Time: 3:30 PM EST
Location: Houston, Texas, Rice Stadium
Betting Line: FAU -3
Series History: UTEP leads 1-0
It’s November and FAU is in the all too familiar position of having to play spoiler. After snapping a seven game losing streak to Rice, this week they will play another Texas school as UTEP will make the long flight from El Paso to South Florida.
Despite a losing record at 3-6, the Miners still have a lot to play as they must win out in order qualify for a bowl game and they will enter this week’s matchup with some confidence after taking care of an FCS team last week.
On offense the Miners have been pretty one dimensional this year. Since Sean Kugler has been the head coach they have been a run-first team and this year is no different.
On standard downs UTEP runs the ball 66.7 percent of the time. Knowing how much FAU has struggled this year in stopping the run, that number could blossom near 80 percent on Saturday.
They have the best running back in the conference in Aaron Jones and have one of the worst passing offenses in the nation as they have struggled at the quarterback position.
The advanced stats reflect that as UTEP has the second most explosive rushing attack in the league and rank near the bottom in every advanced passing stat.
Sophomore Ryan Metz is the starter now and after replacing Zach Greenlee the offense has become rejuvenated somewhat. Metz sort of reminds me of Alex McGough as far as toughness goes. He’s battled back from concussion injuries to regain the starting job, showing how tough he is.
Though Metz has improved the passing offense, UTEP is going to lean on Jones. He needs just 68-yards to become UTEP's all-time leading rusher and he could very well get that by halftime.
Defensively UTEP has struggled this year but that’s mainly a product of their offense not being able to stay on the field. A quarter by quarter breakdown shows that UTEP ranks 60th in the first quarter, 95th in the second, 126th in the third, and 114th in the fourth quarter.
That tells me that over the course of the game their defense is simply too worn down to stop anything.
Linebackers Dante Lovilette, Alvin Jones, and Nick Usher are UTEP’s top three tacklers. They have easily been the most dominant position group in their 3-4 defense as the LB Havoc Rate ranks 37th nationally. If big plays happen for UTEP’s defense, these are the names you will hear.
A beatdown of Rice was exactly what this team needed to get their confidence back. But this is a bad matchup for the Owls defense.
The one thing UTEP is good at is what FAU has been unable to stop all year. Aaron Jones is going to get his yards no matter what, but limiting his explosive runs are a must.
Trey Hendrickson had his best game of the season against Rice last week and could have another great day if UTEP is forced into passing downs.
The weakest part of UTEP’s defense is the secondary. Kalib Woods and Henry Bussey could both have a great game but as we’ve seen this year a lot of that is going to depend on which Driskel shows up.
The rushing attack has been consistent all season long with Devin Singletary and Greg Howell in the backfield. Hopefully both get at least 15 carries each to take the pressure off of Driskel.
After a record performance last week against Rice there should be no reason why Singletary shouldn’t be the feature back the rest of the way.
Last week’s win over Rice was nice but this game will say a lot more as UTEP is a much more talented team than Rice, they also have the best player on the field, and will be playing with a sense of urgency to keep their bowl hopes alive.
S&P+ gives FAU a 56 percent chance to win and I kind of agree. FAU should win this game. UTEP doesn’t do anything particularly good except run the ball. But the fact FAU has been consistently awful at stopping the run doesn’t give me the confidence they’ll be able to stop someone who will be on a NFL roster next year.
UTEP has never won a game on the east coast as they are 0-20-1 all-time but I see them getting their first win ever on the east side in a nail biter. UTEP 35 FAU 28.