The Miners traveled to Birmingham with their record of 5-1, but as 2.5 point underdogs looking for respect. The Blazers, with their 1-4 record looked at UTEP as a stepping stone to getting their football program back on track. Both teams' records were deceiving. The Miners' 5 wins had come against perhaps the 4 worst teams in FBS Division football and an average FCS team. The Blazers 4 losses had come against a much tougher level of competition, and included a 1 point loss to FAU, and a loss to Tennessee in double overtime. So, this game would be a dose of sodium pentathol for both teams.
The first half showed that UTEP could butt heads with the power football style of the Blazers that is a trademark of C-USA Eastern Division football. Neither team found the going easy. Each had a few long gains, but found it hard to mount sustained drives. UTEP got close to UAB's endzone, but was unable to punch it in, and had to settle for a field goal. UAB had their chance to get on the board, but missed two makeable field goals, that would have bettered UTEP's 3-0 score.
The Miners went into the game with a patched up offensive line. Third string center, Nathan McCage went down, and guard Anthony McNac moved to the center position. That began a shuffle of linemen on the left side of the line already weakened by injuries. On the defensive side of the ball, UTEP lost key players from an already thin, and in some positions, inexperienced defense. The anchor of UTEP's interior defensive line, Germard Reed, arguably UTEP's best linebacker, Royzell Smith, and cornerback, Antwon Blake were lost.
Injuries are part of football, and so I am not going to say that we lost because of injuries. I have said all season that we are developing quality at depth of positions, and I will stand by that. But, the number of injuries, and at the positions they have come from would test almost any team. In a game where power needs to be matched by power, in the second half it was UAB's power that began to allow UAB to take advantage of UTEP, both attacking UTEP's offense, and UTEP's defense.
In the second half, UTEP held UAB on their first possession, and recovered a fumble. UTEP took over on the UAB 41 yardline and drove the ball to the UAB four yardline. A two yard run, and two incomplete passes later left the Miners sending out Dakota Warren for an easy field goal. The Miners inability to punch the ball in from the two yardline squandered a scoring opportunity that the Miners would not have the luxury of allowing. For the second time in the game, the Miners had had a first down inside the Blazers 10 yardline and for the second time, they had had to settle for three points. What should have been a 14-0 score was instead a weak 6-0 lead. UAB began to run the ball, and steadily they ate up yardage. In a game in which their quarterback was able to complete 20 of his 28 passes, the Miners defense was unable to do anything to stop the Blazers' offense. The Miners, had held possession of the football for more than 20 minutes of the first half. In the second half, it was the Blazers who held the ball for nearly 23 of the 30 minutes. In those last 30 minutes the Blazers racked up 179 yards of passing offense, and 167 yards on the ground before taking knees and losses on their last series. The Miners, in the second half, had one series of 7 plays for 39 yards, followed by two 3 plays for 3 yards series, a 5 play for 17 yards series, a 3 plays for 0 yards, and a 1 play resulting in an interception. The second half saw the Blazers rack up around 350 yards, and the Miners rack up around 60 yards. Some of the words to describe the second half that come to mind are, domination, rape, savaged, decimation, leveled, pounded, among others.
The Miners may have used the Red Cross to shuttle them to the airport following the game.
Back in El Paso, the Trauma Center at University Medical Center was put on standby, and councilors were brought in the deal with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But I decided that sleep would be enough to get me through the tough next few days, so I decided not to take the drive over to the hospital. Now that a few days have passed, I believe that I will survive, but I don't know that time can ever erase the scars left by this game. Luckily for me, there is the therapy the Den's message board provides. As Hemingway said, the sun also rises, and next Saturday, when it rises I will start getting ready for the Miners battle with the Tulane Green(algae) Wave. Wax up your boards, you Miners.