The Tulsa Golden Hurricane and the UTEP Miners will face off for the 20th time Saturday with much more than bragging rights on the line. Tulsa leads the series 11-8, and 5-4 in El Paso, but the Miners have won 4 of the last 5 at home, and are 3-0 in El Paso under Mike Price. In fact, the last time UTEP lost to Tulsa in the Sun Bowl was back in November of 2003.
There are a ton of storylines for Saturday's game. First and foremost, UTEP will say goodbye to 22 seniors, including the three headed rushing attack of Banyard, Frazier, and Myers, and standout safety Travaun Nixon. While the game means a lot to Tulsa, it means even more to the Miners.The Miners (5-5, 2-4) need to win one of the last two games in order to make it to back to back bowl games. Neither game will be easy, but one would have to think that the Miners may have a better shot at home.
The Golden Hurricane (7-3, 6-0) are still in the hunt for the Conference USA crown, and thanks to last night's loss by USM, this game really has no affect on Tulsa's season either way. Everything now lies in next week's matchup against Houston. But, of course Tulsa will still be trying to win this game to keep any momentum heading into next week's matchup with the current #11 team in the nation.
Tulsa is led by senior QB GJ Kinne. He has completed nearly 65% of his passes for 2400 yards, 21 TDs, and only 9 INTs. Prior to the start of the season, Kinne and the Golden Hurricane lost top player Damaris Johnson due to legal issues That brought about many questions that were very quickly answered.
Junior RB Willie Carter has become the leading receiver for Tulsa. He has racked up 826 yards and 6 TDs on 57 catches. Junior WR Bryan Burnham has also stepped up with 44 receptions, 665 yards and 7 TDs. Senior TE Clay Sears also gets his fair share of action with 312 yards and 6 TDs on only 25 receptions.
Tulsa's run game has already amassed over 2000 yards on the season. Sophomore RB Ja'Terian Douglas, and Sophomore RB Trey Watts have each rushed for over 700 yards and 3 TDs. QB GJ Kinne is also a threat to run the football. On the season he has rushed for over 300 yards on 90 carries.
The Hurricane, as we all know, have now reeled off 6 in a row, and have only lost to #2 Oklahoma St., #5 Oklahoma, and #10 Boise St. For much of the season it was tough to judge exactly where they were at as a team. But, they have certainly made that clear over the last weeks, blowing out SMU (38-7), and Marshall (59-17) in two of the last three.
They currently rank 40th in the nation with 252 passing yards per game, and 21st in the nation in rushing averaging nearly 210 yards a game. The also come in ranked 28th in points per game at 33.6, and 58th in points against, giving up 25.5 a contest.
Its still unclear whether Nick Lamaison or Carson Meger will start under center for the Miners, but either player should give the Miners a great chance to win the game. That being said, we'll focus on Carson Meger because the nature of Lamaison's injury should earn him a doubtful designation at this point.
Meger, in his brief appearances throughout the season, has racked up 406 yards, 2 TDs, and 3 INTs, while completing 67% of his passes. Although many have said that he's not big enough, or strong enough, Carson has played extremely well in the opportunities that he has had. He's a very smart player, and more than anything, he's a winner.
The UTEP backfield came back to life last week against ECU, racking up over 200 yards. Senior Joe Banyard rushed for 140 yards and a TD on 18 carries, bringing him to 690 yards (7.4 avg) and 4 TDs on the season. Of course, Vernon Fraizer (393 yards, 3 TDs, 7.3 avg), and Leilyon Myers (313 yards, 10 TDs) also play very important roles in that Miner backfield.
JR Mike Edwards is the leading receiver for the Miners with 576 yards, and 3 TDs on 39 receptions. Senior Donovan Kemp has 376 yards and a TD, and freshman Jordan Leslie has also performed well with 16 grabs for 247 yards and a TD.
The Miners are now ranked 70th in the nation in passing yards per game at 219 a contest, and 57th in rushing yards with 163 a game. They are 60th in points for at 27.7, and 66th in points against, giving up 27.6 point per game.
The Miners defense will have to play another big game if this team would like to become bowl eligible tomorrow. Tulsa has one of the most complete offenses in the conference, and can flat out score through the air or on the ground. The Miners run will also need to be established early and often. Sophomore Carson Meger is certainly a good QB, but I'd like to see some pressure taken off of him with an effective run game.
The one thing that I can almost guarantee is that the Miners will be in this game. That's something that Mike Price has shown throughout his career here at UTEP. No matter who we're up against, or what's on the line, we're almost always in the game. It's very rare to see a CMP coached UTEP team get blown out.That being said, I've got the Miners in this one.
Projection: UTEP 31, Tulsa 28