FRISCO – UTSA’s dream season ended with a 38-24 defeat to San Diego State (12-2) in the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl on Tuesday night. The Roadrunners (12-2) are now 0-3 in bowl games with losses in the New Mexico Bowl (2016) and the First Responder Bowl (2020). Both of those losses were one-possession games.
The UTSA defense was a letdown: If there was a weak link for a team that went 12-1 and won the Conference USA championship, it was the play of the secondary when UTSA failed to garner a consistent pass rush. That bugaboo reared its head in the loss to San Diego State. The Aztecs entered the game averaging 155.27 yards per game through the air. The most a San Diego State quarterback threw for in the regular season was 220 yards, which was also the only time a quarterback threw for over 200 yards on the season.
Lucas Johnson reached that mark by halftime. Johnson was 16 of 26 for 222 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He was only sacked once. The Aztecs took over in the second quarter when the offense gained 210 of its 262 first-half yards. Johnson’s top target was Jesse Matthews, who amassed 121 yards and two touchdowns on six carries in the first half.
Johnson set a Frisco Bowl record with 333 passing yards. Matthews broke the Frisco Bowl record with 175 yards receiving. San Diego State scored 38 points after averaging 26.54 points per game in the regular season. The Aztecs didn’t score over 31 points in any of their Mountain West opponents. The most they scored was 48 points against FCS program Towson. The most they scored against an FBS opponent was 38 against Arizona. The last time the team scored more than 30 was on Oct. 9.
This is Frank Harris’ team: Harris was the Offensive Player of the Year for Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. The UTSA quarterback raised his level of play in 2021, and it helped the Roadrunners finish the regular season at 12-1 and with its first conference championship. Still, the offense was paced by running back Sincere McCormick. He was the no. 1 priority for defensive coordinators and the catalyst of most of the Roadrunners’ offensive success over the last two seasons.
McCormick opted out of the Frisco Bowl to guarantee health as his draft process begins. That put the onus on Harris. It is now his team. The play-calling matched that premise. Harris threw the ball 14 times in the first quarter despite success running the football. He finished the first half 12 of 20 for 122 yards and a touchdown. The team ran the ball 17 times in that span. The score dictated that UTSA keep throwing the ball in the second half. Harris and a talented group of receivers led by Zakhari Franklin are the centerpiece of the 2022 offense.
Harris finished the game 22 of 36 for 217 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Franklin led the team with eight catches for 89 yards and a score. Even without McCormick, UTSA ran for 117 yards on 24 rushes for a 4.9 a carry average. The Roadrunners averaged 4.6 yards a carry during the season. The inability of the defense to get stops forced the offense to be pass-heavy.
The season was a success: Perspective is easily lost in sports. A pessimist could look at the UTSA bowl loss as a failure. A referendum on where the program needs to go before reaching national relevance. The Roadrunners are 10-plus years into existence and are yet to win a bowl game. The Roadrunners lost two of its final three games and won’t be ranked despite an 11-0 start.
The optimist, or even realist, would see the first two seasons under the direction of Jeff Traylor as an obvious success. The Roadrunners were 26-32 in five seasons under Larry Coker. UTSA went 19-29 in four seasons with Frank Wilson in charge. The program reached one bowl in that time and never played for a conference championship. Two years under Traylor has produced a 19-6, two bowl appearances, and a C-USA championship.
San Diego State was a quality football team. The Aztecs lost the Mountain West championship game, at least in part, because they were missing 20 players in that game due to COVID-19. The Aztecs beat Pac 12 champion Utah earlier in the season. Bowl games are random events more than illuminating contests. The 2021 season is the best in UTSA history, and fans, players, and coaches should leave the year with the pride that deserves despite a disappointing ending to the season.
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