Here is a game preview for Saturday's Conference USA matchup between the Tulane Green Wave and the UTEP Miners at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX.
After playing tough for a half against Tulsa, the UTEP Miners (1-6, 0-3) let the game get away from them due to letdowns and mistakes, and fell 33-11. Now, they return home for their homecoming matchup with the Tulane Green Wave (1-5, 1-1). On the other side of the coin, the Wave enter the contest fresh off their first win in more than a year as they dropped SMU 27-26 last week in New Orleans.
Tulane is led by senior quarterback Ryan Griffin. Griffin had missed three weeks due to injury, but made his way back into the lineup against SMU and led his team to victory by going 17-32 for 302 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. On the season (3 games played) Griffin has passed for 616 yards, 4 touchdowns, and only 1 interception, and boasts a passer rating of 130.1.
Sophomore running back Robert Kelley has been the workhorse in the backfield for the Wave this season, and has totaled 149 yards on 48 carries. Junior Orleans Darkwa who had rushed for better than 900 yards in each of his first two seasons, has been hobbled by injury, and is barely making a full return to the lineup. After missing the first three games, he's slowly been worked back in, and could play an expanded role this weekend.
At the receiver position, the Wave have a total of four players who have amassed more than 100 yards through the air, and also have 6 players who have 8 grabs or more. That unit is led by junior Ryan Grant who has 359 yards and 2 touchdowns on 25 receptions. Sophomore Justyn Shackleford is also one to look out for as he has totaled 277 yards and a score on 20 grabs.
Defensively, Tulane is led by freshman defensive back Darion Monroe, junior linebacker Zach Davis, senior defensive back Ryan Travis, and senior defensive end Austen Jacks. On the season, Monroe has a total of 44 tackles, 34 of which are solo. Davis leads the linebackers in tackles with 40, and also has 2 sacks, and an interception. Travis has 25 tackles, and interception and 4 pass deflections, and Jacks has 19 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
UTEP is led by senior quarterback Nick Lamaison. On the season he's passed for 1204 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. However, after pulling a hamstring in last week's contest against Tulsa, he is questionable for Saturday's game. Expect both junior Carson Meger and freshman Blaire Sullivan to get a considerable amount of snaps under center if Lamaison is unable to go. In any case, the latter two will likely see the field in some capacity.
The running backs are led by sophomore Nathan Jeffery who has racked up 410 yards on 89 carries. Sophomore Josh Bell and freshman Autrey Golden are the other two backs who are likely to carry the ball Saturday. Bell has 69 yards on 23 carries, and Golden has 126 yards on 33 carries.
The Miners' receiving corp is led by sophomore Jordan Leslie and senior Mike Edwards. Both have had great seasons thus far, and both have been named to the Biletnikoff Award (given to the nation's best receiver) watch list. On the year, Leslie has 587 yards and 4 touchdowns on 37 catches, while Edwards has 464 yards and 3 scores on 28 grabs. Edwards actually missed the Tulsa game with a concussion, but should be back in action against Tulane.
The defense is led by senior linebackers Jamie Irving and Josh Fely, and senior defensive backs Deshawn Grayson and Drew Thomas. Irving, who returned from injury only weeks ago, has now racked up 22 tackles over the last three games. Fely leads the Miners in tackles with 58, and also has 4 pass deflections. Grayson has racked up 50 tackles and 4 pass deflections, and Thomas has 37 tackles, 1 interception, and 6 pass deflections.
One thing is for sure, while Tulane has struggled mightily for the majority of the season, they are better now than they were even two weeks ago. Much of that can be attributed to the return of their senior leader Ryan Griffin. However, this is still a game that the Miners should win.
The Wave have given up more than 255 yards per game on the ground, while averaging only 18 yards rushing themselves. With a solid running back, and a very good defense, this is something that the Miners should definitely be able to take great advantage of.
There's no doubt that Ryan Griffin's ability to pass the ball will open things up a bit in the run game, but still this defensive unit should be able to get pressure on him, and create problems for the Wave in the pass game and the run game.
If I'm Mike Price, I run Nathan Jeffery as much as he possibly can. Of course, there's no reason to overdo it, but if he's good for 28-30 carries, then give him those 28-30 carries. He will torch this defense, and hopefully take some pressure off the quarterbacks as we know there have been plenty of issues there.
While the Miners sit at 1-6, there's still plenty to play for. The door to a bowl game is almost completely shut, but that doesn't mean this season is over. This here could be the game that gives the Miners a boost, and helps them win a few more games to at least end the season on a high note. This team is better than what we've seen. Its time for them to start showing it.
Miners 41, Green Wave 21.