SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- UTSA is in the midst of its third-ever football season. Yet it is the Houston Cougars who look like the youngsters as their true freshman quarterback tries to keep the team undefeated on Saturday against the Roadrunners.
Houston (3-0) beat Rice last week 31-26, when quarterback John O’Korn got his first start. The Cougars also have two redshirt freshman starting on defense. UTSA (2-2) lists no freshmen starters.
If O’Korn gets the nod again Saturday while David Piland recovers from the concussion he suffered three weeks ago against Temple, Cougars coach Tony Levine knows O’Korn can at least take a hit after he was briefly shaken up against Rice.
“I walked onto the field,” Levine said, “and he’s looking up at me, he’s smiling, he’s laughing, and he says ‘What’s up, coach?’ I said, ‘You tell me.’ He says ‘I just got the wind knocked out of me. I’m fine.’ He got up, jogged off, and a couple of plays later he took a shot to the head on a throw he made downfield,” he said. “You’ll see what kind of ability these young men have playing as true freshmen.”
O’Korn had some rough spots statistically (15-of-33 passing with an interception), but his 32-yard pass to Ryan Jackson that gave the Cougars a 31-13 lead in the fourth quarter was his third TD pass of the day. Rice cut the lead to less than a touchdown on a 62-yard blocked field-goal return, but Houston escaped with the win over the crosstown rival Owls.
Levine hopes that loss of focus won’t rear its head against the Roadrunners.
“Rice was very veteran—they had a lot of seniors and juniors—and UTSA is very similar in that regard,” Levine said. “I look at some of our players and they’re true freshmen and true sophomores. It’s a young group.”
UTSA shows two losses against perennial Top 25 programs, Oklahoma State and Arizona. The Roadrunners have won twice on the road against longstanding Division I programs, including a 32-13 victory last week at UTEP.
“It was just a huge win for us,” coach Larry Coker said. “I think we’re just scratching the surface of where we want to be. We’re a work in progress.”
But the Roadrunners are doing it with experience, certainly at quarterback. Eric Soza is a senior who has been the starter for each of UTSA’s three seasons. While Soza was 18-of-24 last week with a passing TD and no interceptions, the defense limited UTEP to less than 100 yards rushing and just 119 in the air.
Five things to watch Saturday:
STEAL FROM SOZA: Eric Soza has been the starting quarterback each of the three seasons since the Roadrunners started their football program in 2011. He’s got three passing TDs and no interceptions in UTSA’s wins this season, yet he’s thrown three interceptions in the team’s two losses. When he protects the ball, UTSA can win.
INSIDE THE QB’s HEAD: Adrian McDonald was a high school quarterback, but he’s quickly becoming an NFL prospect as a strong safety at Houston. A sophomore, this will be McDonald’s seventh career start, and he’s come away with three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and forced two fumbles in those games. He leads an experienced group—all starters in the UH secondary were starters last season.
INSIDE THE QB’S HEAD II: When UTSA scored a surprising early TD against nationally ranked Oklahoma State three weeks ago, the Roadrunners did it by keeping OSU off balance with imaginative play calling. But this week the Cougars have some insight because Travis Bush, assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator at Houston, was offensive coordinator last season at UTSA.
EMERGING AT QB: John O’Korn was a Florida private school player of the year a season ago, but is the true freshman safe as the starter this season at Houston? Subbing for David Piland (concussion), O’Korn got his first career start last week and completed less than 50 percent (15-of-33), and fellow true freshman Greg Ward Jr. got some time with nine rushes for 80 yards and completed all three of his passes (16 yards per throw).
QUALITY VS. QUANTITY: Soza completed passes to 12 different receivers in last week’s 32-13 victory at UTEP. That spread-it-around outcome is typical these days for UTSA, but UH is beginning to look more and more to sophomore Deontay Greenberry. He caught 14 passes for 165 yards at Temple and came back the next week with 146 yards and a TD off just six catches in the Cougars’ win over Rice for a 3-0 start. He’s fifth nationally with 127 yards per game.