By Jerry Briggs
The Old Dominion Monarchs bottled up UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm, scored touchdowns off two turnovers in the middle quarters and then played solid defense late in a 33-19 victory over the Roadrunners Saturday afternoon in Norfolk, Virginia.
In the Conference USA opener for both teams, the Monarchs (2-2) also showcased a balanced, David Washington-led offense in handing the Roadrunners (1-3) their third straight loss.
“I felt a key today was when we got Dalton Sturm out of rhythm in the first quarter,” Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder told CW-35 television after the game. “Our plan was not to rush him up the field. Our plan was to contain him in the pocket. We felt like in watching his videos, when he (broke) a couple of runs, that really got him going.
“We tried to keep him in the pocket (and) I think that worked.”
Sturm accounted for four touchdowns and 311 yards of total offense last week in a 32-28 home loss to Arizona State. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as UTSA nearly pulled off what would have been the biggest victory in school history.
Old Dominion, by comparison, didn’t allow him to score with his feet or with his arm. The Monarchs also sacked him four times, picked off one of his passes and recovered a fumble on an exchange between Sturm and Jarveon Williams in the third quarter.
Both times, the Monarchs turned the miscues into momentum-changing touchdowns.
All told, ODU held Sturm to just 69 yards, including 103 passing and minus 34 rushing, prompting first-year UTSA coach Frank Wilson to play backup Jared Johnson in the second half. Johnson, in his best performance off the season, directed two scoring drives and rallied UTSA to within six.
But it wasn’t enough, as ODU refused to fold in front of a sell-out homecoming crowd of 20,118 at Ballard Stadium.
Washington hit receiver Jonathan Duhart with the second of two second-half touchdown passes early in the fourth quarter to put the game away. The UTSA offense went three-and-out on two of its final three possessions over the next 12 minutes, ending a frustrating day for the Roadrunners.
“We played a very game opponent,” UTSA coach Frank Wilson told the team’s radio broadcast. “Hats off to them. They came out and played extremely well. We started a little slow. We got back into the game and did some good things. (We) rushed the ball a little better than we had previously. We did some good things, but it wasn’t enough.”
Old Dominion out-gained UTSA 445-342 in total yards. Offensively, the Monarchs displayed balance, rolling up 238 yards on the ground and another 207 on the pass, all on the arm of Washington, who connected on 21 of 35 throws without an interception.
The tall and rangy Duhart caught six of the passes, sometimes just by out-jumping shorter defenders, for 86 yards. Jeremy Cox came off the bench to lead the rushing attack with 103 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
“I thought we did some good things,” Wilson said. “But certainly we had way too many missed tackles, and we didn’t do a good enough job in converting when we needed to, to get first downs.”
On perhaps the key play of the first half, Old Dominion defensive back Brandon Addison intercepted Sturm late in the second quarter, snuffing a scoring threat by the Roadrunners and leading to a momentum-changing touchdown drive by the Monarchs.
Looking for receiver Peyton Hall running a route down the left sideline, Sturm fired deep, but the ball sailed off target, allowing Addison to snatch it in the end zone for a touchback.
Washington promptly drove ODU 80 yards on eight plays for the go-ahead touchdown. He carried the final yard himself, giving the Monarchs a 13-7 halftime lead.
UTSA opened a wild third quarter with a mistake on its first possession. Sturm and Williams mishandled the exchange on a handoff, leading to a fumble recovery for ODU defensive back Jelani Carter. The Monarchs covered 23 yards on six plays and made it 19-7 on Cox’s 3-yard touchdown run.
In response, UTSA defensive lineman Jonathan Tuiolosega blocked Bailey Cate’s conversion kick, giving freshman Teddrick McGhee a chance to scoop it up and race all the way to the other end zone for a 2-point score, cutting ODU’s lead to 10 points.
Building on the momentum, UTSA moved 66 yards on 6 plays behind Johnson on its next drive. A highlight came on a 42-yard pass from Johnson to Josh Stewart. Victor Falcon capped it with a 26-yard field goal, bringing the Roadrunners to within 19-12.
Later, more theatrics ensued. First, Old Dominion drove for a score and boosted the lead to 13 points, only to see Johnson bring the Roadrunners right back. On the 10th play of a 74-yard scoring drive, UTSA pulled off a trick play with an 8-yard pass from receiver Brady Jones to Johnson on a reverse.
When Johnson scored standing up, it left UTSA down only 25-19, with more than a quarter to play and plenty of time to pull off a comeback. But the comeback never came, as ODU responded with two straight 82-yard scoring drives to put it out of reach.
Even though UTSA was hurt with penalties in the second half, including a few questionable pass interference calls, Wilson shrugged it off, saying he liked how hard his defense was playing.
“You look at some off the things that were close and we’re competing downfield for balls, you have a couple of pass interference calls that could be called one way or the other,” Wilson said. “It was a little iffy. I won’t cry over that. But I like our effort. I like the things we’re trying to do.”
Turning point: UTSA held a one-point lead in the second quarter and was trying to build on it when ODU defensive back Brandon Addison stepped in to make a big play for the Monarchs. Addison intercepted in his own end zone, stopping the UTSA threat and sparking his team to an 80-yard scoring march, going the other way. The Monarchs cashed in with a touchdown on David Washington’s 1-yard run to take a 13-7 lead into halftime.
Notebook: Jarveon Williams rushed for a season-high 93 yards and a score on 21 carries. Jalen Rhodes added 68 yards on the ground and another 34 receiving. Josh Stewart caught four passes for 80 yards. Brady Jones had three catches for 51 yards. On defense, Josiah Tauaefa posted 15 tackles, one shy of UTSA’s school record, and Ronnie Feist made nine stops.
Sturm finished 8 of 17 passing for 103 yards. He was intercepted once. Sturm was sacked four times for losses totaling 34 yards. Johnson, meanwhile, hit 6 of 12 passes for 100 yards. It was the senior transfer’s third appearance off the bench in four games this year.
Center Juan Perez-Isidoro left the game in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury. In perhaps the biggest blow of the day, safety Michael Egwuagu also had to come out. He was seen on the sidelines early in the fourth quarter wearing a sling on his right arm. Defensive end Kevin Strong and receiver Marquez McNair did not play.
Coming up: UTSA is off next week. The team’s next game is set for Oct. 8 at home against Southern Miss. The Southern Miss game will kick off at 11 a.m. UTSA-Southern Miss is set for telecast on the American Sports Network.
UTSA plays at Rice on Oct. 15 to start a string of four road games out of its last seven on the schedule, including three of four away from home in November.