SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Seeking a bounce-back performance, Southern instead hit the repeat button.
A week after getting clobbered 45-0 by Southern Miss, the Jaguars experienced much of the same in a lopsided 51-17 loss to UT-San Antonio.
"It was pretty much the same thing," senior defensive end Aaron Tiller said.
Like the Southern Miss game, things quickly spun out of control. The Jaguars were in a 48-0 hole by the time the first half came to a close. In the last two weeks, Southern (1-2) has been outscored 83-0 in the first half.
The formula for how the opposition built that huge deficit was also familiar: A poor offensive effort contributed to disadvantageous situations for a defense that gave up too many big plays.
"They moved the ball up and down the field, and we couldn't manifest anything," Southern coach Dawson Odums said. "It makes for a long game, but I really think (UTSA) had a lot to do with it. They're a very good football team, and they played well."
With senior quarterback Austin Howard sidelined for the second straight game with a knee injury, Southern’s offense was again a near complete nonfactor.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Darquez Lee made his first career start, but the Jaguars mustered only 18 yards in five drives before he was removed in favor of true freshman Bubba McDaniel.
Frequently harassed by heavy pressure from the UTSA defensive front, Lee completed just one of 10 passes in the first half. He did not re-enter the game until early in the fourth quarter.
A week after gaining just 34 yards in the first half against Southern Miss, the Jaguars managed 40 yards in the first 30 minutes against UTSA (2-0).
With the offense mired in ineffectiveness, the Southern defense was on the field for 43 plays and more than 18 minutes in the first half. UTSA’s first four drives started either at midfield or inside Southern territory, and all of them finished in the end zone.
And while it was on the field, Southern’s defense had no answer for UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm.
Sturm completed 19 of 22 passes in the first half. He passed for 292 yards and four touchdowns in the first half, and he added four rushes for 35 yards and a score on the ground.
The Roadrunners senior quarterback stood in a consistently clean pocket and casually delivered on-target passes, many times to receivers who had several yards of separation between them and Southern defenders.
Sturm’s first two touchdowns were aided by blown coverages in the Southern secondary, with his receivers running completely free into the end zone.
"You can't give up plays; you've got to make them earn it," Odums said. "I didn't think we did a good job of making them earn it. We gave them some easy scores, and that's how the scoreboard begins to go from 7 to 14 to 21 to 28 real fast."
Sturm's last pass of the game went for an 11-yard score to put the Roadrunners ahead by 48 with 29 seconds remaining in the first half. He did not play in the second half.
"We just didn't play very well in the first half," Odums said. "It starts, and it gets going downhill very quick, and it's hard for you to recover as a team."
Like the Southern Miss game, the Jaguars performed much better in the second half of a game that had effectively already been decided.
Danny Johnson accounted for Southern’s first score when he intercepted backup quarterback Bryce Rivers’ ill-advised floater down the middle of the field and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown.
"It was more about pride," Johnson said. "... We still wanted to finish, regardless of what the score was. I was just thinking, 'Create a turnover, put some points on the board and give the team some confidence.' I feel like they fed off it."
After allowing seven touchdowns in the first half, Southern limited UTSA’s mostly second-team offenset to 103 yards in the second half. Johnson’s interception was one of four turnovers that Southern forced in the second half.
But offensively, it was still a slog for Southern.The only points the Southern offense mustered in the game were set up by careless turnovers by UTSA.
Southern recovered a muffed punt at the UTSA 33 that turned into a 45-yard Cesar Barajas field goal. Two possessions later, Southern recovered a fumbled snap at the UTSA 24 that resulted in a 24-yard Tevin Horton touchdown run. It ended a streak of seven quarters without an offensive touchdown for Southern.
Sandwiched in between those two drives was another Southern drive that started deep in UTSA territory after a Jordan Williams interception at the Roadrunners' 36. But Lee's second interception ended that drive after three plays.
Southern will open up Southwestern Athletic Conference play next week against Alcorn State.
"Put this behind us and move on forward," senior offensive lineman Christian Rodriguez said. "That's all I can say. We're going all forward looking to jump into conference and go 1-0. That's it."