From the press box: Undefeated season continues for UTSA in thriller

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SAN ANTONIO – UTSA kept the dream of an undefeated season alive with a last-second touchdown pass from Frank Harris to Oscar Cardenas with three seconds left on the clock to beat UAB 34-31 and clinch the West Division title of Conference USA. UTSA will host the C-USA championship game at 6 p.m. on Dec. 3. The Roadrunners’ 10-0 start was nearly foiled Saturday afternoon poor performances by the defense in the first half and the offense in the second half.

More than 35,000 fans poured into the Alamodome, which was the fifth largest crowd in program history and the most to watch a C-USA game in UTSA history. 

FIVE OBSERVATIONS

Belief goes a long way: UTSA was dead in the water as the clock ticked under two minutes. UAB led by four points and held the ball. UTSA only had two timeouts. Even a stop didn't guarantee UTSA much chance of a win. The Roadrunners defense came up with a big stop, something it did multiple times in the second half. The UTSA offense finally capitalized. Frank Harris and the offense took the field with 1:06 left in the game and 77 yards between the Roadrunners and history. Harris led UTSA down the field and evenutally found tight end Oscar Cardenas on a one-yard touchdown pass with three seconds remaining in the game. It was only the second lead for UTSA in the entire contest. 

For the second straight week, UTSA overcame a sloppy performance in a must-win scenario. A loss wouldn't have ruined the UTSA season, but it would've likley prevented the Roadrunners from playing for a conference title despite a 10-0 start. The team never stopped believing. UTSA is nearly flawless in close games under head coach Jeff Traylor, and that is because of an unwavering belief in the process he's brought to San Antonio. The defense stepped up after a poor first half. The offense answered the bell on the last drive of the game despite a sluggish third and fourth quarter. 

Clarence Hicks is a stud: The Roadrunner defense came alive in the second half as Hicks, a hybrid between a defensive end and an outside linebacker, was let loose as a pass rusher. His disruption in the backfield threw UAB out of sync. Hicks was credited with three tackles, including three tackles for loss and two sacks. He’s also an emotional leader of the defense, and it was clear that Hicks and the UTSA defensive unit came out inspired after allowing 21 points and nearly 400 yards of offense in the first half. Hicks is likely going to receive all-conference honors and might get a few votes as Defensive Player of the Year in Conference USA. 

Harris to Zakhari Franklin is money: The UTSA offense struggled for most of the night except when Harris was able to find Franklin, who was clearly hobbled during the game. Franklin caught two touchdowns in the first half, including a one-handed catch that might end up on ESPN’s top plays from Saturday. Franklin set a school record with 12 touchdown catches in a single season. Harris also set a single season record with his 21st and 22nd touchdown passes of 2021. Harris finished the game 25 of 36 for 323 yards and three touchdowns to zero interceptions. Franklin caught six passes for 97 yards and a pair of scores. 

The UTSA offensive line needs work: A poor performance from the offensive line almost cost the Roadrunners in Week 10 when UTSA narrowly escaped an upset bid by Southern Miss. The unit continued to struggle against UAB. The Roadrunners want to be a run-first offense, but that is hard with defenders winning the battles at the line of scrimmage. UTSA allowed five sacks and only averaged 1.5 yards per rush in the game. Sincere McCormick finished the game with 20 carries for 65 yards and a score. Harris was the only other Roadrunner to record a rush, and he finished the game with negative 13 yards total due to sacks. 

Roadrunners are susceptible to plays through the air: The weak link of the UTSA defense is the secondary, and that was obvious in the first half. UAB hit touchdown throws of 75 and 40 yards by the end of the first quarter. UAB racked up 200 yards in the first quarter alone and ended the half with 198 through the air and 349 yards of total offense. UAB averaged 11.6 yards a play in the first half. The Roadrunners defense improved in the second half as the defensive line began to create more pressure on the UAB quarterback. 

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