Coming off their worst offensive performance of the season last week in a 24-3 loss to Florida Atlantic (2-1), the UTSA offense has some soul-searching to do. In a game in which they only tallied 230 yards of total offense, UTSA appeared out of sync from the start. Florida Atlantic dominated the game from beginning to end, and UTSA saw an opportunity to draw level with UAB at the top of Conference USA West slip through their fingers as they fell to 4-4 on the season and 2-2 in conference play. This week, UTSA will be on the road as they head across the state to Houston to take on Rice.
In yet another example of the wild and crazy situations COVID-19 has created this college football season, Rice will be playing just their third game of the season after having the early part of their schedule wiped out by cancelations. In contrast, UTSA will be playing for the ninth straight week. In fact, UTSA does not have a bye week at any point this season. Examining how Rice has fared in their games so far this year, they currently stand at 1-1 overall and in conference play.
Opening their season two weeks ago against Middle Tennessee (2-5), Rice fell in heartbreaking fashion in double overtime 40-34 after a potential game-winning field goal in the first overtime hit off the uprights not once, not twice, not three times, but an incredible four times before bouncing out, denying Rice the victory. Rice, however, bounced back the following week, crushing Southern Mississippi (1-5) 30-6, completely shutting out the Southern Mississippi offense in the second half.
Rice will be a familiar opponent for UTSA, as this will be the ninth meeting all-time between the two schools. Rice opened the series with three straight wins, but it has been all UTSA since then, as they have racked up five straight victories in the series. Last year in San Antonio, UTSA was able to escape a hard-fought back-and-forth contest with a 31-27 victory.
For UTSA to win this game, the offense will need to start playing better and moving the ball down the field with more regularity. Mired in a brutal slump that has been marked by inconsistencies in who is manning the quarterback position, the UTSA offense has a lot of work to do. In their first four games of the season, the UTSA offense averaged 417 yards of total offense per game; in their last four games, however, that number fell down to 339.3 yards per game.
Scoring is also down for the offense. In their first four games, they averaged 33.3 points per game; in their last four, that number plummets to just 16.5 points. Some of this can be explained away by the fact that UTSA is playing tougher competition. The combined record of the teams UTSA played in their first four games stands at 11-18; in their last four games, their opponents are a combined 19-5. Even so, the eye test shows that this offense has lacked the ability to generate the big play to get the ball down the field like they did earlier in the season.
The downfield passing game has all but disappeared for UTSA, as Frank Harris has overthrown a number of deep balls the past two weeks. This lack of a deep-ball threat has led to less and less running room for Sincere McCormick. While McCormick continues to lead the nation in rushing, he only tallied 54 yards on the ground last week and will continue to see more and more stacked boxes unless Harris manages to start hitting some deeper shots down the field. Rice will be daring UTSA to do so, as Rice is only surrendering 109 rushing yards per game, 20th in the nation.
The UTSA defense, all things considered, has been playing quite well the last few games. The defense set a school record last week against Florida Atlantic with 14 tackles for loss, and they now rank second in the nation with 67 on the season. Sophomore safety Rashad Wisdom had his best game of the season since the opener against Texas State, recording 13 total tackles, which moved him up to sixth in the nation. In order for UTSA to have a chance against Rice, they’ll need their defense to continue this strong level of play against a unit that, in limited action, has looked good.
The chief target the UTSA defense will need to stop is Rice’s senior starting quarterback Mike Collins. Collins is completing 57.7% of his passes this year for 475 yards, eight touchdowns and only one interception. His 9.13 yards per pass attempt currently rank 16th in the nation. In comparison to other quarterbacks UTSA has faced this season, only BYU’s Zach Wilson has averaged more yards per pass attempt.
Collins will frequently be looking toward his favorite target this year in fellow senior Austin Trammel. Trammel accounts for nearly half of Collins’ yards this season, posting 10 receptions for 219 yards and five touchdowns. Trammell has been a big play machine for Rice this year, as he has started off the season by recording back-to-back games with a reception over 40 yards. The UTSA defense will need to focus on shutting down this connection and limiting the big plays in order to keep the game within reach.
With traditional bowl eligibility requirements waived for this season, UTSA will need to pick up as many wins as it can to make themselves as attractive as possible to receive a bowl invite, making this a must-win game. UTSA will take on Rice Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Houston. The game will be available to watch on ESPN 3.