The Miners are 4-1 as they prepare for their Homecoming Game against the 1-4 Rice Owls. When the Miners played their last home game against the Memphis Tigers, less than 30, 000 fans showed up to watch the game. Many claimed that the reason for the poor attendance, and lack of enthusiasm, was in large part due to the Miners wins coming against a weak schedule. They point out that the Miners four wins have come against an FCS team, and three teams with a combined record of 1 win and 14 losses. But, looking at those 14 losses they have come against teams with a combined record of 43 wins and 21 losses. Of those 14 losses, 3 were to #3 Oregon, 4th ranked Boise State, and 10th ranked Utah.
Putting aside the records of the teams the Miners have beat, let's look at the Miners' offensive and defensive rankings coming into the game against Rice. The Miners are ranked 36th in the nation in Total Offense, averaging 177 yards per game on the ground, and 250 yards per game through the air. The big story of the season however, has been the play of the Miners on the defensive side of the ball. After 5 games, the Miners are ranked 60th in the country in Total Defense, and an even more impressive 45th in Scoring Defense. To put that in perspective, last year the Miners finished the season ranked 110th in Total defense, and 104th in Scoring Defense. In the Miners' 4 wins they have held their opponents to less than 300 yards of total offense, including last week's game against the New Mexico Lobos, where they held the Lobos to just 237 yards of offense.
Defensive Coordinator, Andre Patterson has been consistant about saying that he just wants his defense to work hard, and get better every week. In the three games since the Miners suffered their only loss, the Miners defense has done exactly that. In those three games the total offensive yards given up by the defense has been 296 yards, 288 yards, and 237 yards.
The Rice Owls' four losses have been against UT, 25th ranked Northwestern, Baylor, and SMU. Those four teams have a combined record of 15 wins against only 5 losses. The Owls run a potent triple option offense. Quarterback Nick Fanuzzi is completing 63% of his passes, and averaging 181 yards per game through the air. Running Backs Sam McGuffie and Tyler Smith are averaging 51 and 36 yards rushing per game.
Defensively, the Owls are giving up an average of 434 yards per game. They are allowing 150 yards per game rushing, and 284 yards per game passing.
The Miners had success defending against the Lobos' option offense last week, and that game should help them when they face Rice's option offense. The Miners' offense should be able to use their balanced attack to put plenty of points on the board, and their stingy defense should be able to keep the Owls at or below their 21 points per game average.
A Miners' win over the Owls won't go very far in convincing those who point to the records of the teams the Miners have beat that this UTEP team is special. But, the Miners can only beat those teams that are on their schedule. At the end of the season, it is only the wins and losses that matter.
Prediction: UTEP 35 Rice 20