SAN ANTONIO -- Every coach needs a signature victory.
First-year UTSA coach Frank Wilson got his Saturday, watching the Roadrunners roll to a 55-32 rout of Southern Miss in a Conference USA game before a crowd of 19,818 at the Alamodome.
The win over the Golden Eagles, who were 16.5-point favorites, ranks as one of the biggest upsets in UTSA's brief history. The Roadrunners struck early, scoring touchdowns on their first four possessions to take a 28-0 lead and send USM reeling. They had three TDs in their first 11 snaps, and scored on seven of their first eight possessions.
Saturday's game was UTSA's first at the Alamodome since a near-upset of Arizona State three weeks ago. The Roadrunners lost their conference opener at Old Dominion on Sept. 24, and had a bye last week. They play Rice in a C-USA game in Houston next Saturday.
UTSA led 28-7 after one quarter, 38-21 at halftime and 45-24 heading into the fourth quarter. The Golden Eagles cut the deficit to 48-32 with 6:47 left and later had a first-and-goal at the Roadrunners' 9 with more than three minutes. But linebacker Josiah Tauaefa intercepted Nick Mullens' pass at the 1 and returned it 14 yards, stopping the scoring threat and sealing the victory.
Dalton Sturm started the scoring blitz with a 71-yard TD pass to wide receiver Kerry Thomas Jr. with only 1:22 elapsed on the game clock. With that completion, Sturm had more yardage on one play than he had in a 32-10 road loss to the Golden Eagles last year, when he connected on only 6 of 22 attempts for only 66 yards and was sacked five times.
The Roadrunners (2-3) stopped a three-game skid and climbed to .500 (1-1) in conference play. USM, which entered the game leading the C-USA West Division, slipped to 4-2 and 2-1.
"I'll take it," Wilson said. "I mean, it's signature because it's our first conference win. It's signature because it came at a time when we were on a three-game skid, and we needed something positive to happen for this program, especially when you were in position to have victory and allow it to slip out of your hand.
"To be able to grasp on to it, I think, is something we can build on. We're still not there yet. But I thought was a huge step in the right direction of our program."
Wilson, an assistant coach at LSU the previous six seasons, was hired as UTSA head coach in mid-January after Larry Coker was fired Jan. 5. Wilson, 42, was an assistant coach at USM in 2008.
The Roadrunners took down a USM team that rolled up 702 yards of total offense and had seven sacks in a 44-28 victory over winless Rice last week.
"We just weren't ready to play," Golden Eagles coach Jay Hopson said.
Wilson was asked what impact he thought the victory would have on his players.
"It's huge but it's one game," Wilson said of the victory over USM. "It gives us a step in the right direction.Preparation starts immediately, imminently, on Rice, our next opponent. We'll enjoy tonight. It's a big victory for our team."
The maligned UTSA running game came alive in the victory, churning out 339 yards on 35 carries for an impressive 9.7 average. The Roadrunners had rushed for a total of 385 yards in their first four games, averaging 2.9 yards. UTSA was do dominant that it piled up 272 total yards (116 rushing/156 passing) in the first quarter, a program record for most yards in one period.
Running backs Jalen Rhodes and Jarveon Williams rushed for 165 and 122 yards, respectively, becoming the first UTSA players to eclipse the 100-yard mark in the same game. Rhodes averaged 11.8 yards and scored on runs of 4, 80, and 3 yards. Rhodes' rushing total was a career high for him.
Williams, who averaged 8.1 yards a carry and scored two TD, set up Rhodes' last TD with a school-record 92-yard run late in the game. It set another record for the longest play in UTSA history. A Judson graduate, Williams scored on runs of 3 and 6 yards.
"I thought they both played with a chip on their shoulder today," Wilson said. "I thought Jalen was fantastic. Both of those backs had over 120 yards and I thought he (Rhodes) ran with determination. I thought he ran with patience. So if he can continue to do those things, and Jarveon, I think we'll be able to rush the ball well."
The Roadrunners amassed a school-record 532 yards and scored their most points since routing Norhwestern (Okla.) State with a school-record 56 points on Sept. 22, 2012. The 55 points are the most UTSA has ever scored in a conference game and against an FBS opponent.
Rhodes and Williams both praised the team's offensive line for doing the heavy lifting and help jump-start the running game.
"It's always been there," Williams said. "We practiced with those guys and were dealing with those guys since January. It's no surprise to us. We might have a slow start, but it just comes with execution and being consistent. We had a chance to regroup over the bye week, and we came out here and, like I said, we just put four quarters together and had complete execution."
Like Williams, Rhodes said he was confident the offense line would come through.
"Well, when a lot of people are on the outside looking in, it's hard to see what's going on," Rhode said. "Those guys have been working really hard. No matter what anybody says, they've been working hard and we noticed that and just came through for them today."
3:15, fourth quarter: UTSA linebacker Josiah Tauaefa intercepts a Nick Mullens pass at the Roadrunners' 1, and returns the pick 14 yards. Interception came on a second-and-5 play at the UTSA 26.
