BYU football begins 3-game series against Texas teams with UTSA, a squad known for toughness and grit
Cougars offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes spent the first 30 years of his life in the Lone Star State. He says the Roadrunners will be an energetic, physical opponent on Saturday at empty LaVell Edwards Stadium
PROVO — Call it the start of the Texas three-step.
BYU’s No. 15-ranked football team goes dancing with three consecutive teams from the Lone Star State the next three weekends, beginning Saturday when the Cougars play host to the University of Texas at San Antonio — better known as UTSA — at 1:30 p.m. at empty LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Barring a cancellation or postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic or the lingering effects of a newfound worry — Hurricane Delta hits the Gulf of Mexico Friday — BYU will play at Houston on Oct. 16 and return to Provo to host Texas State on Oct. 24.
That’s a lot of Texas. And it is a lot of “Texas Tough” in a span of 14 days, said BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, a native Texan (Garland) who lived in the state until he was 30 and is a big believer in the type of talent that football-crazed state produces every year.
“When the ball is snapped, they come off and they try to hit you right in the teeth. I respect how they play. I like it. It challenges me as a coach and I know it will challenge our players, too.” — BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes
“They hit you,” Grimes said Monday on his “Coordinators’ Corner” show, speaking specifically of the 3-1 Roadrunners but also of the kind of football Texas teams play. “When the ball is snapped, they come off and they try to hit you right in the teeth. I respect how they play. I like it. It challenges me as a coach and I know it will challenge our players, too.”
Seeing as how there are no fewer than 12 major college football teams (FBS teams) in the state of Texas, BYU can’t claim supremacy over the entire state even if it sweeps the Roadrunners, Cougars and Bobcats of San Marcos. But it could send another message to the Big 12, which includes state powers Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU, that it could hang with the top teams in that league if ever given the chance.
“I’m not really worried about that,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “We are just trying to focus on getting it done this week and getting things accomplished as improving as a team. I asked the players not to worry about the media attention that we get. We don’t worry about it before the season, so why worry about it during?”
Obviously, an overwhelming number of UTSA players hail from Texas and Louisiana — but none are from Utah. BYU’s roster includes just three Texans: receiver Keanu Hill (Bedford), kicker Jake Oldroyd (Southlake) and backup quarterback Baylor Romney (El Paso).
Former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Ty Detmer hails from the San Antonio area. Receiver Micah Simon, defensive tackle JJ Nwigwe, defensive back Tanner Jacobson and center Tejan Koroma are recent BYU standouts from Texas.
Like every program in the country, BYU looks to Texas for players — but perhaps not as often as it used to. Offensive line coach Eric Mateos coached at Texas State in 2017 and 2018 has been assigned to recruit the area by Sitake, although once coaches hone in on players to whom they will offer scholarships, position coaches and coordinators get more involved regardless of geographical assignment.
“Because we are a national school and we recruit guys from a number of places, where ever there is a state that has good football and a large population base, then we are going to spend time recruiting there,” Grimes said. “I have spent most of my life in Texas. … Family is all still there. It still feels like home when I get back there. I have also spent a lot of time recruiting the state and so the opportunity to play there always helps your chances in recruiting, because people who live there will be watching those games, I am sure. It will give us a great opportunity to make a name a little bit.”
Grimes’ primary recruiting area is Arizona, but he still goes to Texas “when we have an offensive player there we (are offering).”
Saturday’s matchup will mark the first time BYU and UTSA have met in football. Although they are almost five-touchdown underdogs, coach Jeff Traylor said the visitors won’t be intimidated, partly due to the “Triangle of Toughness” he has instilled in the program, cultural pillars such as integrity, passion, mental and physical toughness and selfless and perfect effort.
“We have got our work cut out for us playing the 15th-ranked team in the country,” said Traylor, in his first year at UTSA. “We are a 34-point dog and it is opportunity or adversity. … We are going to look at this as an opportunity and go up there and just figure out a way to scrap, see if we can hang in there with them, pull off a shocker.”
The Cougars have spent the week preparing for a couple different quarterbacks, but it appears opening-day starter Frank Harris, a redshirt junior, will return after missing some recent games due to injury. Harris will be the best running quarterback the Cougars have faced, with five rushing TDs to his credit.
“It depends on Frank,” Traylor said. “He promises he is 100%, but if I see him limping at all, he won’t play.”
Harris reportedly took the majority of the first-team reps in practice Wednesday.
UTSA also has an outstanding sophomore running back, Sincere McCormick. He leads the FBS in rushing yards (527) and is fourth in rushing yards per game (131.8).
Harris “has a lot of ability, does a really good job of getting the ball downfield,” said BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. “We haven’t really faced a guy that takes off as much as this guy does. We have to be ready for him.”
Grimes said UTSA has a “very aggressive defense” with a seasoned defensive line that is the strength of the team.
“First of all, I would just say that I can feel a sense of toughness. I know the head coach by reputation a little bit, him being a Texas guy. He was a longtime high school coach in Texas. I know he has an aggressive personality and one that is bringing a culture of toughness to that team. And you can see it when you see how they play. These guys play hard. They play physical. They play with great effort.”
It’s a Texas tradition.