San Diego State Aztecs vs. UTSA Roadrunners – Frisco Bowl/Game Preview

Garrison/ EVT Sports

Credit: Garrison/EVT

San Diego State Aztecs vs. University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Roadrunners

Toyota Stadium – Frisco, TX

2021 Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl

Kickoff: Tuesday, December 21 @ 430pm

TV: ESPN

One of the most intriguing matchups of the bowl season pits two of the top Group of Five teams against each other when San Diego State plays UTSA in the Frisco Bowl. This matchup yields the most combined wins (23) between two teams outside of the CFP semifinals.

San Diego State finished the season ranked 24th in the College Football Playoff rankings, dropping five spots after their lopsided loss to Utah State in the MW Championship Game. They fell out of the Top 25 in the AP and Coaches Polls. 

UTSA finished the season ranked 24th in the AP Poll and 25th in the Coaches Poll but were not ranked in the College Football Playoff after reaching as high as 22nd before their final regular-season game. 

The Aztecs will have a second opportunity to win a school-record 12th game in a single season, which head coach Brady Hoke is important to solidify the legacy of his senior class. 

“We look forward to what’s next, and winning 12 is what’s next for us,” said defensive end Cameron Thomas when asked how the team refocused after losing the conference championship game. “We have never done that before [winning 12 games].”

“Bowl games are a privilege,” said right guard William Dunkle. “It definitely hurts that we didn’t reach our ultimate mission of winning 22, but there’s still a chance for us to be one of the best teams in San Diego State history, so we shifted our focus to that. We’ve never had 12 wins, so we’d be the first team to do so.”

Both teams defeated UNLV this season in very close games. The Roadrunners won 24-17 in non-conference play, holding Charlie Williams to only 48 yards rushing on 15 carries and winning the turnover battle 3-0. The Aztecs beat UNLV 28-20 in November. 

The Roadrunners are two-point favorites over the Aztecs in the first-ever matchup between the teams.

Opponent Information

Team: University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Roadrunners

City: San Antonio, TX

2021 Record: 12-1 (7-1)

2021, the 11th season in program history, was historic for the UTSA program by achieving many firsts: AP ranking, CFP ranking, division title, and conference championship. They look to add another first to the list, a bowl game victory. The Roadrunners are 0-2 all-time in bowls.

They are led by second-year head coach Jeff Traylor, whose 19-6 record is the best 25-game start for a UTSA coach. He took over a team with only seven combined wins in the two seasons before his arrival. Traylor served two years at Arkansas and one at SMU as both school’s associate head coach and running backs coach before UTSA. He also spent two seasons at Texas, first as the special team’s coordinator and tight ends coach and then as the associate head coach and wide receivers coach. 

Traylor’s coaching notoriety came from his 15 years as head coach at Gilmer High School in Texas, winning three state championships. He played football at Stephen F. Austin in the late 1980s as a walk-on. 

The Roadrunners began the season by winning their first 11 games, including three one-score non-conference wins at Illinois, at Memphis, and UNLV. Their first loss of the season came in their final regular-season game at North Texas, 45-23. They rebounded the following week by defeating Western Kentucky for the second time on the year to win the Conference USA championship game. 

UTSA has an explosive offense averaging 37.8 points per game (12th in FBS) and surpassed 50 points twice. They are extremely balanced, scoring 29 passing and 25 rushing touchdowns. 

The offense’s premiere player is junior running back Sincere McCormick, two-time Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, who rushed for 1,479 yards on nearly five yards per carry and 15 touchdowns. McCormick received numerous postseason honors, including second-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America and third team by the Associated Press.

Credit: Garrison/EVT

On Thursday, McCormick announced in a tweet that he will forgo his final collegiate season and enter the 2022 NFL Draft after the bowl game, but he would not play in the game. “Though I will not be playing in the bowl game, I plan to enjoy the bowl festivities alongside my teammates and help cheer them to a victory,” he wrote. 

The only other running backs with more than ten carries on the season are seniors Brenden Brady (49 for 232 yards) and B.J. Daniels (34 for 161).

Senior starting quarterback Frank Harris was the Roadrunners’ second-leading rusher with 565 yards and six touchdowns on the season. Harris completed 241 of 362 passes for 2,06 yards, 25 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. Coach Hoke admired Harris’ ability to make plays with his feet outside the pocket and noted that his defense will “need to do a great job collapsing the pocket.”

Junior wide receiver Zackhari Franklin led the team in receptions (73), receiving yards (938), and receiving touchdowns (11), while fellow junior wide receiver Joshua Cephus was second in all three categories (69, 793, 6). The receiver’s high number of catches but comparatively low number of yards shows how UTSA thrives in the short passing game. Franklin joined McCormick and senior offensive lineman Spencer Burford on the All-Conference First Team. 

The Roadrunners’ defense is manned by leading tackler junior safety Rashad Wisdom (87 total) and super senior linebacker Clarence Hicks, who leads the team with 16 tackles for loss and ten sacks (school record). Wisdom and Hicks were selected to the All-Conference First Team as well.  

