After showing so much promise early on in 2012, the door has almost completely closed for the Miners' season. After opening up conference play with a poor performance at ECU, UTEP was shut out at home against SMU 17-0 on Saturday.
While the Miner defense has played exceptionally well for the vast majority of the season, the offense has sputtered, and quite frankly, came to a complete stop in Saturday's loss at the Sun Bowl. In that contest, the Miners managed only 13 first downs, and 285 yards of total offense, while giving up 3 turnovers.
This week they'll hit the road to take on the class of Conference USA, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. The Hurricane have now won 5 straight since opening the season with a loss to Iowa, and have won two straight on the road, including a 45-38 win at Marshall on Saturday.
Tulsa is led by junior quarterback Cody Green, a transfer from Nebraska. On the season, Green has completed 51.8% of his passes for 1131 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. He is, however, coming off his worst performance of the year against Marshall, going only 9-17 for 90 in the win.
The true strength of this offense though lies in the running game. On the season, the Hurricane have 3 running backs that have totaled more than 335 yards on the ground, and two of them have tallied more than 400. Junior Trey Watts leads the way with 474 yards and 2 scores on 64 attempts, while junior Ja'Terian Douglas has racked up 405 yards on 59 attempts.
Tulsa also boasts a total of 4 receivers who at least 13 catches on the season, and 5 who have reeled in more than 135 yards. Sophomore wideout Keyarris Garrett leads the way with 23 receptions for 314 yards and 4 scores, and junior Jordan James now has a total of 17 grabs for 239 yards, and a couple of touchdowns.
Defensively, junior linebacker Shawn Jackson is the leader. Since missing the first couple games of the season, he has racked up 33 tackles in the last three games, including 16, and 10 solo tackles this past weekend against Marshall.
Other names to look out for include senior linbacker DeAundre Brown (55 tackles), senior defensive back Dexter McCoil (32 tackles, 1 interception, 3 pass deflections), and senior defensive linemen Jared St. John (5 sacks, 6 tackles for loss) and Daeshon Bufford (27 tackles, 4 sacks).
For the Miners, as far as we know, Nick Lamaison will still be starting under center come kickoff. The senior has had his share of ups and downs, but has really struggled as of late, completing only 36% of his passes for 274 yards, 1 touchdown, and 5 interceptions in his last two games.
On the season, Lamaison has completed 49.7% of his passes for 1085 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. Hopefully he's able to pull himself out of this rut, but if he can't we will probably see a whole lot more of junior Carson Meger, and potentially even freshman Blaire Sullivan.
The rushing attack is led by sophomore Nathan Jeffery who has now tallied 387 yards on 76 carries (5.1 ypc). After the Oklahoma game, this backfield had been a running back by committee, but as of now, only freshmen Autrey Golden and LA Dowell factor in, at all.
The receiving corp is headed by senior Mike Edwards, and sophomore Jordan Leslie. Edwards has totaled 464 and three touchdowns on 28 grabs, while Leslie has 27 catches for 369 yards and 3 scores. Sophomore Malcolm Trail is the only other wideout with double digit catches. He's reeled in 13 for 92 yards.
The defense is littered with playmakers at all three levels, but some of the players to look out for include senior linebackers Jamie Irving and Josh Fely, and senior defensive backs Drew Thomas and DeShawn Grayson.
Since returning fully to action over the last two weeks, Irving has 16 tackles. Fely has 47 tackles of his own on the year, and 4 pass deflections. Thomas has 34 tackles, 1 interception, and 5 pass deflections, and Grayson has 39 tackles and 4 pass deflections.
Coming into the season, this October 11th matchup seemed like it would be a dogfight, that perhaps would have some implications on the outcome of Conference USA West. However, sitting here on October 10th, that's not exactly the case.
The Miners are struggling mightily, and will have to get things turned around in a hurry if they are even going to make a game of this. To even say that is extremely disappointing, but considering what we've seen over the opening weeks of Conference USA action, that's the flat out truth.
Hurricane 38, Miners 24