The UTEP football team snapped a six game losing streak, including a six game conference losing streak Saturday in a win against the FIU Golden Panthers Saturday night in a windy Sun Bowl.
UTEP dominated the game on the ground, rushing for a season high 327 yards on 53 called runs and on defense for the first time all year yielding FIU to only 200 yards of total offense.
From the opening possession there was no question what the game plan would be for the Miners as 11 runs were called on their 12 play 65 yard opening drive that was capped off by a four yard run from Autrey Golden.
UTEP would then force a three and out on the next possession, as Miner offense would settle for field goal after driving 65 yards giving the Miners an early 10-0 advantage.
On the ensuing FIU drive Lamarq Caldwell would find T.J. Lowder on a half back pass that would cut the UTEP lead to 10-7, capping of an impressive seven play 75 yard Golden Panther drive to end the first quarter.
UTEP's struggled with finishing drives and that trend was evident in the second quarter as Jay Mattox missed a 38 yard field goal after UTEP started that drive on FIU's 33 yard line, UTEP was 3/5 in the red zone on the night.
The UTEP defense played its best second quarter of the season as they had given up 118 points in second quarters this season, before shutting out FIU on the scoreboard, and only letting up 27 second quarter total yards.
After the defense forced another quick three and out, the Miners would then drive 65 yards on nine straight runs with Nathan Jeffery punching it in from one yard to give UTEP a 17-7 lead going into halftime.
The defense who has played better in spots the past couple of games really dominated a struggling FIU offense that just could not get in any type of rhythm.
The tough defense would continue in the third quarter after another stalled Miner drive, Mack Leftwich would punt out of the shot gun and pin FIU at UTEP four yard line.
It would only take three plays for Horrace Miller to bring down Silas Spearman III in the endzone after Spearman III fumbled the exchange from the quarterback giving UTEP a 19-7 lead midway through the third quarter.
UTEP would take advantage of the short free kick as Josh Bell got to the FIU 39 on a 31 yard return, though the Miners would come up empty on the scoreboard as Mattox missed his second attempt of the night, this one a chip shot from 26 yards out.
The Miner defense kept responding all night as on the ensuing Golden Panther drive it forced its fifth three and out of the game and gave UTEP the ball back at their own 36.
Patrick Higgins had the deep ball play in the back of his pocket all night and finally let it out on Leftwichs fifth pass attempt as he hit Jordan Leslie on 64 yard bomb on first play of the drive that seemingly put the game away with 26-7 lead.
Leslie now has 2,002 career receiving yards, which puts him 10th all-time in school history.
After a 31 yard field goal by FIU's Austin Taylor that cut the lead to 26-10, Nathan Jeffery would seal the game away for good with a 54 yard touchdown run that showed he could be back to 100% as he finished the night with 133 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Blaire Sullivan also had a great night rushing, as the Miners brought him in on option plays throughout the ball game. Sullivan ran for 109 yards on 8 carries, including a 56 yard run that would set up Mattox's field goal in the first quarter.
Sullivan and Jeffery's 100 yard efforts makes it the first time since 2003 UTEP has had two guys go for over 100 yards rushing in a regulation time game.
Defensive Coordinator Scott Stoker called a great game dialing up blitz after blitz while mixing in some nice zone blitzes as well, that limited the Golden Panther offense to only 106 total yards after third quarter.
The Miner defense also forced three fumbles, although just recovered one, and were superb in pass coverage with seven pass break ups. The 200 yards gave up on defense is the fewest since the 2006 Miners held SMU to 190.
FIU was led offensively by Caldwell who ran for 98 yards on the ground, defensively Isame Faciane was everywhere making 12 tackles and flying around to the ball for the Golden Panthers.
UTEP pays a visit next week to the Super Dome in New Orleans as they face Tulane 1:30 PM MDT Saturday.
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