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UTSA Spring Game Review: Highlights & Insights


UTSA Roadrunners quarterback Eddie Lee Marburger
© Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

The UTSA football team competed in their annual Fiesta Spring Game on April 13th, with the offense and defense battling in a tightly contested match that ended in an 11-10 victory for Team Orange. The game's format provided insights into player performance and team dynamics, addressing pre-game questions and revealing key takeaways for the upcoming season. Let's jump into the game's highlights and noteworthy facts!


 


structure of the UTSA Spring game


Based on Coach Traylor and his staff's research, they devised a game structure featuring a controlled scrimmage between the offense, donning orange jerseys (Team Orange), and the defense in blue jerseys (Team Blue). The scoring system implemented was as follows:


  • Touchdown = two points

  • Takeaway = two points

  • Field goal made = one point

  • Defensive stop = one point

"We studied the heck out of the how to make this game competitive." - coach jeff Traylor at the post-game press conference.

 A full officiating crew oversaw the game, with Coach Traylor positioned on the field behind the offense during every series, equipped with a whistle. Since live tackling was not permitted, offensive players were considered down upon contact by a defensive player.


UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor
© HELEN COMER/The Daily News Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK
 

what questions were answered?


In our Spring game preview, we highlighted three areas to watch. Let's assess what we learned:


quarterback play

UTSA played four quarterbacks in the game with Owen McCown, Eddie Lee Marburger, Jackson Gilkey, and Brandon Tennison all seeing action on the field. Let's take a look at how each one did:


  • McCown played five series and led the team on two scoring drives, one a 39-yard touchdown run by running back Justin Rodriguez and another a field goal by Tate Sandell. McCown should have thrown a pick-six on the first series when safety Elliot Davison jumped a route but dropped the interception. McCown also fumbled a snap recovered by the defense deep in Team Orange's territory. Overall, McCown had a weak performance, missing open receivers on several occasions, including tight end Dan Dishman, who was wide open after a double move but didn’t receive a catchable pass.

  • Marburger played five series and led the team on two scoring drives, both resulting in touchdown passes. His first touchdown was a precise red zone throw to tight end Houston Thomas in the back of the end zone, and the second covered 29 yards to Jaren Randle. Marburger avoided turnovers and executed several other strong passes, including a deep ball to wide receiver JJ Sparkman for a contested sideline catch. However, he missed wide receiver Chris Carpenter, who had outmaneuvered his defender, because the pass rush forced Marburger to divert his gaze from the field. Overall, his performance was solid, effectively advancing the team while avoiding major errors.

  • Gilkey played in two series and led the team on a scoring drive during one of them. In the first drive, Gilkey advanced the team down the field, largely due to another great contested catch by Sparkman. However, kicker Chase Allen then missed a 51-yard field goal attempt. In Gilkey's second drive, he made a nice pass to wide receiver Jamel Hardy, which drew a pass interference call and completed the drive with a precise 22-yard fade to Justice Hurt in the back of the end zone. Overall, the freshman showed promise, and the coaching staff should continue to develop him for future seasons.

  • Tennison played in three series and led the team on a scoring drive during one of them. He connected with wide receiver Jamel Hardy, who made an impressive one-handed catch in the end zone, outplaying the cornerback in a manner often referred to as 'Mossing' after NFL star Randy Moss. Overall, Tennison was strong in his final series, completing two solid throws that culminated in a game-winning drive.




Traylor noted that this game is particularly challenging for quarterbacks because he tends to whistle the play dead for a sack when defenders get close. Moreover, offensive players lack opportunities to break tackles and gain extra yards after contact, which could transform a five-yard slant route into a 45-yard touchdown pass. Despite these conditions, Marburger seemed most like the starting quarterback in this game. Traylor anticipates that the Roadrunners will actively seek another quarterback in the upcoming transfer portal window, which opens on April 16th.



team chemistry

Assessing team chemistry is challenging without being on the field to hear interactions between players and coaches. Despite the scrimmage's competitiveness, there were no fights, and players showed mutual support throughout the game. However, as Mike Tyson famously said, 'Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.' The Roadrunners may not fully appreciate or address their team chemistry until they face adversity during the regular season.


New players to watch

Wide receiver JJ Sparkman, who transferred to UTSA from Texas Tech in the offseason, was the offensive star of the game with two impressive catches on 50/50 balls thrown down the sidelines. Using his 6-foot-4 frame effectively, Sparkman was able to secure the ball at its highest point before the cornerback could intervene. He credits Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown as a model for his style of play, and his performance easily draws comparisons to some of Brown's Sunday catches. Coach Jeff Traylor confirmed after the game that Sparkman has been a standout during spring practices, indicating that his recent display is a continuation of his consistent strong performance. Sparkman nearly added a touchdown on a wide-open crossing route at the goal line, but quarterback Owen McCown opted for continuing with the trick play's design of targeting offensive lineman Kamar Missouri, that could have resulted in the crowd-pleasing 'fat guy touchdown.'


Additionally, many fans were eager to see former five-star recruit cornerback Denver Harris, who transferred from LSU. However, Harris was sidelined for the game due to a 'soft muscle tissue' issue, according to Traylor, though he was potentially available to play if needed."



 

random game nuggets


  • Tate Sandell made three out of five kicks off the tee in warmups at distances of 40-60 yards and successfully converted his one attempt of 30 yards during the scrimmage.

  • While the offense ended up winning the game 11-10, the defense looked dominant, as expected, in a one-hand touch football format.

  • Wide receiver Jaren Randle stood out with several impressive plays, making him a player to watch.

  • Tight end Oscar Cardenas played limited snaps and finished with one catch, based on my observations.

  • Attendance for the game was announced as 8,130 fans.

  • The defense forced only one turnover, recovering a bad snap to Owen McCown in the first half.

  • Team Blue (defense) led 9-2 over Team Orange (offense) at halftime, but Team Orange rallied in the second half, winning 9-1 and taking the game 11-10.

  • It is worth your time to watch the post-game press conferences with JJ Sparkman, Elliott Davison and Jeff Traylor below.



 

looking ahead


With the Fiesta Spring Game now completed, the Roadrunners are looking ahead to the upcoming transfer portal window, which runs from April 16th through April 30th. Coach Jeff Traylor admitted that he was too worried about the transfer portal last spring, but this year he has adopted a more relaxed approach, saying 'it is what it is' and acknowledging that players have choices. UTSA is expected to be active in the portal, aiming to add more talent to its roster than it loses like every other team. Given the quarterbacks' performances today, that position remains the top priority, and the staff will look to secure another talented quarterback by the end of the month.



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