In 80 days LSU’s 2019 title defense begins in Baton Rouge as the Tigers open the year with the University of Texas-San Antonio Road Runners.
It’s the kind of tuneup, work out the kinks game LSU will need to have before jumping into the deep end when the Texas Longhorns come calling the week after. It’ll be the first of two C-USA games LSU plays and our first experience of the Myles Brennan era. What can we expect from the Road Runners on September 5? Let’s take a look.
UTSA Road Runners
2019: 4-8 (3-5 MAC), 124th in S&P+
Head Coach: Jeff Traylor
Offensive Coordinator: Barry Luney
Defensive Coordinator: Tyronne Nix
Unfortunately, the UTSA game won’t quite be the homecoming many LSU fans were expecting as former Tiger running backs coach Frank Wilson was let go after a 19-29 stint and losing seasons in 2018 and 19. In his place will be first-year head coach Jeff Traylor. Traylor got into college coaching in 2015 after a successful 15-year stint at the high school level. He was Texas’ tight ends and special teams coach under Charlie Strong in 2015 and was elevated to coaching the wide receivers in 2016; after that he spent three years coaching running backs, first at SMU in 2017 and then Arkansas in ‘18 and ‘19.
But the UTSA game will have one former Tiger returning to Tiger Stadium: former quarterback Lowell Narcisse is expected to be the Road Runners starting quarterback this season after sharing the duties with two other quarterbacks last season. Narcisse played in 11 games and started seven for UTSA, completing just a hair over 53 percent of his passing for 1,206 yards and eight touchdowns. Narcisse also showed why he was so highly regarded as a dual threat quarterback coming out of St. James, as he picked up 492 yards on the ground.
The running game is where UTSA is strongest. The Road Runners bring back virtually all of its rushing yardage from last season and much of that is owed to stud sophomore running back Sincere McCormick, the reigning Conference-USA freshman of the year. McCormick set a program record for yards from scrimmage with 1,177 and also set the record for most yards in a single game with 189 against UTEP. We’ve talked about how LSU is having to replace its entire starting linebacker corp, going up against a quality back like McCormick will be a good opening test for Damone Clark, Marcel Brooks and, to a lesser extent, Jabril Cox.
Surrounding Narcisse and McCormick is a lot of returning talent. The Road Runners bring back five offensive linemen with starting experience particularly in the interior: Spencer Burford was a C-USA Honorable Mention player at left guard; Ahofitu Maka started all 12 games at center; and Kevin Davis started 10 games at right guard before missing the final two with an injury.
The Road Runners also bring back its second, third and fourth leading receivers from last season Zakhari Franklin, Sheldon Jones and McCormick who caught 24 balls last year. The problem is how will the receivers get the ball thrown their way? Narcisse only completed 53 percent of his passes and the other two quarterbacks, Frank Harris and Jordann Weeks, averaged 4.2 and 4.8 adjusted yards per attempt. Going up against DBU ought to be a mismatch in LSU’s favor to put it mildly.
Defensively the Road Runners bring back some key pieces from last year’s unit. Senior defensive linemen Jaylon Haynes and his team-best 12.5 tackles for loss is back, as is DeQuarius Henry the Road Runners’ leader in sacks (5). Also back are a pair of starting linebackers, senior Clarence Hicks (25 tackles, 10 TFLs) and junior Trevor Harmanson (48 tackles, 8.5 TFLs).
In the secondary, UTSA brings back its starting safeties, sophomore SaVion Harris and senior Rashad Wisdom. The Road Runners also return junior cornerback Corey Mayfield Jr., while sophomore Jahmal Sam, a New Orleans native and Warron Easton graduate, figures to take on a bigger role after playing in all 12 games and starting the final two.
The Texas-San Antonio special teams returns its place kicker and punter. Place kicker Hunter Duplessis closed out 2019 making his last nine field goal attempts, and was a perfect 25-25 on PATs. Punter Lucas Dean averaged about 41 yards a punt, had 12 go beyond 50 yards and 16 were downed inside the 20.
September 5: @ LSU
September 12: @ Texas State
September 19: vs. Grambling
September 26: vs. Memphis
October 3: @ UAB
October 10: BYE
October 17: vs. Old Dominion
October 24: vs. Louisiana Tech
October 31: @ Florida Atlantic
November 7: @ Rice
November 14: vs. UTEP
November 21: @ Southern Miss
November 28: vs. North Texas