After failing to prove themselves as a contender in Conference USA last week, the Golden Eagles will look to right the ship in their homecoming Saturday against UTSA.
Southern Miss’ high-flying offense was shut down by Marshall, holding USM to just 10 points. Going into the game, the Golden Eagles were averaging 33.2 points per game and had scored at least 49 points in three games this season.
The Marshall defense had a lot to do with that, forcing five turnovers, four sacks, 15 pass breakups and hurrying Nick Mullens 17 times. But the execution on offense simply was not there as the offensive line struggled in pass protection and the receivers struggled to create separation.
Head coach Todd Monken knows his offense is better than what they showed against Marshall and knows they cannot have turnovers.
“(It’s about) playing better football on offense,” Monken said. “You can’t turn it over like we did if you want to win games. Don’t turn the ball over.”
The Roadrunners have struggled on defense this season, allowing over 35 points per game and have only forced nine turnovers in six games. Last season, their defense was loaded with seniors and was easily the strength of their team, but that is no longer the case.
While their overall production as a defense has been down, they have remained strong against the run, allowing 4.0 yards per carry. Jalen Richard (5.5 YPC) and Ito Smith (7.6 YPC) will have to really fight to match their usual production. If they cannot, the Golden Eagles will have to win this game through the air, something they are certainly capable of doing.
Mullens has been great this season, throwing 15 touchdowns to only four interceptions while averaging 334.2 yards per game. The UTSA secondary has struggled so far this season against the pass, giving up three or more touchdown passes on three occasions. Mullens and the passing offense should be in for a huge day.
The Roadrunner offense has struggled at times this season, but is no slouch. They are on their fourth quarterback of the season, but former walk-on Dalton Sturm played well in his first start last week in a 34-31 loss to Louisiana Tech. Sturm threw four touchdown passes and two interceptions while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. Monken had nothing but praise for the UTSA coaching staff and Sturm.
“Offensively, I think they have done a great job of weathering the storm,” Monken said. “That is credit to Coach Coker and their staff. They have had a couple of quarterbacks quit so they are down to their fourth team guy (Sturm) and he came out slow.
“Right when they were probably thinking about pulling him he leads them to three touchdown drives and gives them a chance to win. That’s a credit to their staff and to that young man. That amazes me because all the people they have lost, they still find a way to score points and defend.”
Despite UTSA’s rough 1-5 start, Monken knows they are a much better football team than their record indicates.
“They played an awfully good opening schedule with Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Arizona, Colorado State who was a bowl team last year then finally Louisiana Tech who was picked by most people to win our division.
“There are a lot of teams in our league that would be 1-5 in those six games. We have our work cut out for us they have done a great job plus they are in the infant stages. It takes a lot of time to build up a program but they play tough and they are talented.”
The Golden Eagles are hoping to make a bowl game for the first time in three years and this game will be huge in that quest if they can get a win. The Roadrunners narrowly beat USM last season 12-10, but these teams are vastly different today. USM should have the edge, but do not be surprised if UTSA spoils Homecoming.
Kickoff is at 6 p.m.