EL PASO, Texas (AP) — UTSA's second game as a ranked team is the first since coach Jeff Traylor signed a 10-year extension that averages $2.8 million per season.
The significance isn't lost on the second-year coach with deep ties to Texas high school football as the Roadrunners (8-0, 4-0 Conference USA) prepare to visit surprisingly strong UTEP on Saturday night.
“I was worried about my players having to answer questions so much,” said Traylor, whose name is surfacing with two Big 12 schools in Texas already looking for coaches after midseason changes at Texas Tech and TCU.
“This has been going on for months,” Traylor said. “We had already targeted that the opening week would be a great time to do it, but we did not know we were going to be 8-0 and have so many distractions going on at the same time. We can’t predict the future, but I thought it was very important that we get this thing done for my players’ sake.”
Dual threat lefty quarterback Frank Harris and running back Sincere McCormick, a fellow San Antonio-area high school product, are leading an offense that ranks 11th nationally in scoring and is trying to build on the best start in school history.
McCormick, 11th nationally with 891 yards rushing, has six 100-yard games. The Miners (6-2, 3-1) are No. 11 in the country in rushing defense and haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher. Traylor figures UTEP's defense can get the focus off his contract.
“We are hoping that by Wednesday, this thing will be all over and the game is all our kids are going to be talking about,” said Traylor, who is 15-5 in his first college head coaching job after 25 years in Texas high schools. “We had to be focused on UTEP. We had the best practice we have ever had last night. There was all kinds of juice flowing around that place. Pads were popping, kids were going crazy.”
The first trip by a ranked opponent to El Paso since No. 4 Oklahoma's 24-7 win in the 2012 opener lost some buzz when UTEP's four-game winning streak ended last week at Florida Atlantic. Still, the Miners have reached six wins for just the third time since 2006.
“What I told the guys after the game in locker room is that the loss does not make this game less important,” fourth-year UTEP coach Dana Dimel said. “It makes it more important. If we want a chance to contend for a conference championship, this game becomes really important for us to do that.”
FINDING A BALANCE
Harris leads an offense that has shown good balance most of the season. UTSA's first game as a ranked team was an example. The Roadrunners had 213 yards rushing and 193 passing in a 45-16 victory at Louisiana Tech on Oct. 23. UTSA was ranked 24th for that game, moved up one spot after the win and jumped another seven spots during the open week. McCormick ran for three touchdowns, and Harris threw two scoring passes to Zakhari Franklin.
SHARING THE WEALTH
There's also balance within the passing game for the Roadrunners. Three receivers have at least five touchdowns, led by Franklin with six. Franklin also leads in yards with 572, while Joshua Cephus has a team-high 48 catches with five TDs. De'Corian Clark had 304 of his 431 yards and four of his five scores in the four October games.
In part because the Miners trailed by 18 points in the fourth quarter against FAU, Gavin Hardison ended up with career highs in passing yards (327), completions (23) and attempts (46). It was the redshirt sophomore's second career 300-yard game. Tyrin Smith had 114 yards receiving and a touchdown, and Justin Garrett added 109 yards. Jacob Cowing was limited to 36 yards but has five 100-yard games this season.
Traylor was asked during the news conference announcing the new contract why he valued staying at UTSA long-term.
“Y’all are starting to know me pretty well,” he said. “I wear the same pair of ostrich boots that I wore 11 years ago. I just go get them resoled. I wear the same costume. I have about six jackets, a few shirts that I twist up in there. I have my cap on at all times. I am a very simple creature.”