The UTSA Roadrunners will look to continue their perfect start to the season when they host the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders on Saturday afternoon at Alamodome in Conference USA action. Middle Tennessee State is 1-1 on the young season so far after dropping a 35-14 decision to the No. 15 Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday, narrowly failing to cover as a 20-point road underdog. UTSA has played well at 2-0 including a 54-0 blowout win over FCS Lamar last weekend, cashing in as a 38-point home favorite.
These teams met last season in San Antonio, with the Roadrunners picking up a dramatic 37-35 victory to take a 2-1 lead all-time over the Blue Raiders.
MTSU can't hang with ranked opponentThe Blue Raiders have hopes of returning to a bowl game this season after two straight postseason misses and showed a few positive things by hanging with a top 15 Virginia Tech team for a half last weekend before eventually getting overwhelmed. Middle Tennessee State got on the board with 5:41 to go in the first half on a five-yard touchdown pass from Bailey Hockman to CJ Windham to make it a 14-7 game only for Virginia Tech to reel off three straight touchdowns after the break, and a six-yard scoring catch Marquel Tinsley in garbage time only made the final score more respectable.
After Hockman finished 19/32 for 207 yards, one touchdown and one interception, Chase Cunningham turned in an impressive drive late in relief, completing seven of eight pass attempts for 76 yards and a score. Jimmy Marshall had a huge day with eight catches for 111 yards. It was a solid effort all around as a big underdog, as Middle Tennessee State was only outgained 383-349 while turning the ball over once.
"We've got something good going," Hockman said to Middle Tennessee State's website. "We've just got to execute a little bit better and make sure that we're on top of things in front of the sticks, get our run game going a little bit. Today we had to have a great game. And we had a good game. But that's how the chips fall sometimes."
Middle Tennessee State is also 1-1 against the spread, as it was just an 8.5-point favorite against FCS Monmouth in the opener but ended up dominating in an easy 35-point victory. Overs are also an even 1-1 as last Saturday's game at Lane Stadium didn't quite reach the total of 55 points.
The Blue Raiders are hoping to bounce back from a rough 2020 offensively, and are averaging 32 points per game so far while piling up 265.5 passing yards per contest. It's been a multi-year struggle for the Middle Tennessee State defense, which is allowing 25 points on 328.5 total yards per game in the young 2021 season.
Hockman, a transfer from NC State, has completed 36 of his 54 pass attempts for 428 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, but might have to hold off some competition from Cunningham. Marshall and Jaylin Lane have combined for 18 catches for 247 yards and one touchdown. DQ Thomas is a disruptor on defense with 20 tackles, three tackles a loss and a sack already.
There's no official word about any injuries from the Middle Tennessee State camp heading into Saturday's conference opener.
UTSA continues impressive start with easy winThis could be the best UTSA team in the 10-year FBS history of the program, as the Roadrunners started the season with a power conference road win by taking down the Illinois Fighting Illini before crushing Lamar last weekend. Sheldon Jones got the party started early in the game with a 76-yard punt return before Sincere McCormick ran in a pair of touchdowns to help UTSA build a 34-0 lead at halftime, with a scoop and score by Charles Wiley on the defensive end helping the effort.
Frank Harris was efficient, completing 13 of his 15 passes for 118 yards before Josh Adkins came in to go 11/13 for 134 yards and two touchdowns. McCormick also got most of the day off after carrying the ball seven times for 46 yards and the two scores, while Zakhari Franklin caught four passes for 77 yards and a score. Lamar had just 122 yards of total offense with two turnovers, as the Roadrunners recorded the first shutout in program history.
“It is hard to do at any level. It gives us more confidence and trust in the coaches even more. When you spend as much time with the student-athletes as we do and they work as hard as they do, it is fun to watch them happy in the locker room. A lot of work and commitment goes into this. There is nothing better than watching kids get something back good." head coach Jeff Traylor said to UTSA's website about holding Lamar scoreless.
The Roadrunners are off to a comfortable 2-0 start against the spread, as they pulled off the outright win at Illinois as a four-point underdog. Overs an even 1-1, as last weekend's game fell short of the betting total of 64 points thanks to the UTSA effort on defense.
It's been an excellent start for the UTSA offense, which is piling up 45.5 points and 462 yards per game so far. There were some shaky defensive moments against Illinois, but the Roadrunners still have good averages at 15 points and 267 yards per game allowed.
Harris is showing off his dual-threat skill set, completing 33 of his 47 passes for 398 yards and a touchdown while adding nine carries for 40 yards and a score. Franklin looks headed for a huge season with 16 catches for 232 yards and two touchdowns. Clifford Chattman leads the defense with 11 tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble.
There are no reported injuries for the Roadrunners heading into the weekend.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Traylor is starting to unlock the potential of a UTSA program many consider to be a sleeping giant in Conference USA, and his strong recruiting looks to be paying off this season as the Roadrunners look great so far. While Middle Tennessee State looks improved from a year ago and could get back to a bowl, it is overmatched at the skill positions by this far more athletic UTSA team.
The UTSA offense is going to be a problem for mid-major competition, as Harris creates a lot of plays under center with his legs, McCormick is back after winning the C-USA Offensive Player of the Year Award, and Franklin looks headed for another big year at wide receiver. It has been a few years since Middle Tennessee State had a defense that could handle an opponent of that caliber, and the unit was near the bottom of the country last season with 6.1 yards per play allowed.
There were some shaky moments for the UTSA defense in the Illinois game, but it provided enough support to the explosive offense to get the job done and made a lot of plays in the trenches with six tackles for loss. a UTSA team that returns 21 starters from last year's 7-5 squad is going to be a sneaky good bet all year, and the offense will eventually pull away big from the Blue Raiders.
Full-Game Total Pick
Last year aside, Middle Tennessee State has generally had solid offenses under head coach Rick Stockstill, and the unit actually performed quite well against a Virginia Tech defense that totally shut down preseason Heisman favorite Sam Howell and No. 21 North Carolina the week before. Hockman wasn't quite up to par as NC State's starter in 2020 but is talented enough to get power conference offers in the first place and this could be a nice landing spot for him, while Marshall and Lane look to be a strong receiving tandem.
The aforementioned playmaking trio of Harris, McCormick and Franklin showed what they could do against Illinois, as the Roadrunners racked up an impressive 6.1 yards per play against a Big Ten defense while pushing the tempo. These teams got all the way to 72 points in their matchup a year ago, and both offenses look better this season with just about every starter from that game returning.