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UTEP vs. Houston Game Preview & Q&A with SB Nation Houston's Dustin Rensink

Houston Cougars (4-0, 0-0) @ UTEP Miners (2-2, 0-1) Thursday September 29th, 6:00 p.m. MT - CBS Sports

The Cougars come into Thursday's matchup off a 56-0 thrashing of Georgia St., while the Miners are bouncing back from a 52-24 loss at no. 16 South Florida. Houston boasts QB Case Keenum who has already thrown for 1534 yards, 12 TDs, and only 2 INTs. UTEP, who has already started three different QBs in four games, is starting to find themselves a bit, and it may be at the perfect time.

Houston comes in at 4-0, but has had their struggles along the way. The Cougars opened up a multiple score lead on UCLA before allowing them back in the game, they allowed North Texas to stay within striking distance for more than half the game, and they needed to come back from 27 down to overtake Louisiana Tech. The Miners have had their struggles as well. They needed overtime to beat division 1-AA Stony Brook in the season opener, they lost to SMU on the road, and they barely escaped NMSU.

There's no doubt that on paper Houston is far more talented and should win this game by a few scores. But, this game isn't played on paper. It's played on the gridiron, and we all know that the Houston-UTEP game has really formed into somewhat of a rivalry game over the last years, and for the mostpart both teams have played extremely competitively regardless of who is favored. This game shouldn't be any different.

The Miners are still a young, and inexperienced team, and the Cougars are led by a QB who never seems to graduate, and who is undoubtedly one of the best in the nation. It will be a great test for our Miners offensively, and defensively, and hopefully they can keep this one close and give themselves a chance to win. I just can't call the upset here, but it really wouldn't surprise me. Game Prediction: Houston 34, UTEP 28.

Here's a Q&A segment with staff writer of SB Nation Houston, and fellow Co-Host of C-USA Weekly, Dustin Rensink. Enjoy.

MINER RUSH: Houston is now 4-0 on the season, but it hasn't exactly been the easiest road. UCLA nearly came back on them, North Texas hung for a while, and La Tech had them down 27 points. What do you think are the biggest holes that need to be filled in order for Houston to be successful not only this week against UTEP, but for the rest of the season as well?

DUSTIN: The line play needs to be more consistent. The offensive line has actually been pretty solid, considering that they had to replace three starters with two sophomores and a freshman heading into the year. But then you look at the Louisiana Tech game, when Case Keenum had very little time to work with, and there weren't many holes for the running backs in the first half. So there's definitely a consistency issue there.

The defense looks marginally better at stopping the run than it was last two years, but there's still plenty of room for improvement. I don't think we're going to give up 262 yards on 32 carries to anybody this year, at least. The pass rush, outside of linebacker Sammy Brown, who actually leads the NCAA with 9.5 tackles for a loss, has been pretty non-existent.
MINER RUSH: From an outsider's perspective, it's easy to just write UTEP off. They needed overtime to get by Stony Brook, they barely beat New Mexico State, and just looking at the score they got blown out at USF. That being said, what's the attitude of Houston's fanbase heading into Thursday's game. 

DUSTIN: "Oh God, I can't wait until this game is over." I don't think there are very many, if any Cougar fans who are looking at this game as an easy W. Could I see this game ending up a blowout in favor of Houston? Absolutely. But I wouldn't put money on it. We know all too well how frequently the Cougars get the wind knocked out of them after they've been riding high for too long, especially by the Miners, especially in El Paso. Personally, I know that the Cougars are 0-4 all-time at the Sun Bowl in games in which I am not in attendance. So I'll certainly be sweating this one out. They always say that records go out the window in rivalry games, and while Houston and UTEP may not be traditional rivals, this game certainly has that kind of feel to it every year.

MINER RUSH: Case Keenum is averaging nearly 400 yards a game through the air, while the UTEP defense is only giving up about 215. Some of that can be attributed to teams running a little more against the Miners, but UTEP's defensive experience can't be denied. How do you see that matchup playing out?

DUSTIN: At the risk of sounding cocky, there haven't been too many Conference USA defenses that have done much with the Cougar offense under Case Keenum in recent years. So while I believe the UTEP defense, talent-wise, is in the top half Conference USA, I haven't seen enough from them that I'm worried about them slowing down Keenum and company so much as I'm worried that UTEP will put up enough points to make it close, and take advantage of turnovers to steal the win, or something.

It's worth noting that each of the last two years in this match-up, the losing quarterback had a pretty monster game. It was the team that dominated on the ground that won each of those games. It could very well be Houston's line play and run game that wins the day on Thursday, maybe moreso than the play of Keenum.

MINER RUSH: Final thoughts/projection?

DUSTIN: I'm pretty genuinely scared to pick final scores any more, after I predicted a blowout victory against Louisiana Tech, so I'm going to avoid that. I genuinely want Houston to show me that they can play well for four quarters against a real team. If the Cougars bring their A-game from start to finish, I think they win easily. But given all of the uncertainty around this game, I would willingly accept a win in any form. So I'll project a Cougar victory, but UTEP covering the 16-point spread.