Start Time: 7:00 pm CST, Saturday, Oct. 3
Location: Sun Bowl, El Paso, TX
TV: Local Markets
Radio: Ticket 760
Series Record: Tied 1 - 1
Live Stats: Link
Betting Line: UTSA - 3.5, O/U 57.5
Views from Stillwater: Miner Rush (SB Nation)
The Rivalry: Is this a rivalry game? Nearly everyone you ask on both sides will provide a differing opinion. UTSA shocked the Miners in 2013 after starting off their CUSA era by trouncing UTEP in the Sunbowl 32-13. It was a huge win for the Roadrunners in a season full of surprises.
What little bragging rights UTSA had were quickly robbed away in 2014. Down to their third-string quarterback, UTSA turned in one of the most hapless offensive performances I've ever seen last season. Austin Robinson averaged 1.6 yards per passing attempt and failed to lead the offense to a single score. The Roadrunners didn't even cross midfield until the twilight of the game.
The athletic departments may not officially recognize this series as a true rivalry but there's little doubt that UTEP players had a sour taste in their mouth after the 2013 loss. I haven't really heard it mentioned in interviews but you've got to assume the returners from UTSA's 2014 embarrassment are itching to deliver some payback this season during the Miners' homecoming weekend.
The Opponent: UTEP comes into this game struggling with injuries. All-conference running back Aaron Jones looked primed to compete for CUSA Player of the Year honors before suffering a severe ankle injury against Texas Tech. The injury bug wasn't just limited to Jones-- starting quarterback Mack Leftwich is also doubtful for this week's conference per concussion protocol. The Miners are also missing several reserve players.
With so many players out with injuries, it's going to take a momentous effort, motivated hustle, and superior coaching for the Miners to come out victorious.
Ryan Metz has stepped in behind Leftwich and has given the Miners a new edge on offense. Metz has pocket-passing size and an arm that Leftwich can't match. When given an opportunity to air it out, Metz has been proficient throwing deep. Thus far the UTEP coaching staff has only given him that opportunity when the Miners fall behind in the contest. Sean Kugler will need to take a more aggressive approach on Saturday to keep UTSA's offense from pinning their ears back to stop the run.
UTSA: Larry Coker will finally get to play a game this season with most of his cards in his hand. Starting middle linebacker Drew Douglas, starting defensive end Marcus Davenport, starting cornerback Trevor Baker, and starting center/right tackle Juan Perez have all been cleared to play, providing UTSA with many more options even if some of those guys are limited.
Those injuries are the byproduct of a laughably-difficult out of conference schedule that saw UTSA face four teams that will assuredly go bowling this winter. A few other guys are expected out (Kenny Bias, Mauricio Sanchez, Chase Dahlquist), but it will be the healthiest the Roadrunners have been since the first week of the season.
UTSA's running game is seeing a resurgence of sorts behind the speed of Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes. Williams recently set program records for the longest run from scrimmage and most rushing yards in one game against Colorado State. Williams turned a simple off-tackle stretch up the field for 80+ yards after out-running the Rams' defense. The spark that Williams provides brings UTSA some much needed explosiveness as the Roadrunners settle in to their new up-tempo offense.
Prediction: While both teams have faced struggles over the season, it feels like UTSA's worst days are past them. They're healthier and finally out of the hellish quarter of their schedule. Meanwhile UTEP has failed to replace Aaron Jones' production in the backfield and are still forming a new identity under Metz. The only area where I could see UTEP having enough success to win this game is if they are able to exploit UTSA's young secondary. The Roadrunners are giving up some big plays through the air due to poor communication between zone defenders and a negligent pass rush. All things considered, I like UTSA's chances to move the ball effectively against the Miners and settle into a comfortable late lead despite some scares from Metz.
UTSA 35 UTEP 17