After picking up their first win in the last 5 weeks Saturday over Tulane, the Miners now head to Houston to see if they can keep that momentum going against the Cougars. At 2-6, and 1-3 in Conference USA play with only 4 games remaining, every game is now a must win if the Miners hope to make it to a bowl game.
On the other side of the coin, the Cougars self destructed last Thursday at SMU as they fell 72-42, ending their three game win streak. At 3-4 overall, and 2-1 in league play, Houston is still in the running for not only a bowl berth, but potentially a league crown as well. They would also likely have to win out to have a shot at the title though.
The Cougars are led by sophomore quarterback David Piland. After struggling a bit in the opener, Piland caught fire, and has now passed for 2,264 yards through the first 7 games of the season. He does however only have 10 touchdowns to 9 interceptions. He suffered a concussion in last week's loss at SMU, but has been cleared to play.
The Houston backfield is led by junior running back Charles Sims. Sims may just be the most explosive and versatile back in all of Conference USA. On the season, he's rushed for 697 yards on 122 carries (5.7 ypc), and also has 8 rushing touchdowns.
But, Sims is not the only rusher for this team. Freshman Kenneth Farrow also has 39 carries this year, going for 224 yards and a couple scores. Piland can also run a bit. He happens to be the Cougars third leading rusher with 148 yards and 2 scores on 28 carries.
The Cougars also have a committee of wide receivers that are all capable of putting up big numbers. On the year, 8 receivers have a dozen grabs or more, and 4 have 28 catches or more. Sophomore Daniel Spencer and junior Dewayne Peace lead the way 36 and 42 grabs, respectively.
Spencer has racked up a total of 511 yards and 3 touchdowns, and averages 14.2 yards a catch, while Peace has tallied 458 yards and 2 scores, and a yards per catch average of 10.9. Charles Sims is also a very capable receiver either out of the backfield or split out. He's got 31 catches for 318 yards and 3 touchdowns so far this season.
The Houston defense is led by a trio of linebackers in seniors Phillip Steward and Everett Daniels, and sophomore Derrick Matthews, as well as a couple of defensive backs in senior D.J. Hayden and freshman Trevon Stewart.
Steward leads the team in tackles with 75 on the year, but also has 6.5 sacks, 2 pass deflections, and an interception. Daniels has 55 takles, 2 sacks, and 2 pass deflections, and Matthew has 61 tackles, 4 sacks, and 3 pass deflections.
D.J. Hayden is the leader of the secondary, and he's racked up 53 tackles and 6 pass deflections. He also has 2 interceptions, including 1 returned for a touchdown. Stewart has also been productive in his first year on the field. He has 58 tackles and 4 pass deflections.
The Miners are led by senior quarterback Nick Lamaison. On the year, he has passed for 1,361 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. He's been hampered over the last couple of weeks due to a lingering hamstring injury, but is making progress, and could start against the Cougars.
While the Miners' backfield has been led by sophomore Nathan Jeffery this year, he's also been in and out of action due to a nagging groin injury, and his status is up in the air. Look for sophomore Josh Bell, and freshmen Autrey Golden and Laquintus Dowell to carry the load if Jeffery is unable to go.
Sophomore wide receiver Jordan Leslie and senior Mike Edwards lead the way for the receiving corp. Leslie has 40 catches for 618 yards and 5 touchdowns, while Edwards has 546 yards and 5 scores on 35 grabs. Senior tight end Craig Wenrick came into play this last week, as he had three catches for 49 yards. He could also be a factor at Houston.
The defense is led by by senior linebackers Josh Fely and Jamie Irving, and senior defensive backs Drew Thomas and DeShawn Grayson. Fely leads the team in tackles with 72 and also has 4 pass deflections, while Jamie Irving now has 29 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 two pass deflections in four full games back.
Drew Thomas is coming off a career day in tackles with 15, and now has 30 stops over the last 3 games. He also has an interception and 6 pass deflections. Grayson has been a consistent playmaker all season, and now has 55 tackles, and 4 pass deflections.
If the Miners are going to make a game of this, the defense will have to play its best game of the season. The Houston offense is the most explosive in the league, and will take advantage of every opportunity that opposing units give them.
Likewise, the UTEP offense will also have to be firing on all cylinders. It would be naive to think that the defense will be able to stop the Cougars all night Saturday. The offense will need to give the defense a break by sustaining drives. The best defense for the Houston offense is just to keep them off the field.
This will be a high scoring game, and the winner of it will be the one who is able to control the tempo, minimize mistakes, and win the turnover battle. In comparison, the Miners average 17 points a game, while the Cougars average 32. The last thing we want is a track meet, but in all likelihood, that's exactly what it'll be.
Cougars 38, Miners 31