Aug 28, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA;  Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters (18) throws a pass in the first half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois awaits word on injured QB ahead of UTSA’s visit

Illinois, looking to build on a season-opening win over Nebraska, is uncertain about the status of its quarterback looking ahead to a Saturday night meeting with UTSA in Champaign, Ill.

Senior Brandon Peters started against the Cornhuskers and went 3-for-4 for 35 yards, but he left the game with a shoulder injury. Rutgers transfer Art Sitkowski filled in admirably, connecting on 12 of 15 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns as Illinois won 30-22.

Illinois coach Bret Bielema had not yet decided earlier this week who would start for the Fighting Illini (1-0) against the Roadrunners (0-0).

“All the tests came back and anything from a long-standing injury looked negative at this point, so really it’s just about his recovery,” Bielema said. “Again, it’s on his left shoulder, his non-throwing arm. It’s really just a matter of how fast he recovers from that. Not ruling him out of this week’s game but don’t really feel that he may be in that role at this point.”

Whoever is under center will benefit from an Illinois ground game that rushed for 167 yards against Nebraska. But the Illini’s defense must make some adjustments ahead of facing another dual-threat quarterback this week.

Last week, Illinois allowed Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez to throw for 232 yards, run for 111 yards and account for two touchdowns. UTSA’s Frank Harris has a similar skill-set (2,116 career passing yards, 654 career rushing yards, 24 total touchdowns).

The Roadrunners are entering their second season under head coach Jeff Traylor. They went 7-5 last year, finishing second in Conference USA West. It marked their first winning season since 2017 and just the fourth winning campaign in the program’s first 10 years.

UTSA capped off last season with an appearance in the First Responder Bowl, the program’s second-ever bowl game. The Roadrunners lost to Louisiana 31-24 in the contest in Dallas.

This Saturday’s season opener will be the Roadrunners’ first-ever matchup against a Big Ten team. UTSA has won eight of the previous 10 opening games.

UTSA is picked to finish second in its division again this year, but Traylor is focused on results, not predictions.

“To compare us to last year has nothing to do with our culture,” Traylor said this week. “We should be a lot better. I hope I am a better version of myself than I was a year ago.”

A win over Illinois would give the Roadrunners their second win against a Power 5 conference foe, joining a 2017 triumph over Baylor. But Illinois hasn’t lost to Conference USA since falling to Louisiana Tech in the 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl; Illinois is 2-0 against the league’s teams since then.

–Field Level Media

Nov 21, 2020; Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA; UTSA Roadrunners head coach Jeff Traylor talks to his players in the first quarter against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at M.M. Roberts Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

UTSA coach Traylor tests positive, will miss bowl

Texas-San Antonio football coach Jeff Traylor tested positive for COVID-19, the school announced Wednesday, three days before the team’s bowl game Saturday against No. 19 Louisiana in Dallas.

Traylor, in his first season as a head coach, tested positive Wednesday morning during routine protocols, according to the UTSA athletic department. Associate head coach Barry Lunney Jr. will serve as acting head coach on Saturday in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl.

Traylor, 52, is in isolation and is not currently experiencing any symptoms, according to the school.

Traylor also tweeted Wednesday, “I feel perfectly fine. I am just crushed I can’t be there with my dudes.”

UTSA is 7-4 this season under Traylor and is making its second bowl appearance. The Roadrunners lost the 2016 New Mexico Bowl to New Mexico.

Lunney spent a month as the interim head coach at Arkansas last season following the firing of Chad Morris. He is currently the Roadrunners’ offensive coordinator.

–Field Level Media

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns head coach Billy Napier watches his team play against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium. The Ragin Cajuns beat the Cyclones 31 to 14.   Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

UTSA, No. 19 Louisiana get call for First Responder Bowl

Louisiana didn’t get a chance to play for the Sun Belt Conference championship.

