RUSTON, La. (AP) — Now that UTSA has its first Top 25 ranking in program history at No. 24, , the next question is how the Roadrunners will handle it.
“We are going talk about it because we have to know how to handle it and answer the question,” said UTSA coach Jeff Traylor, whose Roadrunners (7-0, 3-0 Conference USA) visit Louisiana Tech (2-4, 1-1) on Saturday night.
UTSA, which has fielded Division I FBS football since 2011, broke into the AP Top 25 Poll on the strength of a program’s best start to a season and longest winning streak (seven).
“It is a fine line. We want to be humans, have fun and enjoy things, too, but at the same time, how many hours are we spending on stuff that does not have anything to do with the Louisiana Tech game?” Traylor continued. “You have to be very careful.”
Traylor, now in his second season, has the Roadrunners on quite a run since the midpoint of his first campaign. UTSA has won 10 of its last 11, the lone loss coming against Louisiana-Lafayette in last December’s Servpro First Responder Bowl.
But they’ll have to win yet again this week of they want to preserve their status as a ranked team.
“Historically here, we have been an up and down program. We have had our moments and we have gone away,” Traylor said. “We are having a moment right now, and I don’t want it to go away.”
Louisiana Tech has had its share of moments this season — frustrating ones. The Bulldogs led by 20 in the fourth quarter at Mississippi State, only to lose by a point. They lost by two points to SMU on a Hail Mary pass as time expired and lost by just one touchdown at North Carolina State.
Then came their worst loss of the season in El Paso last week when UTEP beat them 19-3.
“The disappointing thing was the number of points we were able to put on the board,” Tech coach Skip Holtz said, noting that Tech managed just a field goal despite five drives inside the UTEP 20.
“This week, it doesn’t get any easier,” Holtz added. “We just played a now 6-1 UTEP team and now you have an undefeated UTSA coming in here.”
Traylor hasn’t tried to downplay the value he sees in his program breaking into the rankings for the first time since its inaugural season in 2011.
“It is free advertisement. You cannot get that or pay for it. It is huge. Everybody in the country is talking about us,” Traylor said. “That helps with boosters. It helps with administration. It helps the fan base. It helps recruiting. It helps in the bigger scheme.
“There are a lot of alumni that we have out there who are looking to give to something they believe in,” Traylor added. “The more success you give people, the more belief they have in you.”
Louisiana Tech is glad to be home, where it hasn’t played in nearly a month. The Bulldogs are 2-1 at home and would have been 3-0 if they could have broken up SMU’s desperate heave to the end zone as time expired.
“They are really good in Ruston. You do not want to play those guys there,” Traylor said. “Right now, you want to play those guys on the road. Unfortunately, we drew them on a Saturday night. They will have that place rocking.”
Both teams have fielded potent passing attacks this season.
UTSA quarterback Frank Harris has completed 69.2% 1,600 yards and 14 TDs passing against just three interceptions. His top targets have been Joshua Cephus (520 yards, five TDS) and Zakhari Franklin (454 yards, four TDs).
Tech QB Austin Kendall has thrown for 1,342 yards and 10 touchdowns in five games, but also has been intercepted eight times. Four Bulldog wideout have more than 200 yards receiving yards this season: Smoke Harris (284), Tre Harris (279), Bub Means (254) and Samuel Emilus (215).
THE BROTHERS BELL
Tech’s ability to disrupt Harris could come down to brothers Ben and Levi Bell, who both play on the Bulldogs’ defensive line. The Bell brothers have combined for six of Tech’s 10 sacks this season, and they’ll be looking to get Harris, who has completed 69.2% of his passes this season, out of his comfort zone.
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