For the first time in more than a decade, UTEP and Texas A&M meet on the gridiron Saturday night at Kyle Field as both schools play their final non-conference game of the season.
Both teams are on the opposite sides of the college football spectrum, A&M is still alive for a January bowl, while the Miners are reeling with a lack of depth on defense, multiple injuries throughout the roster, and looking for their second win under new Head Coach Sean Kugler.
As reported early in the week, quarterback Jameill Showers will have to revel in his Texas A&M homecoming from the sidelines as he will be out for possibly the rest the of the season with a shoulder injury. He has became the Miners overall team leader, and has been fun to watch, tough loss and we at the Rush hope for a quick recovery.
Blaire Sullivan will take over at quarterback after seeing his first action of 2013 last week against Rice. I've been calling for less conservative play calling the past couple of weeks, and that will not change anytime soon as UTEP trailing by three scores early in the second quarter against Rice and did not air it out continuing to run conservatively.
While the Miners have had great success running the ball, UTEP needs the big play through the the air to get them going just as it has against Colorado State, and proven more evident when the Miners cut the Rice lead with that 50 yard bomb by Sullivan to Ian Hamilton. Jordan Leslie and Hamilton have lived up to the pre-season expectations, though the Miners continue to be conservative with the pass.
I would expect that to continue as Aaron Jones rushed for a career high 186 yards and also had a season high 29 carries versus Rice. Jones is a talented back, there is no arguing that his future is bright, though the coaches cannot continue to rely on him to carry this offense with the other talent that is there to be used.
He still has three seasons left, instead of just giving him the ball 30 times and risking early wear and tear, why not try to involve the others whom the majority will return next year and can create some diversion making opposing defensive coordinators think a little.
The past couple of weeks when the Miners pass most blitzes called against it have been spot on and killed promising drives. It is just to easy to dial up a bread and butter blitz when your play call is obvious using the same three to four formations.
Expect more zone-read with Sullivan in there as he can move around decently and create plays with the run. Sullivan does a good job throwing down field, it will be interesting to watch how he handles the Miners short distance passing game that has been successful with Showers.
The Miners will continue to glue together the offensive line that is missing two starters, and struggled mightily against the Rice pass rush. Texas A&M's defense racked up 7 sacks against Vanderbilt, I would expect the same blitz packages against a predictable UTEP offense, as it was a point of success for Mark Snyder's defense as they eclipsed the previous season high of just two sacks last week.
While the defense played the best first quarter of the season last week, the Miners were still exposed by the big play, this time Rice exposed mis-matches and had a field day throwing. Part of that is the lack of pass rush from the front 4, and the Miners have struggled all year in man coverage.
Defensively, the Miners will also face an offense that is multi-facet and explosive, lead by last year's Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.
Manziel has thrown for 2,594 yards to go along with 22 touchdown passes, he also is the Aggie's leading rusher with 497 yards and two touchdowns. He also has accounted for 500-plus yards of total offense five times in his career and surpassed 300 yards of offense in 18 of his 21 career games.
His favorite target in the passing game is NFL prospect Mike Evans. Evans is one of five FBS recievers with a 90-plus yard catch, as he had a 95 yard catch which is the second longest in A&M history. He also leads the nation with 15 catches of 30 yards or more. He is already over the 1000 yard mark and has 11 receiving touchdowns.
Those are just two of the main weapons the Aggies will use, as running back Ben Malena is also a threat, as he runs hard and is hard to bring down, something the Miner defense has struggled with all year.
Malcome Kennedy is another starting receiver who will make plays, as he is second on the team in receiving numbers. Derel Walker is another guy to watch catching balls from Manziel, as he is third in receiving and averages 13.8 yards a grab.
The Aggie offensive line is the best offensive line most of the Miners defensive players will see in their careers, as the Aggies will bring out one of the top O-lines in the country. The "Maroon Goons" as they are called weight a combined 1,526 pounds and have two future projected first round draft picks as well.
Brothers Jake and Mike Matthews, sons of former NFL Great Bruce Matthews, and those two anchor the unit. Jake holds down the left tackle as he is an All-American, and Mike snaps the ball to Johnny Autograph.
Left Guard Jarvis Harrison, like Jake Matthews is projected to play on Sundays as well, he goes 6'3 325 lbs apart of the largest offensive line in school history.
The Aggies found themselves some defense last week against Vanderbilt, they held them to only 329 yards of offense a week after giving up 615 yards and 45 points to Auburn. That trend of improvement should continue this weekend as UTEP has struggled to score on offense the past two games and will be without their leader on offense.
After giving up 568 yards and 42 points against Alabama the Aggies made significant changes on defense that have paid dividends in production, though they have still struggled to stop the run, something the Miners can use to slow down with early which I highly expect.
True freshman Darian Claiborne was named the starter at middle linebacker and has responded as he is third on the team in tackles and has also had six tackles for loss.
The Aggie defense gives up 5.4 yards a carry and also allows 210 yards on the ground a game, the Miners have rushed for 200 yards in three consecutive games giving the Miners on paper at least the advantage in that match-up.
The Aggie defensive line has only produced six sacks in 282 opponent pass attempts, defensive end Gavin Stansbury has two of those sacks.
Part of Head Coach Kevin Sumlin's philosophy is to get off to a fast start, something UTEP has struggled with on both sides of the rock. In 20 of 21 games under Sumlin, A&M has scored first, only the 2013 Rice Owls have stuck gold first.
The Aggies have scored a touchdown on their first possession in seven straight games, and have scored 14 or more points in seven straight first quarters. The Miner defense broke a streak of six straight games giving up a touchdown on the opening drive against Rice, a small Jerry Jones like "moral" victory.
UTEP just needs to get out of this game healthy and show some fight on Sean Kuglers ESPN debut. With the injury issues on the offensive line, I would expect the Miners to pound and stick with it, easing Sullivan into the pro-style offense he lacks the experience in.
Why not give Aaron Jones some snaps out of a "Wild Miner" or is that getting out the scheme UTEP is so bent on not breaking?
This game is good for the young Miners to have the opportunity to play in prestigious stadium in front 80,000-plus of college football's notorious home crowd. No prediction this week I will leave that up to Vegas.
UTEP Miners (1-6, 0-4 C-USA) at #12 Texas A&M Aggies (6-2, 3-2 SEC)
Sat Nov. 2, @ 7 PM MDT Kyle Field, College Station, TX
Radio: The Fox 9.23-FM , ESPN Deportes 1650-AM in Spanish