The No. 19 Ragin’ Cajuns are trying to prevent that disappointment from adversely affecting their performance against UTSA in the First Responder Bowl on Saturday on the SMU campus in Dallas.

Louisiana (9-1) flew to South Carolina last Thursday to play Coastal Carolina for the Sun Belt title, but returned home the next day after the game was canceled due to COVID issues within the Chanticleers’ program.

Both teams were declared co-champions.

“We’ve got to take that anger and frustration and disappointment and move forward and use those things as fuel on the fire to get ready to play,” Cajuns coach Billy Napier said. “We’ve got a very competitive culture here. We’ve got a very competitive group of people.”

The Cajuns opened the season with a 31-14 road victory against No. 10 Iowa State and have the best 10-game record in school history.

They have won the Sun Belt West division and played in a bowl game in each of Napier’s three seasons as head coach. That success led to Napier being a candidate for coaching vacancies at South Carolina and Auburn, but Louisiana announced this week that Napier is staying put.

Louisiana’s defense has forced at least two turnovers in each victory this season. The only time it failed to do that was in a 30-27 home loss to Coastal Carolina on Oct. 14.

The Roadrunners are 7-4 in coach Jeff Traylor’s first season. A victory over the Cajuns would be the first bowl victory for a school that is making just its second appearance in a bowl and it would tie the school-record for wins in a season.

UTSA was originally scheduled to play SMU in the Frisco Bowl, but the Dec. 19 game was canceled due to COVID issues in the Mustangs’ program.

The First Responder Bowl stepped in and invited the Roadrunners, who gladly accepted but had to wait five days to learn that Louisiana would be their opponent.

“What an awesome opportunity,” Traylor said. “I’m just so thrilled for our players, coaches and staff to be playing in a bowl game.”

The UTSA program is in just its 10th season. The school tied an NCAA modern startup program record by reaching a bowl game in just its sixth season, losing to New Mexico 23-20 in the 2016 New Mexico Bowl.

The Roadrunners finished second in the Conference USA West division with a 5-2 conference record.

“We’re building something special here,” quarterback Frank Harris said. “Coach Traylor is doing a great job of instilling a culture. We are following it now and seeing the results.”

UTSA set school records for total offense (624 yards) and rushing yards (443) in their last game – a 49-17 victory against North Texas on Nov. 28. It was the second consecutive game that the total offense record was broken.

“I think we finished the (regular) season out in the right way,” said running back Sincere McCormick, who had a record 251 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

Nov 21, 2020; Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA; UTSA Roadrunners running back Brenden Brady (5) runs the ball while defended by Southern Miss Golden Eagles defensive back Josh Perry (8) in the second half at M.M. Roberts Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Frisco Bowl canceled; UTSA moves to First Responder Bowl

UTSA will play in the First Responder Bowl following the cancellation of the Frisco Bowl on Tuesday.

The Roadrunners were scheduled to meet SMU in the Frisco Bowl to kick off 2020 bowl season Saturday in Frisco, Texas. SMU was forced to pull out of the game because of COVID-19 issues within its program. As a result, the Frisco Bowl will not take place.

UTSA doesn’t know its opponent in the First Responder Bowl, which is set for Dec. 26 at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on the SMU Campus near Dallas. ABC will televise the game.

This will be the first bowl appearance for the Roadrunners (7-4, 5-2 Conference USA) — second in program history — since their loss in the New Mexico Bowl in 2016.

“What an awesome opportunity this will be for our program to play on network TV in the First Responder Bowl,” first-year coach Jeff Traylor said. “I said this two days ago and I will say it again: I’m just so thrilled for our players, coaches and staff to be playing in a bowl game … on a national stage.”

In a school statement, SMU (7-3, 4-3 American Athletic Conference) said the Mustangs had “a number of positive cases of COVID-19 involving student-athletes and staff members.” Because of contact tracing, the team didn’t have enough players to practice this week and play in the game.

