The month of September is still in session until the conclusion of Saturday, yet two CUSA squads are already halfway through their 2023 regular season slate.
In a defensive-driven slugfest where neither starting quarterback was available due to injury, Louisiana Tech (3-3, 2-0 CUSA) completed a wire-to-wire victory over UTEP (1-5, 0-2 CUSA) and left El Paso with an unblemished conference record. With the victory, Louisiana Tech snapped a 16-game losing streak on the road which launched on Dec. 12, 2020.
Hank Bachmeier and Gavin Hardison are the typical starting quarterbacks for Louisiana Tech and UTEP, respectively, but Bachmeier missed his second consecutive matchup due to a shoulder injury while Hardison was absent for the first time this season, dealing with arm issues. That thrust Jack Turner into the lineup for the Bulldogs and Kevin Hurley as the starter for the Miners.
Points were at a premium with the backup quarterbacks in session, but Louisiana Tech created enough explosive plays in the early going to gain a commanding edge. On the third snap of the night, Turner fired a slant to the speedy Cyrus Allen on an RPO, and Allen collected 85 yards before being shoved out of bounds at the 1-yard line. Louisiana Tech capitalized on the home run play by feeding Tyre Shelton near the goal line for an early 7-0 lead.
The Bulldogs’ offense didn’t even need to retake the field claim a 14-0 advantage. The other star wide receiver Smoke Harris took care of business on special teams. The sixth-year senior weaved through UTEP tacklers and found a lane near the right sideline to finish a 67-yard return to the end zone.
After Allen and Harris made their mark in the first four minutes of action, the game slowed drastically for the remainder of the night. UTEP sliced the deficit to seven in the first quarter on a designed run by quarterback Jake McNamara — one of three Miner quarterbacks to take the field Friday night along with Hurley, who started, and Cade McConnell, who closed the game.
McNamara struck in the second quarter, but seven points was as close as UTEP would approach for the rest of the contest. The only other touchdown scored Friday night transpired in the early fourth quarter when Turner connected with Tru Edwards in the end zone to secure a 24-10 advantage.
Rather than the explosive playmaking which took center stage early on, the final three quarters were dominated by punts and penalties. Louisiana Tech committed 13 penalties for 123 yards, while UTEP wasn’t far behind with nine flags spanning 78 yards. While the Miners technically won the penalty battle, there’s often occurred in critical situations. Louisiana Tech attained its lone second half touchdown thanks to several UTEP flags on third downs — a face mask penalty early in the drive and an unsportsmanlike conduct which was assessed prior to Louisiana Tech’s 4th and goal from the 26-yard line.
Upon trailing 24-10, UTEP nearly fought its way back into the game with a strip sack. The Miners seemingly had a clear path to recover the fumble, but it was ultimately scooped up by the Bulldogs on their own 1-yard line. They avoided a safety and managed to punt the ball cleanly. But even with advantageous field position, UTEP’s offense couldn't get the job done. The Miners out-gained the visiting Bulldogs but completed just 9-of-28 passes between the three-man quarterback rotation — averaging a mere 3.6 yards per attempt. The shorthanded passing game lacked more than just Hardison’s presence — UTEP also operated without its No. 1 receiver in Tyrin Smith, who also sat due to injury.
Louisiana Tech accomplished most of its passing production on Turner’s first attempt of the night, but the Bulldogs still moved the sticks with a consistent run game. Miami (OH) transfer Tyre Shelton attained over 100 rushing yards for his second time in three games this season, generating 104 yards and a touchdown in the road victory.
At 1-5, UTEP is already flirting with missing out on bowl eligibility for the second consecutive year. The Miners cannot afford two more losses this season, and they’ll retake the field Wednesday, Oct. 11 against FIU after a much-needed bye week looming.
At 3-3, Louisiana Tech already matched its win total in year one of the Sonny Cumbie era. But rather than substantial time off, the Bulldogs face a short week as they’ll return to action Thursday, Oct. 5 in a home matchup against preseason CUSA favorite Western Kentucky.