The UTSA Roadrunners entered Tuesday night, facing a ranked team for the first time in 2021 (0-6 in school history). Meantime San Diego State came into the Tropical Smoothie Café Frisco Bowl trying to bounce back after a brutal 46-13 loss in the Mountain West title game eighteen days ago against Utah State.
The crowd dominated orange and blue in the stands as UTSA tried to win their first bowl game in school history. “That is something we have discussed quite a lot,” UTSA head coach Jeff Trayler said before the game when asked about what the first bowl win would mean for the program. The night appeared as if it would be a magical run for UTSA, but San Diego State withheld the punches from the Roadrunners and prevailed 38-24.
For the Aztecs, playing away from home has been their mantra for the past two years. Their last “home game” at Aztec Stadium was on November 30, 2019, vs. BYU.
“This team and the guys in this program haven’t played a home game in two years. They’ve gone up to Carson, California and have done an excellent job,” San Diego State head coach Brady Hoke said after the game. “Definitely prepared for this for the last two seasons. We’re used to the crowd not being on our side.”
After the game, wide receiver Jesse Matthews told me when asked if that helped the Aztecs with the environment in UTSA’s favor. “This whole year has been tough traveling up there. This next year we have the new brand stadium opening up. I know San Diego people are really excited for that,” Aztecs quarterback Lucas Johnson reiterated to me after the game.
UTSA accumulated 180 yards on their first three possessions of the night. First, it was a Frank Harris pass to De’Corian Clark to begin the scoring. Then after San Diego State grabbed the momentum with a fourth-down stop and a touchdown (Jesse Matthews touchdown catch from Lucas Johnson), Brenden Brady ran into the end zone for a touchdown run, putting the Roadrunners up 14-7 after one quarter.
The Aztecs took advantage of their shortest field of the night to start the second quarter as Matthews racked up his second touchdown catch of the night. Matt Araiza concluded the half with a 33-yard field goal to end the half.
The Aztecs kept the momentum going in the second half. After a 52 yard return by Kaegun Williams to start the third, San Diego State finished the drive with a Greg Bell TD run.
UTSA answered with a field goal, but an interception led to another Aztec touchdown. The Roadrunners closed the third with a Zakhari Franklin touchdown catch, but San Diego State’s fourth quarter. The Aztecs capitalized on a nine-play and five-minute drive. Then after UTSA punted on a fourth and nineteen, San Diego State closed the game out on a seven-minute drive.
A critical turnaround was how San Diego State adjusted defensively to UTSA. At the end of the first quarter, the Roadrunners racked up 170 total yards and 14 points, where San Diego State accumulated 67 total yards and 7 points. After that, the Aztecs outgained UTSA 422-218 and outscored the Roadrunners 31-10.
“They loosen their coverage a little bit, but not much,” Jeff Trayler told me when I asked if he saw any defensive adjustments by San Diego State after the first quarter. “We just couldn’t get the ball back.”
Trayler noticed that both teams slipped on the surface and that the field at Toyota Stadium in Frisco was slick tonight.
“That was the most surprising thing of the whole night, the footing,” he said. One other aspect was the chippiness and sloppiness that resulted in flags. Both teams combined for 23 penalties for 204 yards (UTSA 9/80 and San Diego State 14/124), while if you combine the other three Frisco bowl games, there were 24 penalties for 216 yards.
Meanwhile, the Aztecs held a quality Roadrunners offense to one for nine on third downs and one for three on fourth down conversions all night.
“The game plan was to be tough. We knew coming in UTSA was a really good team, and they love playing hard-nosed football. As a defense, we would have to stop the run and open them up to passing,”
Freshman CJ Baskerville told me after the game. CJ won the defensive player of the game award, while Jesse Matthews won the offensive player of the game award. Matthews and Aztec’s quarterback Lucas Johnson each set Tropical Smoothie Café Frisco Bowl records with their performances. Matthews racked up 175 yards on 11 catches while Johnson threw for 333 yards in his last game at San Diego State.