“Since the beginning of this pandemic, many student-athletes across the country have had the unfortunate experience of missing out on opportunities to compete in any number of athletic events, with many missing out on entire seasons,” said SMU athletic director Rick Hart said.”Our team deserved to play another game. I’m disappointed for our fans, and even more disappointed for our players, that we will be unable to play in a bowl game this season. I’m also sad that many of our seniors played their final collegiate games, not knowing at the time that that was their last time on the field. I want to applaud our team for their efforts this season and to acknowledge the personal sacrifices they all made to make this season possible.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 21, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Rice Owls wide receiver Austin Trammell (10) catches a pass out of bounds against the Baylor Bears cornerback Raleigh Texada (13) in the second half at Rice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

UTSA COVID-19 issues lead to postponement vs. Rice

Saturday’s contest between Texas-San Antonio and host Rice was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the UTSA program, the two Conference USA schools announced Friday.

Officials from both UTSA (4-4, 2-2 C-USA) and Rice (1-1, 1-1) will work with conference officials to reschedule the game.

“We are certainly disappointed that we have had to make the difficult decision to postpone Saturday’s game with Rice,” UTSA athletic director Lisa Campos said in a statement. “Throughout the pandemic, our top priority has been and will continue to be the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and community.

“We are extremely grateful to the leadership at Rice University and Conference USA for maintaining an open and understanding line of communication, and we look forward to being able to return to competition safely.”

Rice athletic director Joe Karlgaard understood the reasoning for the postponement.

“After a great win last week at Southern Miss, I know our team was excited to get back on the field at home and renew the series with UTSA,” Karlgaard said. “But the virus remains a constant challenge to our efforts to play this season.”

Four of the seven Conference USA games for Saturday have been either postponed or canceled.

The contest between Charlotte and Middle Tennessee also was postponed on Friday. Earlier in the week, the game between Florida International and UTEP was canceled and the matchup between Louisiana Tech and North Texas was postponed.

Earlier this week, Conference USA rescheduled seven postponed games for the time period of Dec. 5-12.

–Field Level Media

Nov 2, 2019; College Station, TX, USA; UTSA Roadrunners running back Sincere McCormick (23) tries to find a hole during the fourth quarter against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Atlantic faces battle-tested UTSA

The Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners have played seven games already this football season, while the Florida Atlantic Owls have played two.

The two Conference USA rivals with vastly different experiences with COVID-19 — will meet on Saturday at FAU’s campus in Boca Raton, Fla.

“We’re blessed to have played as many games as we have,” said first-year UTSA coach Jeff Traylor, who inherited a 4-8 team and has already matched last year’s win total.

UTSA (4-3, 2-1) is led by sophomore running back Sincere McCormick, who leads the nation with 867 rushing yards. His 123.9 yards a game ranks sixth nationally.

McCormick, a 5-9, 200-pounder, rushed for 983 yards and eight touchdowns last season, earning C-USA Freshman of the Year honors.

Last week, in a 27-26 comeback win over Louisiana Tech, McCormick ran 37 times for 165 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 12 yards, completing a grueling workload — not that he complained.

“He was in my office (Sunday) morning, bouncing around,” Traylor said. “He’s unbelievable. The kid is physically and mentally tough.”

It was McCormick’s fourth 100-yard game of the season. His 1,850 career yards already rank third in program history.

Roadrunners redshirt junior Frank Harris, who lost some playing time earlier this season due to injury, is 4-1 as UTSA’s starting quarterback this season.

The Roadrunners defense is led by senior safety Antonio Parks, who had an interception and forced a fumble against Louisiana Tech. That earned him C-USA Defensive Player of the Week honors, to go with the McCormick’s offensive star of the week award for the league.

UTSA’s defense also boasts sophomore safety Rashad Wisdom, who had 10 tackles against Louisiana Tech, and junior linebacker Trevor Harmanson (eight tackles).

