UTSA’s offensive woes continued Saturday night in the matchup against Rice, but it didn’t matter. The Roadrunner defense was lights out all game and led UTSA to a 20-3 victory over the Owls.
With the win, UTSA has now won three straight games and has gotten back to .500 with a 3-3 record. They are also now 2-0 in conference play and in a good position in the C-USA West division. It wasn’t a pretty victory, but despite only earning 43 passing yards and not reaching even 200 yards of total offense, UTSA still managed to walk out of Rice stadium with the win.
Here are the three major keys that played a hand in UTSA’s victory over Rice.
Dominated the turnover battle
Out of the 20 points that UTSA scored, 17 of them were points off turnovers. The UTSA defense forced four turnovers (2 INTs, 2 fumbles) and consistently gave the ball to their offense with fantastic field position.
Early in the second quarter, cornerback Cassius Grady came up with an interception and returned in all the way to the three-yard line. From there, UTSA running back B.J Daniels was able to punch it in for a touchdown. Not long after, the UTSA defense forced a fumble and recovered it inside the Owls 15-yard line. That turnover resulted in a field goal from Jared Sackett. Then, late in the fourth quarter, Rice went for it on fourth and one. The UTSA defense forced yet another fumble on the play and returned the loose ball for a touchdown. The touchdown was called back on a hold, but the turnover stood, and the offense later scored.
UTSA’s offense has struggled putting lengthy drives together all season, so the defense creating opportunities for them in good field position was critical. Although UTSA’s offense was stagnant, they never turned the ball over. The lopsided turnover battle proved to be the main factor in the game.
Ran the ball more effectively
UTSA was only able to muster 43 passing yards on the night. Quarterback Cordale Grundy was coming off his best performance, but he couldn’t seem to find his groove this game. Grundy went 6-18 for only 33 passing yards and was even replaced by quarterback D.J Gillins in the second half. Gillins couldn’t do much of anything either though, as he finished 2/4 with 10 yards.
However, in lieu of the passing game, UTSA posted their third best rushing totals of the season. It wasn’t a great game rushing-wise, but it was still better than what we’ve seen in the past from the UTSA backfield. The Roadrunners totaled 135 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Running back B.J Daniels led the rushing attack with 13 carries for 61 yards and a touchdown. Also, Grundy had more rushing yards than passing yards as he finished with 36 yards on the ground on seven carries. The run game has been something UTSA has struggled to establish, and it was desperately needed in a game where throwing the ball was simply not working.
Once again, UTSA’s front seven was fantastic. Rice features a dynamic backfield duo consisting of Austin Walter and Emmanuel Esukpa. Coming into the game, Rice was averaging just over 200 rushing yards per game. However, against UTSA, they had 47.
Walter and Esukpa combined for 29 carries but were held to only 51 yards. Walter averaged 2.2 yards per carry while Esukpa averaged only 1.3. UTSA’s front seven did a great job of disguising blitzes and filling the gaps and running lanes. Not once did they allow a run to go for more than eight yards. The defensive line also did a great job of creating pressure on Rice quarterback Shawn Stankavage, who looked rattled all night. The pressure played a major role in the two interceptions.
Despite a lackluster offensive performance, UTSA still finds themselves undefeated in conference play thanks to the play of their defense. However, they will face their toughest conference opponent so far this season next week when they take on Louisiana Tech at the Alamodome.