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WKU vs UTEP (GAME PREVIEW)

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The UTEP Miners (5-3, 3-1 C-USA) will travel to Bowling Green, KY on Saturday to face the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (3-5, 1-4 C-USA).

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Keys to the Game

WKU (by Andrew Thomas)

The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (3-5, 1-4 C-USA) are looking to regain confidence on Saturday against the UTEP Miners; the Hilltoppers suffered a 59-10 loss to Louisiana Tech just a week ago, and are desperate for a win if they stand any chance at going to a bowl game this season. UTEP (5-3, 3-1 C-USA), coming off a 35-14 win over Southern Miss, will be looking to stay atop the Conference USA standings with a win on Saturday against the Hilltoppers. Here are your Keys to the Game for Western Kentucky:

1.) Stop the Run. The Miners' offense is led by sophomore running back Aaron Jones, who has ran for 8 touchdowns while averaging over five yards per carry this season. Jones and company will be facing a Hilltopper defense giving up over 43 points per game (126th in FBS). WKU defensive coordinator Nick Holt saw signs of improvement in the second half two weeks ago against in their win against Old Dominion, but cannot be pleased with last week's second half effort where they gave up 21 third quarter points.

2.) Establish the Run. The Hilltopper offense, ranked 2nd in passing with 377 yards per game, also underperformed in their loss to LA Tech, only managing 297 total yards (and five turnovers). The Miner defense is only giving up 30 points per game, so I expect WKU senior quarterback Brandon Doughty to once again have some struggles getting points on the board. Hence, head coach Jeff Brohm should rely on the run early on Saturday. I know that's tough to do because flashy football is fun to watch, but he has stars in running backs Leon Allen and Ace Wales, who are both averaging around five yards per carry this season.

3.) Quarterback Decision-Making. In quarterback Brandon Doughty's first quarter interception last week, he was feeling pressure from LA Tech's defense and made a horrible decision: launching the ball in the remote area of a double-covered receiver. While not giving up on a play is definitely appreciated at times, Doughty needs to learn when to feel the pressure, step out of the pocket, and throw it away. Doughty has had a great season in part because he hasn't faced much blitzing (until last week); head coach Jeff Brohm will need to find a way to keep Doughty on his feet, whether that's with quick passes or more run plays to set up the play-action (see #2).

4.) Big Plays. This WKU defense is downright awful at times, but it has often survived off big plays this season: the late-game interception touchdown from Juwan Gardner against Old Dominion, and the remarkable play of Wonderful Terry. Although they aren't disciplined, the Hilltoppers can undoubtedly make plays defensively...and they'll have to in order to survive on Saturday (and this season).

Prediction

Doughty and the WKU offense won't be able to get it all together as the Miners play solid, time-consuming football:  UTEP 31 WKU 24

UTEP (by Anthony Salom)

The UTEP Miners (5-3, 3-1) seem to have turned the corner and are riding a three game winning streak as they hit the road to take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (3-5, 1-4). The run seemed to be the strength of this team early in the season, but its actually been the defense that has carried them during the win streak. The Miners have come away with seven takeaways the last two weeks alone, and have returned three of those seven for scores. The defense will be tested again this week though with WKU's high powered offense, and UTEP's keys to winning the game will certainly start on the defensive end.

1.) Pressure the quarterback. Its no secret that Brandon Doughty can sling the football, and whether we like it or not, he's going to get his against the Miners. The key though, is getting pressure on him early and often. In the Miners' current win streak, they've averaged 3.3 sacks a game, and they'll need to surpass that number for a chance at picking this one up on the road. That early pressure should make Doughty think just a bit more, and could force him into making a few mistakes, and might even take away the big play which is something the Miners cannot afford to give up.

2.) Control the clock. The Miners are a team that thrive on controlling the clock, dictating the pace of play, and simply wearing down the other team's defense. That will have to hold true this week for us to have a chance. Not necessarily just to wear down the Hilltopper defense, but mostly to keep their offense off the field. The lower scoring this game turns out to be, the better it will be for UTEP, and that will start by taking away as much time as possible from the WKU offense.

3.) Get creative on offense. Its something that we saw in the wins over Old Dominion and UTSA, but something that seemed to disappear against Southern Miss. The offensive play calling will have to be opened up again. At times, the Miners can get way too predictable, and there's no need to give a struggling defense any help by getting one dimensional. Mix things up a bit in the run and pass game. Try to stretch the field vertically every now and then, and try to get the ball into the hands of guys like Autrey Golden in space, and give them an opportunity to make a play. Do that, and it will be much easier for this team to control that clock, and have their way throughout the game.

4.) Win the turnover battle. The Miners have done a very good job of protecting the football this year, giving the ball away just seven times (t-5 nationally). They've also done a great job of creating turnovers with 16 takeaways (t-43 nationally). Over the last two games they've actually had seven of those sixteen takeaways, and its led to them winning by a combined score of 69-14. If the Miners are able to continue that trend, and have a turnover margin of at least +2 this weekend, it should put them in a very good spot to pick up the win.

Prediction

This is going to be a real tough game for the Miners. The defense has been playing extremely well, but they haven't been tested like Doughty and the Hilltoppers will test them this week. However, they've been able to find ways to get it done the last few weeks, and with a struggling WKU defense, I think they find a way to get it done once more. UTEP 38, WKU 34.This is going to be a real tough game for the Miners. The defense has been playing extremely well, but they haven't been tested like Doughty and the Hilltoppers will test them this week. However, they've been able to find ways to get it done the last few weeks, and with a struggling WKU defense, I think they find a way to get it done once more. UTEP 38, WKU 34.