UTSA held Louisiana Tech to just 35 yards in the second half, helping the Roadrunners dig out of a 13-point hole to snap a three-game losing streak.

Meanwhile, FAU (1-1, 1-1) — after winning two of the past three C-USA titles — has struggled to even get on the field in 2020.

Coach Willie Taggart, who took over the FAU program this season after he was fired by Florida State, led the Owls to a 21-17 season-opening win over Charlotte on Oct. 3.

After that game, the Owls had 20 players test positive for COVID-19, and 25 more athletes lost practice time while quarantining.

Those issues certainly contributed to last week’s 20-9 loss to Marshall, which was FAU’s first game in 21 days. FAU was hit with 11 penalties for 126 yards last week, which was another sign of a lack of sharpness.

FAU’s quarterback is redshirt junior Nick Tronti, a first-year starter who is completing 55.8 percent of his passes. His ranks last in the C-USA in passing yards per game (123.0).

Taggart hinted he may use other QBs on Saturday.

“There have been thoughts on getting guys ready other than Nick all year,” said Taggart, whose son, Willie Jr, is among three backup quarterbacks. “We have to be more efficient offensively.”

Indeed, FAU ranks last in C-USA scoring with 15.0 points per game. The Owls, who rank 91st out of 101 teams nationally in average yards per play, are hurting at running back, where Larry McCammon and BJ Emmons are likely out due to ankle injuries.

Junior Malcolm Davidson leads FAU in rushing, averaging 6.7 yards, but has carried just 12 times. He has totaled 80 yards with one touchdown.

–Field Level Media

Sep 7, 2020; Annapolis, Maryland, USA; Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake is interviewed by a socially distanced ESPC microphone after the first half of the game against the Navy Midshipmen at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Despite slow start, No. 15 BYU tops UTSA to remain unbeaten

Zach Wilson threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, leading No. 15 BYU to a 27-20 win over Texas-San Antonio on Saturday afternoon in Provo, Utah.

The Roadrunners made it interesting, holding the high-scoring Cougars to their lowest point total of the season and rallying in the fourth quarter. But BYU was able to hang on and stay undefeated at 4-0.

The Cougars held the nation’s leading rusher, UTSA’s Sincere McCormick, to 42 yards on 11 carries. But backup quarterback Lowell Narcisse, a second-quarter substitute, threw for 229 yards and two scores as the Roadrunners (3-2) fought back in the fourth quarter.

Wilson finished 22 of 30 for 292 yards.

Hunter Duplessis made field goals of 39 and 36 yards to give UTSA its first six points, and Narcisse hit Zakhari Franklin for a 32-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to make it 21-13. Narcisse later found Brennon Dingle for a 34-yard touchdown with 1:17 to play to get to within 27-20. The Cougars then ran the clock down to within 30 seconds before having to punt the ball back to the Roadrunners, but a roughing the kicker call gave BYU a first down and ended UTSA’s hopes.

A heavy favorite, the Cougars were shut out in the first quarter — the first time they did not score in a quarter all season — BYU got on the board with Wilson’s 4-yard pass on fourth-and-goal to Neil Paa’u with 13:41 to go in the second quarter.

Paa’u reached high for the catch and kept the tops of his toes inbounds for the score. He atoned for a lost fumble in Roadrunners territory on the game’s opening drive.

On second-and-goal from the UTSA 11, Wilson dumped a short pass over the middle to Lopini Katoa, who ran in for a touchdown with 4:44 to go in the second quarter. That made it 14-3.

BYU had 300 yards of total offense in the first half, ending the day with 470 yards. The Cougars entered the game averaging better than 49 points per game.

Wilson ran a misdirection play four yards for a touchdown with 1:04 to play in the third quarter, his sixth rushing touchdown of the season, that gave BYU a 21-6 lead.

UTSA safety Rashad Wisdom was ejected for the second straight game for targeting midway through the fourth quarter. The play was part of a drive that lasted more than six minutes and ended in Tyson Allgeier’s 6-yard touchdown run with 2:18 to play, giving the Cougars a 27-13 lead.

