David Guel, The Paisano

Prior to Friday night’s kickoff in the Alamodome, Head Coach Frank Wilson and the Roadrunners looked overmatched to an Arizona State Sun Devils (3-0, 0-0 PAC 12) team.

In their first two games against FCS Northern Arizona and Big 12 conference Texas Tech, the Sun Devils offensively put up the nation’s sixth best average of 56 points and conference first-place rushing offense.

These efforts were led by redshirt sophomore QB Manny Wilkins and junior running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage.  

The Roadrunners, on the other hand, were coming off a game against the Colorado State Rams (2-1 0-0 MWC) where the Roadrunners lost 23-14. Starting QB Dalton Sturm was sacked six times but still led his team with a 175-yard, two touchdown performance.

UTSA failed to run the ball while Arizona State finished the game with a total of 220 rushing yards on 47 attempts.

UTSA failed to run the ball while Arizona State finished the game with a total of 220 rushing yards on 47 attempts.

In spite of leading the game until 3:15 in the fourth quarter, UTSA was unable to hold off the Sun Devils, losing 32-28. This game will be remembered as UTSA’s first ESPN2 broadcasted game in program history.

“I thought we did a good job defending them and playing hard, but we are not into moral victories,” Coach Wilson said on the close loss.  

UTSA’s defense held Arizona State 20 points under their scoring average but were unable to capitalize offensively. Because of this issue, the Sun Devils scored the last 20 points of the game, ending with a 2-yard run from Ballage.  

Perhaps the biggest factor in Arizona State’s late comeback was from the feet of kicker Zane Gonzales. The senior connected on 4/5 of his kicks and was able to help his team from stalled offensive possessions.

Finishing the game with 10 total tackles, senior safety Michael Egwuagu led all defenders. In three games, Egwuagu is only trailing redshirt freshman linebacker Josiah Tauaefa in tackles and has provided solid leadership for the UTSA defense.  

“Defensive and offensively, we put an emphasis on just executing,” Egwuagu said.  “Strictly on defense, we talked about pursuing the ball, gang tackling and being tenacious.”  

As for UTSA, just two weeks ago, it was uncertain whether Sturm was ready to assume the starting quarterback position. As of Friday night, he emerged as possibly the most indispensable player for the Roadrunners.

Sturm finished the game with 335 total yards and accounted for all of the touchdowns for UTSA.

“I thought he played outstanding,” Coach Wilson said on Sturm’s performance. “We love Dalton and the way he plays this game.”  

A possible reason for the offensive struggles in key moments was the running game. For the second week in a row, the offensive line was unable to aid running backs Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes.

The upperclassman duo only averaged a net gain of 11 rushing yards. However, Williams led all players in receiving yards with 81.  

The game started quickly for both teams as Arizona State scored first with a 54-yard field goal from Gonzales. UTSA immediately responded with two consecutive passing touchdowns from Sturm.

The first was a 10-yard pass to JaBryce Taylor. The second was an 11-yard pass to Rhodes after UTSA recovered the ball on a muffed punt return from Ballage.  

Up 14-3 late in the first quarter, UTSA’s offense was unable to extend the lead, ending their next 3 drives with punts.

This gave the Sun Devils the chance to come back with another 54-yard kick from Gonzales and a 27-yard touchdown pass from Wilkins to freshman receiver N’keal Harry.  

In the third quarter, Sturm again scored on the first two offensive possessions for the Roadrunners.

The first was on a 34-yard run where the offense started on its own 8-yard line. The second was a 24-yard pass play to junior tight end Shaq Williams after another muffed punt return, this time on senior De’Chavon Hayes.  

Leading 28-12 midway in the third, it seemed that UTSA was poised to win the program’s first win over a power five FBS program, but the offense was unable to score for the rest of game.

Arizona State, on the other hand, held the ball for nearly 18 in-game minutes in the second half and was able to score 20 unanswered points to take the lead from UTSA late in the fourth quarter.

The Roadrunners had a chance to retake the lead, but Sturm was sacked in two consecutive plays, ending the final drive on a loss of downs with 1:10 left in the game.  

While Wilson, Sturm and Egwuagu said numerous times during the postgame interview that they did not believe in moral victories, they should be proud of their efforts.  

Before the game, the Roadrunners were seen as three touchdown underdogs and were in the lead nearly 48 of the 60 in-game minutes.

The Roadrunners’ strong play in front of a national television audience is an indication of how much the program has grown since the start of the program in 2010.

When asked about previous close losses against the Arizona Wildcats in 2014 and 2015, Egwuagu shared his thoughts on the growth off his team.

“I think we’ve come a long way from both of those seasons. As an entire team, defensively, offensively and special teams, we have to finish and capitalize on more opportunities.”

UTSA enters conference play on the road next Saturday in Norfolk, Va. playing against the Old Dominion Monarchs (1-2, 0-0 C-USA) at 2:30 p.m. Their next home game will have an 11 a.m. start time against the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (2-1, 0-0 C-USA).

 

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