Saturday will mark just the second time in which the Roadrunners (7-4) have played in a bowl game in program history. It was a successful debut season under first-year head coach Jeff Traylor, though UTSA could be without their leader as it was announced on Wednesday that Traylor tested positive for COVID-19 and has not been cleared to travel with the team. Associate head coach/offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. would serve as acting head coach if Traylor is not cleared. The Roadrunners were originally slated to play in the Frisco Bowl against SMU last Saturday but the Mustangs backed out due to COVID-19 concerns.
For Louisiana (9-1), the Ragin’ Cajuns lost their shot at 10 wins and a possible conference championship as their title game matchup with Coastal Carolina was canceled last weekend. Head coach Billy Napier, a popular choice for vacant jobs around the country, looks like he will remain with the Cajuns for at least another season and has accumulated a 24-11 record in three years with Louisiana. A victory on Saturday would make it back-to-back double-digit win seasons.
SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: Louisiana (9-1) vs. UTSA (7-4)
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Gerald J. Ford Stadium (Dallas)
Spread: Louisiana -14
When Louisiana Has the Ball
For the third-straight year, Louisiana featured a top-30 rushing attack in the country, spearheaded by the running back duo of Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas who combined for 1,411 yards and 16 touchdowns between them. Quarterback Levi Lewis contributed to the success on the ground with 310 yards and five TDs, and the Cajuns also got assistance from third-stringer Chris Smith who added 332 yards on the ground, along with two touchdowns as the primary kickoff specialist. UTSA enters this game 50th in the country in defending the run, but has improved greatly throughout the season, limiting teams to just 3.4 yards per carry over the last five games.
Lewis has had another proficient season at quarterback, completing 60 percent of his throws with 17 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Lewis spreads the wealth to a plethora of receivers as no one enters this game with more than 24 catches. Don’t expect 30-plus passing attempts on Saturday though with forecasts in the Dallas area showing around 13 MPH winds. That shouldn’t be much of a concern for this run-heavy offense.
When UTSA Has the Ball
The Roadrunners’ offense begins and ends with star running back Sincere McCormick, who not only leads Conference USA in rushing, but is second nationally behind only Iowa State’s Breece Hall – and that was in just 10 games. McCormick’s 226 carries on the season rank him second in the country, so the argument can be made that no player in college football is more important to their team’s offensive success than the star sophomore running back.
Junior quarterback Frank Harris coordinates the offense, and has had a successful year, completing just under 64 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. UTSA only averages about 21 passes per game, but Harris can hurt an opposing defense with his legs with 437 yards and eight scores on 77 rushing attempts (5.7 ypc). Harris also has one of the top wide receivers in C-USA at his disposal in Zakhari Franklin who had three 100-yard receiving performances over the course of the year.
This figures to be a difficult matchup for UTSA considering Louisiana ranks fifth nationally in passing yards allowed per game and 31st in FBS in total yards allowed per game.
UTSA’s season was a roller coaster, beginning with three straight wins, followed by a three-game losing streak, and then closing the regular season with another three-game winning streak. But the last time the Roadrunners played was back on Nov. 28. Does rust play a factor for a team that could also be without their head coach?
Side with the team that’s been a legitimate Top 25 squad for the entire season in Louisiana, and if looking to place a friendly wager, side with the under of 57.5 with windy conditions that are anticipated.
Prediction: Louisiana 37, UTSA 20
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.