–Field Level Media

Sep 26, 2020; Provo, UT, USA; BYU quarterback Zach Wilson (1) warms up before the start of their  NCAA college football game against Troy Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Provo, Utah. Mandatory Credit: Rick Bowmer/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

No. 15 BYU looks to stay unbeaten vs. UTSA

BYU has a chance to go to 4-0 on Saturday when the Cougars welcome Texas-San Antonio to Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah.

The 15th-ranked Cougars have blown out their first three opponents by a combined 148-24. BYU’s ranking is the highest the program has been since 2009, when the Cougars rose to No. 7.

The Cougars and Roadrunners (3-1) will be playing each other for the first time in both schools’ history.

“Finding another way for us to try to be at our best, that’s the focus of this team,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said Monday. “I feel like we’ve done that three times and now we’re looking forward to doing it a fourth.”

BYU leads the nation in total offense and total defense. On offense, the Cougars average 585.7 yards per game and a whopping 8.1 yards per play. Defensively, the Cougars have held opponents to 214.3 yards of total offense per game.

“I think we really need to just stay humble as we keep finding that success. The mindset has to be let’s get better this week and find the things that we struggled with the last game,” BYU linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi said. “The target on our backs is definitely going to get bigger, but we can’t really focus on those things and what people are saying.”

Quarterback Zach Wilson — with as many touchdowns accounted for as incomplete passes, 11 — is drawing postseason award attention. Wilson is coming off a five-touchdown performance against Louisiana Tech in which he completed 24 of 26 passes, threw two touchdowns and rushed for three scores.

The Roadrunners were 3-0 until a 21-13 loss at UAB last Saturday in Birmingham, Ala. UTSA running back Sincere McCormick rushed for 150 yards on 22 carries and the Roadrunners had opportunities by forcing four UAB turnovers, but it wasn’t enough.

After using three quarterbacks in the UAB game, UTSA hopes to have junior Frank Harris back as the starter on Saturday. Harris left in the second quarter of the Roadrunners’ win over Middle Tennessee on Sept. 25 with an injury.

Harris leads the team in passing yards with 508 and is second in rushing yards with 162. UTSA builds its offense around the run game.

“We thought these first four games were going to be fall camp for us. Then we were going to play our last eight, and we were going to have our lineup set and hopefully have our offensive line set, just know our people,” head coach Jeff Traylor said. “We know our roster a little bit better now. That is all it is, us (coaches) trying to get to know our players and them trying to get to know us.”

Taylor knows his team is a big underdog, the spread up to 34 1/2 points in Tuesday’s odds.

“We are going to look at this as an opportunity,” he said. “We are going to go up there and find a way to scrap and see if we can hang in there with them and pull off a shocker.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 5, 2020; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Memphis Tigers quarterback Brady White (3) during the second half against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis cancels UTSA game due to COVID-19 quarantine

Memphis and UTSA won’t play their game scheduled for Friday as the Tigers program continues to battle an outbreak of COVID-19.

The game will not be rescheduled.

The Tigers previously were forced to postpone their Sept. 18 game against Houston because a number of players were in quarantine.

“While we project our quarantine and isolation numbers to improve next week, we felt it was in the best interest of the health and safety of our student-athletes to make this decision now,” Memphis athletic director Laird Veatch said in a statement announcing the cancellation of Friday’s game. “This also allows UTSA the most flexibility to find a replacement opponent.”

The Roadrunners did just that, scheduling Middle Tennessee State as a replacement.

Memphis also announced it added a home game against FCS school Stephen F. Austin to the schedule for Nov. 21. The only prior meeting between the teams came in 1959, which Memphis won.

The Tigers are 1-0 on the 2020 season after a 37-24 win on Sept. 5 over Arkansas State.

–Field Level Media