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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Commentary

Cougars turn up fourth-quarter defense


The Cougars allowed 21 points before halftime, the most allowed before the break this season, but held the Roadrunners to seven points and forced five turnovers in the second half.  |  Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

The Cougars allowed 21 points before halftime, the most allowed before the break this season, but held the Roadrunners to seven points and forced five turnovers in the second half. | Justin Tijerina/The Daily Cougar

SAN ANTONIO — The Cougars’ 28 points scored in the fourth quarter were produced by an abundance of forced turnovers that put the game well out of reach. In the first three quarters, the defense was nowhere to be found.

After the Cougars took a 21-14 lead with less than three minutes remaining in the first half, head coach Tony Levine said he didn’t want the Roadrunners to score any more points before halftime.

Levine’s wish didn’t come true. The Roadrunners methodically drove 75 yards down the field to tie the game at 21 — the most points the defense has allowed in the first half all season.

“We needed a stop there at the end, and we didn’t get it. Defensively, we didn’t accomplish creating turnovers in the first half,” Levine said. “A lot of that has to do with (UTSA senior quarterback) Eric Soza and their offense. He does a great job getting the football out and he is very active.”

The UH defense couldn’t stop Soza for most of the game. He was simply playing pitch-and-catch with his receivers. At the end of the third quarter, he passed 22-28 for 268 yards with two touchdown tosses and picked the UH secondary apart early and often.

The defensive line was unable to apply any pressure on Soza either, as they didn’t sack him all game. UH allowed him to go through his progressions smoothly and find holes in the secondary that went for big gains.

After freshman quarterback Greg Ward Jr. scored his first collegiate touchdown to make it 14-7 early in the second quarter, the Cougars’ defense was victimized again. The defense allowed the Roadrunners to drive 75 yards and tie the game at 14 when Soza scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak.

Freshmen defensive tackle B.J. Singleton and defensive back Brandon Wilson saved the afternoon for the Cougars. Singleton’s blocked field goal was picked up by Wilson, who returned it 78 yards for the touchdown, changing the trajectory of the game, as it put the Cougars up 31-21 instead of being tied at 24 late in the third quarter.

Levine said they have been changing up their block schemes from week to week and showed the Roadrunners one they haven’t seen.

“I was just hoping nobody touched me, like it happened. The coaches always say, ‘don’t hit the kicker, don’t hit the kicker,’” Singleton said. “I tried to just come in flat, and they said ‘don’t jump,’ but I jumped anyway. … I think (the ball) hit me right in my face mask. Next thing I know, I look up and (Wilson) is already at the 50-yard line.”

The Roadrunners should have never been in that position.

Two plays earlier, the Roadrunners nearly executed a reverse-wide receiver pass that was wide open from Jones to Soza on second-and-4 from the Cougar 12-yard line. However, the pass was well short of Soza, who was unable to come back to the ball in time to haul it in for the touchdown. Had the pass been caught, the Roadrunners would have gained a 28-24 lead and altered the momentum.

Nevertheless, the Cougar defense showcased its talent with five forced turnovers — four interceptions and a fumble recovery — all in the fourth quarter, capped off by sophomore defensive back William Jackson’s 96-yard interception return for a touchdown in the final minute.

“We had to change a couple of looks up and be more multiple than we probably have been,” Levine said. “We had to create turnovers, and that made the difference in the football game.”

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