Coach Traylor marveled at Hicks’ play this season, calling him “our third-down package” due to the amount of ways they can get him isolated on an offensive lineman in critical pass-rush situations. 

“Their edge rushers are pretty nice,” said Dunkle when asked about the Roadrunners’ defense, adding, “they have a great defense, but we want to show [them] that we aren’t going to roll. Over for anybody.”

The Roadrunners rank 14th in FBS, only allowing 111.5 rushing yards per game, and finished with a school-record 32 sacks. They are one of three FBS teams this season to hold two opponents to less than 40 passing yards in a game.

UTSA runs a three-person defensive front just as the Aztecs do, but coach Hoke noted they run it differently. “They are a bit more two-gap…more big bodies while we [utilize] a little bit more movement [on the line],” said Hoke. 

The statistics clearly show the Roadrunners do not beat themselves. They rank as one of the least-penalized teams in the nation, committing only 4.8 penalties per game (16th in FBS) for 48.3 yards (48th). They have only turned the ball over 12 times this season, less than one per game, ranking 23rd in FBS. They forced 25 turnovers (8th in FBS), resulting in a +13 margin (2nd in FBS).   

The Roadrunners’ special teams unit has been special this season, leading to three players, kicker Hunter Duplessis, punter Lucas Dean and long snapper Caleb Cantrell named to the All-Conference teams. UTSA led their conference in net punting this season, so field position will be crucial in this matchup.

Aztecs

The Aztecs will look to rebound from their second loss of the season and missed opportunity to win the conference championship. They hope to head into the offseason on a high. After the team was ravaged by a COVID-19 outbreak heading into the Utah State game that forced 20 guys to miss the contest, they should be back to full strength per coach Hoke for the bowl game. 

Several Aztec players received national recognition in the past two weeks. Punter Matt Araiza won the Ray Guy Award and became only the second unanimous All-American selection in program history (Marshall Faulk was the first). This season, Araiza broke several punting records (most punts of 50+ and 60+) but needs one more good punting performance to hang on to his current yard per punt average (51.37) to break the all-time FBS record of 50.98. 

Credit: Paul Garrison/ EVT Sports

Defensive end Cameron Thomas and right guard William Dunkle joined Araiza in earning All-American honors across various media outlets. Thomas has the fourth-highest defensive grade in the country according to Pro Football Focus and the most quarterback pressures in FBS. Dunkle holds the fourth-highest overall grade and second-highest run block grade among offensive linemen, according to Pro Football Focus. In addition, he allowed only eight pressures and zero sacks on 388 passing opportunities. 

The Aztecs’ defense finished the season 2nd in rushing yards allowed per game (77.5) and 14th in total yards allowed per game (319.5), putting an exclamation mark on their superb play all season. 

“They are pretty dynamic,” said coach Traylor when asked about the Aztecs’ defense. “[Thomas] and [Tavai] are special. They will wreck your entire game plan.” Harris described the defense as “sound and really physical” while noting they run “a lot of twists and stunts” upfront.

The offensive story of the season was the quarterback carousel between Jordon Brookshire and Lucas Johnson. The starting position rotated between the two on several different occasions, either due to injury or poor performance. There is no doubt that the number one key for the Aztecs to “win 22” in 2022 will be solidifying the quarterback position. Both have exhausted their collegiate eligibility per coach Hoke and will not be available next year. 

The other two quarterbacks on the depth chart who received snaps this season, Will Haskell and Jalen Mayden, will look to win the starting position next year in a competition with newcomers (freshmen or transfers). While winning the bowl game is the number one priority, coach Hoke admitted that the team will look to get game action for several young players across the positional units. It will be interesting to see whether that includes the quarterback group. Haskell has only appeared in three games this season, making him eligible for a redshirt even if he plays in the Frisco Bowl. 

Senior running back Greg Bell leads the team with 990 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Only needing ten yards to reach 1,000, Bell should have no problem reaching that mark. 

With the announcement by starting left guard Chris Martinez that he entered the transfer portal, he will not play in the Frisco Bowl. The two-deep depth chart released by SDSU lists Dominic Gudino as the starter in his place. 


Aztecs Texas Connection

  • QB Jalen Mayden (Garland, TX)
  • WR Tyrell Shavers (Lewisville, TX)
  • WR Josh Nicholson (Grand Prairie, TX)
  • RB Kaegun Williams (Cedar Hill, TX)
  • RB Cam Davis (Dallas, TX)
  • TE Cameron Harpole (Plano, TX)
  • OL Zavier Leonard (Arlington, TX)
  • LB Caden McDonald (Haslet, TX)
  • S Kyron White (Fort Worth, TX)
  • S Cedarious Barfield (El Paso, TX)
  • S CJ Baskerville (North Richland Hills, TX)
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Andre Haghverdian on Email
Andre Haghverdian
Avid sports fan and historian of basketball, baseball, football and soccer. UC San Diego and San Diego State alumni living in America's Finest City. Diverse team following across multiple sports leagues, but Aztecs come first in college athletics.

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