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UTSA defense dominates in win against Rice

October 7, 2018

HOUSTON — UTSA running back B.J. Daniels said being set up on a short field is like getting presents on Christmas. Luckily for the Roadrunners, UTSA’s defense was in a giving mood Saturday.

UTSA forced three turnovers on Rice’s half of the field and converted all of them into points, bailing out an anemic offense in a 20-3 win at Rice Stadium.

“Give us a short field, and I know we’re going to go down there and score a touchdown,” Daniels said. “The short field is a blessing.”

The Roadrunners picked up just 178 yards of offense — the lowest total in a win in program history. UTSA compensated by going 3 for 3 in the red zone, including two touchdowns. The Roadrunners have now converted on all 14 red-zone chances this year, with 11 touchdowns.

The victory lifts UTSA to 3-3 overall and 2-0 in Conference USA, marking the Roadrunners’ first 2-0 start in conference play. The win is also the fourth in a row against Rice (1-5, 0-2).

“We did enough to win,” UTSA coach Frank Wilson said. “Our defense is playing outstanding right now. Any time you can create four turnovers and potentially convert those into touchdowns or put your offense in position to create points, that’s a wonderful thing. We’re tackling better than we have before, we’re defending the pass better than ever before, and now we’re creating turnovers. That’s a sign of a defense taking steps to become dominant.”

UTSA’s first touchdown came in the second quarter, after defensive back Cassius Grady tipped a pass, tracked down the interception at Rice’s 31-yard line, and returned the ball to the 3. Daniels punched it into the end zone on the next play for a 10-0 lead.

“I thought I scored, but the offense did it for me,” Grady said. “I tipped it to myself, prayed to God I would catch it, and then rock and roll.”

Just two plays after the touchdown, the Owls fumbled a snap and UTSA’s DeQuarius Henry jumped on it at Rice’s 14-yard line. The Roadrunners’ offense mustered just 1 yard in three plays but was still in range for Jared Sackett to convert a 40-yard field goal after a holding penalty.

Leading 13-3 with 1:50 to play, UTSA iced the game on a Jalen Rhodes 1-yard touchdown run, another score set up by a turnover. Emmanuel Esukpa fumbled on fourth-and-1 from the Rice 23-yard line, and Brenndan Johnson recovered for the Roadrunners.

“We’re definitely pumped up,” Daniels said of the win. “We got to .500, and we’re making improvements. Reaching checkpoints.”

During the week leading up to Saturday’s game, UTSA safety C.J. Levine said the Roadrunners’ top priority was stopping the run.

Rice entered Saturday averaging 201.6 yards per game on the ground, and Levine knew the Owls would look to establish the running game Saturday.

UTSA’s defense was up to the task, holding Rice to 47 rushing yards on 37 carries.

“We were very physical with them, and so they weren’t able to run the ball like they wanted,” Levine said. “We were just out there having fun.”

Wilson said the key to shutting down Rice’s run game was creating movement and disguising the defensive front without losing control of the gaps in the offensive line.

From his position in the defensive backfield, Grady saw a front seven that flew around and created havoc.

“They’re scary,” Grady said. “I like it. I’m pretty sure they put fear in offenses.”

Rice gained just 222 total yards. Owls backs Esukpa and Austin Walter each entered with more than 400 rushing yards on the year but combined for 51 yards on 29 carries Saturday.

The Roadrunners’ offense also struggled. Quarterback Cordale Grundy was 6 of 18 for 33 yards before being pulled for D.J. Gillins, who finished 2 of 4 for 10 yards.

UTSA did better on the ground, with 135 yards on 38 carries. Daniels ran 13 times for 61 yards and the score, while Grundy ran seven times for 36 yards.

The Roadrunners had only one drive that went 10 or more yards during the first half, marching 72 yards on 14 plays to set up a 44-yard Sackett field goal with 5:47 left in the first quarter.

Rice started to find an offensive foothold in the third quarter, driving 65 yards in 12 plays for a field goal to pull within 13-3 with 8:28 remaining. The drive looked to be another three-and-out before a fake punt on fourth-and-3 from the Owls’ 37 netted 17 yards on a Jack Fox pass to Jordan Myers.

The field goal marked the only points for either side in the third quarter, a period in which UTSA has been outscored 52-0 on the season.

Cornerback Clayton Johnson, UTSA’s leader in interceptions this season with two, did not play against Rice. Wilson said he is expected to return next week.

UTSA now has wins against UTEP and Rice — the only two teams picked to finish behind the Roadrunners in the C-USA West Division in the preseason media poll.

UTSA welcomes Louisiana Tech to the Alamodome at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Greg.Luca@express-news.net

Twitter: @GregLuca

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