Location: Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas
Kick Off: Saturday, October 28th, 7:00 pm CT
TV: KMYS-CW 35
Stream: CUSA.tv ($7)
Live Stats: Side Arm Stats
Audio: KOFX 92.3 FM (El Paso) & THE BULL 92.5 (SA)
Betting Odds: UTSA -16, O/U 47.5
Series History: Series is tied at 2-2. UTEP won the teams’ 2016 meeting 52-49 in 5OT.
Team Records: UTSA (4-2), UTEP (0-7)
Most expected a rough season from the Miners in 2017. A 0-7 record though? Yikes, y’all. The Miners have struggled to replace former All-Conference running back Aaron Jones even more than anticipated, ultimately leading to the dismissal of Head Coach Sean Kugler. Former UTEP head man Mike Price was called back in to guide the program through the remnants of the schedule and the Miners are still trying to exit their tail spin and pick up the pieces.
Outside of a collective ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ at running back, UTEP has also struggled to maintain a suitable signal caller. Starter Ryan Metz has suffered through a shoulder injury this season and his status for this week is unclear. Zack Greenlee stepped in to replace Metz and played decently before succumbing to his own injuries. His status is also questionable as he recovers from a groin strain and high ankle sprain. It’s likely that at least one guy will be healthy enough to play but if not then UTEP will likely turn to freshman quarterback Mark Torrez. The Miners are between a rock, a hard place, and a mine shaft.
UTEP’s inability to find dependable skilled position players is really a shame as their terrific offensive line could really bolster a more deserving offense. The Miners are strong in pass protection, ranking 34th in the nation in adjusted sack rate. They’re also getting it done on the ground, ranking 44th in success rate on power run plays. If only Aaron Jones stayed for his senior season...
Defensively the Miners have some talent but are forced to carry a large burden due to the futility of the offense. Jones’ brother Alvin leads the way at middle linebacker where he has totaled 43 tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble. He’s flanked by UTEP’s strong-side backer, explosive sophomore Treyvon Hughes. A former running back, Hughes is playing linebacker for the first time since his sophomore season in high school.
The Miners utilize a 3-4 defense that mostly asks their defensive linemen to clear a path for the linebackers to make plays downhill. 6’1”, 270 pound true freshman defensive end Trace Mascorro leads the Miners’ defensive line in tackles with just 14.5. He also leads the defensive line in tackles for loss with a mere two. UTEP’s defense has generated a combined six sacks on the season — UTSA’s Marcus Davenport has six and a half on his own.
If you’re a UTSA fan you just have to hope that no one in the Roadrunners’ locker room was pleased with last week’s performance against an awful Rice squad. UTSA beat the Owls 20-7 but their offense scored just 13 points as Davenport returned a fumble for a defensive touchdown.
There’s no doubt that a conservative approach on offense limited the Roadrunners’ scoring total but the squad just looked uncomfortable on the field throughout the evening. It was an effort that was enough to put away a hapless team like Rice but a better team would have easily blown away the Roadrunners.
On top of the less-than-motivational final score, UTSA also had to deal with extreme injury woes. Already missing two starting left guards for the year, the Roadrunners lost two more offensive line starters against Rice with even some reserves missing time with nicks.
Talent-wise the UTSA reserves look like they belong on the field but the constant shuffling has hurt UTSA’s communication and cohesion in the trenches. There are two perspectives to this problem. The optimist will say that the line will improve over time as the injury replacements play more snaps together. The pessimist will counter that a team with nothing to lose like UTEP will blitz relentlessly, exposing the lack of chemistry before UTSA can correct it over the course of the season.
If the offensive line continues to be porous then the Roadrunners might have to depend on quarterback Dalton Sturm to make diamonds out of coal yet again. The excellent senior rushed for 105 yards on 10 attempts against Rice, bailing UTSA out of tough situations time and time again.
Caveats aside, UTSA likely won’t need to put up a ton of points to walk out of the Sun Bowl with a 5-2 record. The Miners’ offense is truly putrid, as previously described, and could be missing even more key players than the Roadrunners.
While his status is unannounced, it’s likely that UTSA will be without their defensive heartbeat in Josiah Tauaefa. The stand out sophomore left last week’s game with a knee injury and could be out for an extended period of time. Fortunately for UTSA the Roadrunners have an incredibly capable backup in senior Marcos Curry. The gritty senior has been an under-the-radar contributor for the UTSA defense this year, pitching in 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks from the bench. Don’t expect much of a drop off from Curry.
The Roadrunners may also feature a new starter in the secondary. Sophomore walk on Clayton Johnson turned in an eye-opening performance against Rice, hauling in two interceptions and also knocking away another long pass. Johnson brings plus speed to the position and a nice change of pace to a unit that has been plagued by long completions through the past few weeks.
This one just has “trap game” written all over it, right? Injury-stricken squad makes their longest road trip of the year so far to a talented but 0-7 team that has shown serious improvement in their past two games. There’s no doubt Price will pull out every trick in the bag to try to give his Miners a much-needed spark. I’m expecting a sloppy game and another pedestrian showing from a UTSA team that’s still trying to get back to their dominating ways of the early season.
UTSA 24 UTEP 14