Date: Saturday, November 26, 2022
Time: 2:30 PM (CT); 1:30 PM (MT)
Location: Alamodome — San Antonio, Texas
Radio: Ticket 760 AM (UTSA); 600 ESPN El Paso (UTEP)
Betting Line: UTSA -17; O/U 56.5*
UTSA (9-2, 7-0 C-USA). Last game: win over Rice 41-7
UTEP (5-6, 3-4 C-USA). Last game: win over FIU 40-6
UTSA leads series 7-2. Last meeting: UTSA won 44-23
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&C’s apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details
Saturday marks the last foreseeable game between the UTSA Roadrunners and the UTEP Miners. As sister schools in the University of Texas System, this matchup produced a unique and fun rivalry in Texas for nearly a decade given their respective positions as secondary UT schools. Going forward, UTEP and UTSA will have to schedule each other as out of conference opponents if these teams want to continue their minor UT rivalry.
UTSA may have dominated the series, but these teams gave fanbases plenty of memorable moments through the years. At one point neither team was capable of winning at home and in 2016 the Miners and Roadrunners broke the C-USA overtime record in a 5OT thriller that saw future NFL star running back Aaron Jones shine and will the Miners to victory. If UTSA and UTEP never play again these moments will be the highlight of a short-lived and fun inter-school rivalry.
And Saturday has the potential to add to those moments. The Miners have one last chance to win and reach bowl eligibility. The Roadrunners are looking to end 2022 with a perfect conference record and potentially reach the AP top 25 rankings for a second straight year. Both teams have something to play for, and it could result in an exciting final series game.
The Roadrunners have guaranteed themselves homefield advantage for the Conference USA championship game. They are just outside the AP top 25 and have blown out their last two opponents while the team continues to get healthy. UTSA is in top shape just as the season comes to an end, which bodes well for UTSA’s chances of repeating as conference champions.
All season long the focus has been on quarterback Frank Harris and UTSA’s elite receiving corps. Rightly so. In the beginning of the season it was Harris and wide receivers De’Corian “JT” Clark, Joshua Cephus, and Zakhari Franklin who kept the Roadrunners in games and gave them victories in closely contested games.
But what has propelled UTSA forward and elevated the program’s offense in recent weeks has been a dominant running game. The emergence of Freshman Kevorian Barnes, in tandem with senior Brendan Brady, has given UTSA a more potent offense and is directly responsible for the Roadrunners’ offensive dominance. Barnes and Brady are both averaging over 6 yards per carry and alternate as change-of-pace running backs that has made it difficult for opposing defenses to stop. So long as Barnes and Brady continue to produce at this high level the Roadrunners should be favorites to win the C-USA title.
Even so, UTSA ultimately wins on the arm of and legs of Harris. The senior quarterback has already eclipsed 3,000 passing yards and has over 3,500 hard all-purpose yards on the year. Harris was responsible for 5 touchdowns last week against Rice—2 passing and 3 rushing—and will likely eclipse his career records in both passing and rushing yards. Harris has yet to declare whether he will return next year but regardless of that decision he has already cemented himself as one of the best Roadrunners in program history.
UTSA’s defense has also seen a resurgence of late. In their last two games, they have given up only 14 points, have forced 8 turnovers, and have kept opposing offenses to under 300 total yards. Safety Clifford Chatman has stepped up after the loss of Rashad Wisdom and has 2 interceptions in the last two games. The bend-don’t-break mentality that has defined the defense all season has become a near shut-down defense, giving the Roadrunners another weapon for winning games.
Ultimately, UTSA is a team that has peaked at the most opportune time to end the season. Keeping that momentum will be key to repeating as conference champions, and there is little reason to doubt the Roadrunners will lose that drive.
The UTEP Miners need one more win to clinch bowl eligibility. Their season has been an up and down affair, with quality wins against FAU, Charlotte, and Boise State but also tough losses to Rice, Louisiana Tech, and Middle Tennesse. Bowl eligibility may be too much with UTSA the last team on the schedule, but the motivation may be enough to propel the Miners to that goal if UTEP plays to their strengths.
That strength? The Miners’ defense, which leads all C-USA teams. UTEP gives up less than 350 total yards per game and is nearly as proficient stopping the pass as they are stopping the run. They have given up 40+ points in only 2 games and have kept 6 teams to under 30 points. The Miners will be tested against a potent UTSA offense but if they can contain that offense then UTEP will have a decent chance to notch their 6th win of the season.
There is, however, concern on the offensive side of the ball. Junior quarterback Gavin Hardison injured his ankle against Rice and did not play last week against FIU. Junior Calvin Brownholtz stepped in for the injured Hardison and led the Miners to a strong win over FIU, throwing for 2 touchdowns and 190 yards and taking only 1 sack. He had 1 fumble but no interceptions and averaged over 10 yards per pass attempt.
Head coach Dana Dimel has not announced whether Hardison will play on Saturday and if he does not then Brownholtz will once again take over. One game is not enough to determine whether he can repeat his performance, but if he can then UTEP should be able to keep pace with UTSA for at least a good portion of the game.
Whether Hardison or Brownholtz plays, the Miners will likely rely upon sophomore wide receiver Tyrin Smith. Smith needs only 60 yards to break 1,000 receiving yards on the season and has caught at least 5 receptions in the last 5 games. If the offense can limit turnovers, utilize Smith efficiently, and the defense contains UTSA then UTEP will at least have an opportunity to pull the upset.
Just like UTSA the Miners also rely on two strong running backs to pace their running game. Sophomore Deion Hankins and Senior Ronald Awatt have combined for more than 1,300 yards and have a near-even split of carries between them. Awatt leads the team in attempts and averages nearly 5 yards a carry while Hankins serves as the faster change-of-back player capable of longer runs.
The key for UTEP will be playing consistently for all four quarters. Containing UTSA will be no easy feat and if the Roadrunners are able to score quickly the game could get out of control fast. So, it will be incumbent on the defense to limit big plays and for the offense to produce long, sustained drives and keep UTSA’s offense off the field it the Miners hope to leave San Antonio with a win.
Both UTEP and UTSA have something to play for in this final matchup so expect both teams to come out with energy. UTSA, however, is a more complete team on both offense and defense and has been particularly good on both sides of the ball in their last two games. Meanwhile, the uncertainty with UTEP’s quarterback makes any attempt to exploit UTSA’s defense that much more difficult. Ultimately, even if UTEP can contain UTSA it will be difficult to match the Roadrunners for all four quarters of play. UTSA might come out slow, but expect the Roadrunners to adjust if necessary to secure the win regardless of what the Miners do.
UTSA 36, UTEP 20