By Jerry Briggs
For the second year in a row, the UTSA Roadrunners played well enough to stay in contention until late in the game against the Colorado State Rams.
But once again, the Rams frustrated the Roadrunners by making more winning plays in the tense moments of the fourth quarter.
A year after escaping from the Alamodome with a two-point victory, Colorado State out-performed UTSA in crunch time once again, claiming a 23-14 decision on its home field Saturday afternoon.
The Rams (1-1) utilized a stifling, second-half defense to turn back the Roadrunners (1-1) in front of an announced crowd of 20,673 at Hughes Stadium, in Fort Collins, Colorado.
In the post-game analysis, first-year UTSA coach Frank Wilson admitted his team was flat at times, and so he accepted some of the blame.
“The preparation was there,” Wilson said. “We thought we were prepared to play. Evidently, we were not.”
Coming off a 44-7 loss last week to Colorado, Colorado State won this one in the trenches, sacking UTSA quarterbacks six times and holding the visitors to minus one yard rushing.
On the other side of the ball, the Rams rushed for 220 yards, including 193 in the first half when they built a 20-14 lead.
“We came out and we did not stop the run, and we did not run the ball effectively, as well,” Wilson said. “It’s what we thought. (We thought) that we would need to win this game up front, that the big men would have to lead this team.
“But the onus,” Wilson added, “falls directly on this cat (pointing to himself), right here. We’ll be better. I’ll be better.”
A year ago, under former coach Larry Coker, the Roadrunners couldn’t make a stop at the end of the game in San Antonio.
The Rams held the ball and ran the last five minutes off the clock in a 33-31 victory in San Antonio.
This year, with Wilson and a new staff in charge, the UTSA defense rose to the challenge at the end, limiting Colorado State to 61 yards in the second half.
But the meager production turned out to be enough for the Rams, as a 46-yard field goal by Wyatt Bryan with 2:24 remaining accounted for the only points in the second half by either team.
It also put the game out of reach for the Roadrunners, who were held scoreless and limited to 73 yards in the second half. They were stuffed for minus four yards in the fourth quarter, and finished with 235 yards for the game.
“This one hurts,” said UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm, who threw for two touchdowns in the first half. “It hurts, because we didn’t play very great in the second half at all. Us and the defense kind of swapped roles.
“We (on offense) were playing pretty good in the first half, and the defense was kind of struggling,” Sturm told the team’s radio broadcast. “Then the defense stepped it up and we couldn’t do anything (in the second half, offensively). We kind of got in a slump.”
UTSA doesn’t have much time to dwell on the loss. The Roadrunners will have a short week of preparation before their next game, set for Friday night at home in the dome against the Arizona State Sun Devils.
“You got to have a short memory, with everything you do,” UTSA safety Michael Egwuagu told KTKR radio. “We gave it our all. Our all wasn’t good enough for this game. We’re going to go in tomorrow (to practice) and get stuff corrected. After that, it’s (focus on) Arizona State.”
Colorado State scored first when Bryan kicked a 38-yard field goal on the game’s opening drive.
UTSA retaliated with a 12-play, 61-yard drive on its first possession. Sturm hit 5 of 6 passes on the drive, including a 10-yard strike to Kerry Thomas Jr. for the touchdown. It was the fourth third-down conversion of the drive for the Roadrunners.
Victor Falcon’s extra point gave UTSA a 7-3 lead with 5:34 left in the first quarter.
The Rams came right back on their next possession. Dalyn Dawkins, who rushed for 34 yards on the drive, skirted the left side on fourth and goal from the one to put the home team back on top, 10-7, leading into the second quarter.
Colorado State continued to pound the ball on the ground, pushing its lead to 17-7 on a methodical 9-play, 49-yard march late in the second quarter. All nine plays were runs, giving the Rams a 10-point cushion with 3:18 left in the half.
At that point, UTSA manufactured its best drive of the game, moving 75 yards on eight plays to cut Colorado State’s lead to three. Sturm made consecutive big plays by hitting Jarveon Williams out of the backfield for a 28-yard completion, followed by a 16-yard TD pass to Brady Jones.
The throw to Jones made it 17-14 with 20 seconds remaining. But in perhaps the most critical sequence in the game, the Rams used the time wisely, moving it down the field for a field goal by Bryan that put them up 20-14.
First, quarterback Faton Bauta hit Elroy Masters with a 47-yard pass carrying deep into UTSA territory. Next, UTSA appeared to have Colorado State stopped without harm.
But consecutive off sides penalties on missed field goal attempts by Bryan gave the Rams’ kicker a third try. He nailed it from 28 yards out for the six-point cushion.
“It’s unlike us,” Wilson told the team’s radio broadcast. “It’s uncanny of us. We pride ourselves on attention to detail, (being) disciplined. Guys got to understand, just do the things that are asked off you. You don’t have to jump early. You don’t have to take advantage of anything. Just play the play. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that, at that time.”
Wilson pulled Sturm and went with backup Jared Johnson for a few series in the third quarter. While UTSA’s offense moved the ball better under the direction of the senior graduate transfer than it did last week against Alabama State, it still came up with zero points.
Johnson finished his day 5 of 7 passing for 60 yards. Sturm completed 15 of 23 for 176 yards and two touchdowns, giving him four for the season. Sturm threw one interception.
Jalen Rhodes, playing most of the snaps at running back, finished with 39 yards rushing and 54 receiving on a team-leading five catches. Williams, who sprained his ankle last week at home in a 26-13 against FCS Alabama State, was limited to 10 yards on eight carries.
Leading the wideouts in production, Thomas caught four passes for 41 yards and a TD, his second of the season.
Dawkins led Colorado State with 68 yards rushing and a touchdown on 15 carries. Backup Izzy Matthews had 49 yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts.
Bauta, getting his first start at quarterback for Colorado State, hit 6 of 17 passes for 82 yards. The senior graduate transfer from Georgia also rushed for 39 yards.
Turning point: In the last 20 seconds of the first half, UTSA’s defense yielded a 47-yard pass from Faton Bauta to Elroy Masters. UTSA’s defense rose up to make a stop. But its special teams faltered, getting flagged for consecutive off sides penalties on missed field-goal tries from Wyatt Bryan. Given a third try, Bryan hit from 28 yards, giving the Rams a 20-14 lead at the half.
Notebook: Wilson emphasized that he needs to do a better job of motivating his players.
“I will have to do a better job of getting this team ready to play,” he told the team’s radio broadcast. “I think, at times, we came out a little slow. That falls directly on the guy here, on the head football coach, to get the team prepared to play.”
Up next: UTSA gets another crack at a Power 5 opponent when it hosts Arizona State of the Pac-12 Conference Friday night at the Alamodome. Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m., with television on ESPN2. The Roadrunners are winless in seven previous meetings against three Power 5 foes, including Oklahoma State (0-3), Arizona (0-3) and Kansas State (0-1).
Arizona State (1-0 on the season) hosted Texas Tech (1-0) late Saturday night.
Last year, UTSA opened the season with three Power 5 foes, falling in succession to Arizona, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. This year, UTSA plays only two Power 5s. In addition to hosting the Sun Devils, the Roadrunners will travel to College Station to meet the Texas A&M Aggies of the Southeastern Conference in Game 11 of the season, on Nov. 19.
--JJ Perez contributed to this report