Time: 6:00 CT
Location: Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
TV: CW-35 (San Antonio)
Radio: 92.5/93.3 FM
Betting Line: UTSA -9.5, O/U 47
Live Stats: Sidearm Sports
Series History: UTSA leads 2-1. The Roadrunners won the last meeting 25-6.
UTSA v UTEP— Jared (@JaredUTSA) October 20, 2016
Can you call this series a rivalry? Probably not yet but it is interesting that the road team has reigned victorious in all three meetings in front of large traveling crowds. The potential is there for these two teams and fanbases to develop something resembling the heated spirit of the MTSU-WKU or WKU-Marshall rivalries. I believe the 9.5 point spread between the two teams is the largest in series history as the Roadrunners are favored by a decent margin. Don’t count the Miners out though; they’ve made some changes coming out of the bye week and head coach Sean Kugler could be coaching for his job.
UTEP Outlook (1-5)
Predicted to be a preseason dark horse by idiot pundits like myself, the Miners got out to the hot start I expected them to against a Larry Rose-less New Mexico State. The UTEP defense led the way to a 38-22 blow out in which the Miners boasted a 99% win expectancy and a 74% percentile performance. Things got as dark and cold as the Chihuahuan Desert at night after that.
The Miners scored an average of just 8.75 points per game during a tough four game stretch against Texas, Army, Southern Miss, and Louisiana Tech. Things weren’t much better in a 21-35 loss at the hands of Florida International.
UTEP’s grizzly and girthy offensive line was expected to be a huge strength for the team but they’ve been a giant liability instead. The most telling stat? Miner running backs are getting caught for no gain or a loss on 25.5% of rushing attempts, the third worst mark in the nation. Coach Kugler has made personnel changes along the line this week, shifting El Paso native and true freshman Greg Long from right guard to left tackle.
Kugler’s offensive line isn’t the only unit set to make a change. Sophomore Ryan Metz has been handed the keys to the passing game after recovering from a concussion. Metz made his second career start against UTSA last season. Defensive pressure and wet conditions took their toll on Metz as he tossed four interceptions and a pick six. Metz will certainly want to atone for that performance tomorrow after breaking down into tears during last year’s post-game press conference.
Despite all of UTEP’s offensive question marks they still boast one of the best running backs in the nation. Aaron Jones has rushed for 733 yards and seven touchdowns this season, averaging a very nice 6.9 yards per carry. Jones’ explosiveness has UTEP ranked #1 in the nation in Rushing Isolated Points per Play.
For as terrible as the Miners offense has been this season their defense has performed admirably given the short fields and brisk sideline breaks they’ve been afforded. UTEP has prevented big plays but struggle to force offenses off the field due to the immense pressure placed on them by the Miners’ poor offense.
Fronted by a beefy defensive line, UTEP’s linebackers have enjoyed a banner season. Nick Usher (6’4”, 245) leads the team with 31.5 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and a pass break up. Dante Lovilette is right on his heels with 30.5 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss while Aaron Jones’ brother Alvin follows with 25.5 tackles. Jones is the most explosive of the bunch but has been dealing with injury concerns this season.
Young but athletic, UTEP’s secondary is full of potential playmakers. While upper classmen Dashone Smith and Devin Cockrell are leading the secondary in tackles, I came away very impressed with Nik Needham and Kalon Beverly last season. Freshman Justin Rogers is the only Miner with an interception on the season but the Miners have the speed to make offenses pay for mental mistakes.
UTSA Outlook (3-3)
Motivated by first year head coach Frank Wilson, the UTSA Roadrunners are showing signs of realizing their long-applauded potential. This season has been one of growth for the team as they show signs of improvement each week despite struggling with consistency.
The Roadrunners took a giant step towards turning the corner last week after fighting through a clumsy performance against Rice. UTSA’s offense fell limp in the second quarter and the Runners seemed like they just couldn’t get a break. Despite all of the adversity and bad luck UTSA still found a way to escape with a one point win in a game that it’s hard to imagine the team winning under Larry Coker’s direction.
Is that toughness and grit permanent? Has UTSA finally figured out how to convert momentum into winning streaks?
If UTSA is to win this game and reach their first bowl game in program history then they’ll need strong performances from their running backs. Senior Jarveon Williams set the program career rushing record last week at Rice but he seemed to still be slowed by his ankle injury earlier in the season as he rushed for just 3.08 yards per carry. Sophomore Jalen Rhodes may see more opportunities this week as he continues to play excellent football behind UTSA’s quickly-improving offensive line.
Quarterback Dalton Sturm’s newfound connection with transfer wide receiver Josh Stewart has been a pleasant surprise this season. The 6’4” wideout is currently leading the entire NCAA in yards per catch (27.9) as Stewart has emerged as a traditional deep threat in UTSA’s pro-style offense. While Stewart has been a revelation, they’ll need additional receivers to step up if the Miners shut down the run. Junior Kerry Thomas and senior JaBryce Taylor both seem due for a big game if UTSA decides to spread it out a bit more.
UTSA’s young defense has certainly started to blossom. The Roadrunners currently lead Conference USA in points allowed and they’re doing so with freshmen playing serious minutes all over the field. Of course middle linebacker Josiah Tauaefa is the first guy to mention. With 48 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and an interception to his name, Tauaefa is starting to become an often spoken, yet mispronounced, name in C-USA.
The Roadrunners have enjoyed terrific play from two unexpected starters at cornerback in true freshman Teddrick McGhee and junior transfer (Baylor) Austin Jupe. Both guys gave up some extremely tough catches despite stellar coverage against Rice. Their size and physicality should give them a leg up against UTEP’s smaller receivers.
If UTSA is going to find their way to a bowl game then it’s imperative that they win this game. While Vegas and statistical projections are very confident in the Roadrunners you always have to be wary of a team that’s backed up into a corner like UTEP is right now. I think Ryan Metz will play a solid game and Aaron Jones will do his thing but it won’t be enough for the Miners to continue the road-win anomaly in this series.
UTEP 17 UTSA 24