UTSA looking to harness desperation, regroup for Conference USA championship game – San Antonio Express-News

Looking back at Saturday’s loss to North Texas, UTSA coach Jeff Traylor saw the difference between desperation and prosperity.

The Mean Green were “fighting for a meal,” Traylor said, needing a win to reach bowl eligibility and extend their season. The Roadrunners, meanwhile, had grown fat off 11 straight victories, lacking that same hunger and edge.

The result was a 45-23 loss that ended UTSA’s undefeated streak with a thrashing that still stung as the Roadrunners returned to practice Monday.

“I’m so mad and angry right now I don’t feel anything but pain and frustration,” Traylor said. “I love this city and that’s why I’m so mad. Your greatest strength is always your greatest weakness. My greatest strength is probably my care for people and my greatest weakness is I care too damn much.”

Grappling with the pain of defeat for the first time this season, safety Antonio Parks said the Roadrunners have adopted the appetite they saw from the Mean Green, calling UTSA “desperate to prove yourself again.”

The longing has made the Roadrunners more focused, quarterback Frank Harris said, as the team turns the page to perhaps the biggest game in program history.

UTSA will be playing for the Conference USA championship for the first time when it hosts Western Kentucky at 6 p.m. Friday in the Alamodome, hoping the opportunity to lift the program to new heights helps spark any missing hunger.

“We’re desperate to do things that this program hasn’t done,” Parks said. “We’ve got everything in front of us still and all of our goals that we set out in the beginning of the season are still out there. Going out there, being desperate to do it and finishing it.”

Finding that edge would mark a departure from Saturday’s game, as Traylor said the Roadrunners “were smelling ourselves a bit” against the Mean Green.

UTSA was “physically dominated” at the line of scrimmage through four quarters for the first time this season, Traylor said, continuing a trend he started to notice during the first half of wins against Southern Mississippi and Alabama-Birmingham the previous two weeks.

McCormick highlighted a “lack of focus” and said the Roadrunners “just didn’t bring it as we should have,” while Parks said the “effort wasn’t there” as the Mean Green controlled the game on the ground, running 60 times for 340 yards.

Injuries only compounded issues for UTSA. Defensive back Clifford Chattman missed his eighth straight game, cornerback Tariq Woolen sat out for the fourth consecutive week and defensive lineman Lorenzo Dantzler was inactive for the first time this season. Even co-defensive coordinator Rod Wright was away due to the flu, which Traylor said “hit our team pretty hard.”

Woolen and Dantzler will be game-time decisions Friday, Traylor said, while Chattman is out for the year.

Linebacker Charles Wiley said the Roadrunners “weren’t ourselves” at the line of scrimmage Saturday, showing “bad tackling, bad communication (and) lack of focus.” That’s all started to change this week.

“Everybody is hungry. Everybody understands we’re not bulletproof,” Wiley said. “We’re not unbeatable and we’re not unstoppable. If we deviate from what got us to where we are, we can be beaten. So the biggest thing with us is the leaders on our team aren’t going to allow for bad morale or bad anything like that. The coaches won’t allow for that.”

Through his career, Traylor has seen instances of tough losses igniting better performances, but he also recalls cases of a rattling setback lingering to have a negative impact the following week.

Traylor senses that much of the public is expecting UTSA to suffer an emotional hangover, as the Roadrunners opened as a 2½-point favorite Sunday morning only to see lines flip within a few hours to favor the Hilltoppers by up to 1½ points.

“It’s just a matter of our mindset,” Traylor said. “Is North Texas going to beat us twice? I’ll let you know Friday at 10. Is it going to be what makes us win a conference championship? I’ll let you know Friday at 10. I don’t know. Obviously, nobody else thinks so, because we started out a favorite and we’re already an underdog, so America believes we’re done.”

With Saturday’s film dissected and put to rest, Traylor said the Roadrunners “have to get your swag back and move on.”

Harris called the loss a “humbling experience,” but one UTSA has put in the rear-view mirror. Part of the solution is to “get back to the basics,” an idea Wiley echoed for the Roadrunners defense, as well.

The result was a Monday practice Wiley described as focused, excited and happy, with Parks saying the group “brought the energy after a tough loss,” brushing off any feelings of complacency that had started to fester.

“Everybody was totally locked in,” McCormick said. “Main focus, we know what it takes for Friday’s game, so everybody buttoned up a little bit more. Today’s practice was intense, and everybody was flying around.”

greg.luca@express-news.net

Twitter: @GregLuca