By Jerry Briggs
The dream of winning a Conference USA football title died two weeks ago in Birmingham, Alabama. All hope for a postseason bowl game vanished last weekend at the Alamodome.
Four straight losses, including consecutive blowouts to UAB and Florida International, have left the UTSA Roadrunners searching for motivation leading into the final two games of the regular season.
As the team prepares for a Saturday afternoon road test against the Marshall Thundering Herd, a simple question lingers.
What is left to play for?
The Roadrunners have been trying to explain that all week, ever since their latest collapse, a 45-7 loss to Florida International.
“We’ve just got to keep our heads up,” linebacker Les Maruo said. “I’m a senior. I only have two more games. So, I’m going to give it my all, but the team has got to do the same thing.”
The Thundering Herd (6-3, 4-2) likely will show little sympathy for the Roadrunners (3-7, 2-4) when they kick off Saturday in Huntington, West Virginia.
Once a C-USA East Division power, Marshall fell flat two years ago with a 3-9 record. The Herd rebounded last year at 8-5 with a bowl game.
Now they’re looking to get back into championship contention. A victory over UTSA would keep them in the hunt.
As for the Roadrunners, they’ll need to fall back on less tangible sources of motivation. But, sometimes, the intangible can be powerful.
“I feel like this will be a lot more fun, more of a brotherhood (feeling) going in,” UTSA senior receiver Marquez McNair said. “Because, like, we only have two games left with the people in the locker room. It’ll never be the same again … (so) just enjoy every moment of it. “
Linebacker Josiah Tauaefa said the motivation remains strong.
“We now turn our attention from playing for (a championship) to … playing for the man that’s next to you, and playing for the university and everything you represent when you put on that jersey,” he said. “So, yeah, we still have things to fight for. Our focus has just shifted now.”
Two weeks ago, UTSA played at UAB and got blown out, 52-3, in a lackluster display.
Not much went right in Birmingham, but, in a few instances, individual pride was on display. Defensive tackle King Newton, for instance, hustled off the line and chased play from behind to make a stop.
Asked to describe what he is playing for in the next few weeks, Newton had a simple answer: “His (jersey) number is 54. Kevin Strong. He’s a senior.
“He’s played here ever since I was a freshman. We play for the seniors in times like this. There’s not much else (to play for). Just finish strong and help send the seniors out the right way.”
UTSA’s last four games have been tough on everyone associated with the program.
Combined, the Roadrunners have been outscored by a combined score of 155-30 against Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, UAB and FIU.
Senior receiver Greg Campbell, Jr., is tired of that feeling.
“I’m very prideful,” Campbell said. “I take pride in everything I do. I don’t like being embarrassed. I don’t like losing. So, for me, (it’s) taking my one-on-one seriously. Taking the game seriously so that everybody is ready to play.
“That’s my biggest motivation, you know, (to) get out there make sure we’re doing everything we need to do to win the game.”
Three of six UTSA scholarship quarterbacks are hurt at the moment, leaving coach Frank Wilson to choose between freshman JoJo Weeks and redshirt sophomore Bryce Rivers as the starter against Marshall.
Both are expected to play.
Rivers, in his first game action of the season, came off the bench late against FIU and heaved a 36-yard touchdown pass to Tykee Ogle-Kellogg.
“He does the things that our offense require from an intellectual standpoint,” Roadrunners coach Frank Wilson said. “He has maturity about himself. He’s been with the program a couple of years now, and so we’re going to ask him to do the things he do well, and that’s to manage the game and make good decisions.”
Wilson brushed off a question about whether Rivers’ performance last week sparked a change in the quarterback’s outlook.
“His attitude has always been great,” Wilson said. “He’s been phenomenal. He’s a wonderful young man and glad that he’s in a position to earn an opportunity to play.”
The Roadrunners have been dogged with injuries all year. At least 14 players, including several starters, were sidelined last week.
Of the regulars that sat out against FIU, Wilson said tight end T.J. King practiced some Wednesday and could be available. He said he’s hopeful that defensive tackle Baylen Baker could return.
The coach said that running back Jalen Rhodes would not play, meaning that sophomore B.J. Daniels and freshmen Brenden Brady will share the load.
Another area of concern is cornerback, with Clayton Johnson, Teddrick McGhee and Stanley Dye, Jr. all apparently unavailable.