UTSA 48, USM 32, 6:47, fourth quarter: Nick Mullens throws a 33-yard scoring strike to Chase Whitehead, capping a 13-play, 86-yard drive.
UTSA 48, USM 24, 10:50, fourth quarter: Victor Falcon makes a 26-yard field goal, extending the Roadrunners' lead to 24 points.
After three quarters: UTSA 45, USM 24
UTSA 45, USM 24, 6:23, third quarter: Wide receiver Matt Guidry runs around left end for a 20-yard TD, putting the Roadrunners up 45-24. Victor Falcon converts his sixth PAT. Guidry's TD ends a six-play, 57-yard drive.
UTSA 38, USM 24, 9:10, third quarter: Parker Shaunfield kicks a 27-yard field goal to cut the Roadrunners' lead to 38-24. The kick ended a 13-play, 75-yard march.
First-half notes: The Roadrunners scored TDs on their first four possessions in the first half and on five of their first six. They punted only once and kicked a field goal on their seventh and final possession of the half. The 45-yard field goal by Victor Falcon came on the final play of the half. UTSA outgained Southern Miss 383-276 in total offensive yardage, getting 217 rushing and 166 passing. Dalton Sturm completed 5 of 6 passes for 166 yards and one TD. His first pass went for a 71-yard TD. That's five more yards than he had in the entire game in last year's 38-10 loss to the Golden Eagles. Jalen Rhodes rushed for 161 yards on only eight carries, a 20.1 average, and two TDs. The Roadrunners held USM to 42 yards rushing on 14 attempts. Golden Eagles quarterback Nick Mullens, who passed for nearly 600 yards in last week's win over Rice, completed 15 of 28 attempts for 234 yards and two TDs. Wide receiver Allenzae Staggers, named C-USA Offensive Player of the Week after the win over Rice, finished the half with four catches for 59 yards. He had six receptions for 292 yards and three TDs last week.
Halftime: UTSA 38, Southern Miss 21
UTSA 38, USM 21, 0:00, second quarter: Victor Falcon makes 45-yard field goal to give UTSA a 38-21 lead at the half.
UTSA 35, USM 21, 3:24, second quarter: USM strikes for a TD, cutting UTSA's lead to 35-21 on a 35-yard pass from Nick Mullens to wide receiver D.J. Thompson. The score caps a 10-play, 80-yard drive that began after the kickoff following the Roadrunners' fifth TD.
UTSA 35, USM 14, 7:26, second quarter: Jalen Rhodes bolts for an 80-yard TD on a first-down play following a USM punt, putting UTSA up 35-14. Victor Falcon converts his fifth PAT attempt. The Roadrunners have scored on five of their six first-half possessions.
UTSA 28, USM 14, 11:33 second quarter: The Golden Eagles trim UTSA's lead to 28-14 on a 1-yard run by Ito Smith. The key play in the drive was a 22-yard completion from Nick Mullens to wide receiver Isaiah Jones that moved the ball to the 1.
After one quarter: UTSA 28, USM 7
UTSA 28, USM 7, 0:20, first quarter: UTSA storms back to stretch its lead to 28-7 after USM scores, going on a five-play, 82-yard drive that ends with Jarveon Williams' 6-yard run. Victor Falcon kicks his fourth PAT. The Roadrunners have scored TDs on their four possessions.
UTSA 21, USM 7, 3:08, first quarter: USM cuts UTSA's lead to 21-7 on a 17-yard pass from Nick Mullens to Jay Shawn Washington. The score capped a 10-play, 84-yard drive that began after the kickoff following the Roadrunners' third TD.
UTSA 21, USM 0, 7:15, first quarter: Roadrunners score again! Running back Jalen Rhodes bangs into the end zone from the 4 for TD. Victor Falcon converts his third extra-point kick of the game. Rhodes had a 23-yard run in the six-play, 57-yard drive. The Roadrunners have scored three TDs in 11 plays.
UTSA 14, USM 0, 11:45, first quarter: Roadrunners take 14-0 lead on a 3-yard run by Jarveon Williams. The TD comes on the first play after Dalton Sturm connected with Josh Stewart for a 77-yard gain. UTSA has scored two TDs in five plays. Stewart caught the pass from Sturm at the USM 45 and sprinted to the goal line until he was tackled
UTSA 7, USM 0, 13:38, first quarter: UTSA scores on a 71-yard pass from Dalton Sturm to wide receiver Kerry Thomas junior. The scoring play comes on the third snap of the game. Victor Falcon converts on the extra-point kick.With the 71-yard TD, Sturm already has surpassed his passing-yardage total from last year's 38-10 loss to the Golden Eagles. He completed only 6 of 22 passes for 66 yards and was sacked five times in Hattiesburg, Miss.
UTSA GAMEDAY: C-USA West leader Southern Miss next up Saturday
Southern Miss (4-1, 2-0 C-USA) vs. UTSA (1-3, 0-1)
Kickoff: 11 a.m., Saturday, Alamodome
Last meeting: Southern Miss 32, UTSA 10, Oct. 17, Hattiesburg, Miss.
