of screen passes to keep the defense honest, as they did against Fresno State last week.
MWW: Finally, the Rebels looked competitive for the first time in weeks against Fresno State last Friday, so how concerned are you that UNLV could finish the job and pull an upset this week? In your mind, what has to happen for the Rebels to shock the Roadrunners?
JK: My concern for an outright upset is relatively low due to the offensive line/quarterback situation in Las Vegas, but I’m fairly confident in the Rebels covering the spread. UTSA is really banged up right now, with three to four starting offensive linemen unlikely to suit up on Saturday. Coming off a thrilling victory last week, the Roadrunners may struggle to put UNLV away. The Rebels will certainly be playing with a newfound confidence after realizing they had the speed and talent to compete with one of the top teams in their conference last week.
If UNLV were to come out victorious then my guess is that it would come on the back of a couple of huge offensive plays where UNLV’s speed at the skilled positions led to multiple missed tackles from the UTSA defense. Defensively the Rebels would need to take away a few of quarterback Frank Harris’ deep shots to steal away a massive upset. The Roadrunners’ wide receivers are lethal, but Harris has had a bit of an underthrow habit this season which could lead to some turnovers if UNLV’s defensive backs are up for the challenge.
Want more information on the UTSA Roadrunners ahead of this weekend’s game? The Alamodome Audible podcast is available on your platform of choice.