Series record: Tied 1-1
SAN ANTONIO – Back in the Alamodome for the first time since a near-upset of Arizona State three weeks ago, the UTSA Roadrunners face the arduous task Saturday of trying to break out of a three-game skid against one of the best teams in Conference USA.
Southern Miss rolled up 702 yards of total offense in a 44-28 home victory over winless Rice last week, taking sole possession of first place in C-USA’s West Division.
Senior quarterback Nick Mullens and junior receiver Allenzae Staggers set USM single-game records, with the former completing 25 of 36 passes for 591 yards and four touchdowns. Staggers finished with six receptions for 292 yards and three TDs.
“They’re a fantastic football team in all three phases – offense, defense and special teams,” first-year UTSA head coach Frank Wilson said. “Their punter leads our conference, their kicker is 100 percent. Defense is at the top of the conference. Their offense is at the top of the conference.
“At the end of the day, we have to look at the man in the mirror, reflect on ourselves and see the things that we need to do to allow UTSA to be the best that we can be. If we’re as good as we can be, we like our chances.”
The Roadrunners lost to Old Dominion 33-19 on the road in their last game on Oct. 24, and had a bye last week. They opened their season with a 26-13 win against Alabama State at the Alamodome before losing at Colorado State 23-14. UTSA led Arizona State 28-12 with 8:20 left in the third quarter, but the Rams stormed back to win the game 32-28 after scoring 20 unanswered points.
The Roadrunners also stayed close to Colorado State and Old Dominion, but couldn’t make enough plays to secure a victory.
Wilson said the team focused on “effort and energy” at practice this week.
“Our theme is to play for 60 minutes,” he said. “As chronicled, and as we all know, whether it’s the end of the second half or it’s the end of the football game, we haven’t put together a complete game. That’s our intent this week, to try to put it together for 60 minutes.
“We’ve flashed a quarter. We’ve flashed a half. But we haven’t been able to do it for an entire game. We flashed it for three quarters, but we have to be able to finish it. That’ll help us be in position to do well at the end of the game.”
UTSA would not only break out of its three-game skid with a victory Saturday, it would move to .500 in conference play.
“It can be the boost that propels you into a winning streak for the rest of the season,” senior safety Michael Egwuagu said when asked how big a win over USM could be for the Roadrunners. “I’m excited. It’ll be a big one.”
UTSA faces the formidable task of trying to slow down Mullens, last season’s C-USA Offensive Player of the Year. A senior, Mullens has completed 99 of 163 passes for 1,504 yards and 13 TDs. But he has been picked off seven times in five games.
Still, Mullens easily ranks as one of the best passers UTSA has faced in its brief history.
“He’s legitimate,” Wilson said. “Threw for almost 600 yards a week ago. Fourth-year senior who will have an opportunity to play on Sundays as well. We think he’s a very good quarterback. We’re going to try to do some things to contain him, and put our best foot forward.”
Staggers has set a torrid pace, catching 17 passes for 470 yards, a 27.6 average, and five TDs. A junior, Staggers was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Week after his record-setting game against Rice. He scored TDs of 75, 81 and 93 yards in his first three receptions, becoming the first FBS player in 10 years to have three TD catches of at least 75 yards in the same game.
The burden of trying to slow down the Golden Eagles’ prolific offense will not only fall on the Roadrunners’ defense but their offense as well. Maintaining control of the ball and limiting Mullens' and Staggers' opportunities to wreak havoc will be a top priority for UTSA.
“I think we can do things that can help our defense, certainly, by getting first downs and moving the chains,” Wilson said. “That’s our intent, to be able to have drives that sustain, that kind of keeps them off the field some and that high-profile offense.”
A good running game is one way of maintaining ball control and winning the time of possession, but the Roadrunners’ rushing attack has lacked horsepower this season, gaining only 385 yards in four games for a 96.3 average.
Senior running back Jarveon Williams, who last year became the first UTSA player to rush for 1,000 yards, has gained only 131 yards on 45 carries for a paltry 2.9 average.
“We had the week off and it’s even harder having a week off after we lost because you want to come back and make a statement,” senior offensive tackle Jevonte Domond said. “I think that’s what we want to do. We’re coming out to make a statement. We’re going to practice hard and play even harder.”
While the USM offense grabbed the headlines last week, the Golden Eagles’ defense had seven sacks.
“They’re fast. They’re very fast, high-motored,” Domond said. “They’re not going stop on the play until the whistle is blown. I know you’re going to have to play snap to whistle every time.”
While the Roadrunners haven’t won a game in a month, they remain upbeat and optimistic about the rest of the season.
“Definitely, the team is not down,” Domond said. “We’ve got eight games left, so we’re not out of the picture.”
The Golden Eagles beat UTSA 32-10 last year in Hattiesburg. Roadrunners quarterback Dalton Sturm had a miserable day against the Golden Eagles, getting sacked five times and completing only 6 of 22 passes for 66 yards.
Sturm, who has completed 62 of 102 passes for 782 yards and seven TDs this season, will start Saturday’s game.
(© 2017 KENS)