At 1-6, and 0-3 in conference play, things haven't exactly gone the way most fans had hoped they would for the UTEP football team. Ok really, its gone the exact opposite of how fans hoped it would. Still though, with 5 games to play, all is not lost.
Saturday the Tulane Green Wave (1-5, 1-1) come to town, and they've had plenty struggles of their own. While they are fresh off their first win in 13 months, they rank in the FBS' bottom 20 in various major statistical categories. Tulane ranks 124th (last) in the FBS in rushing yards per game (18.8 ypg), second to last in run defense (255 ypg), last in points per game (12.2), and 117th in points against (39.7).
Now, junior running back Orleans Darkwa has returned from injury and could have an impact in the run game, but even he only has 41 yards on 21 carries over the last 3 weeks. Senior quarterback Ryan Griffin has returned from injury and his presence in the pass game could open up the run a bit, but even with him last week they were only able to muster 40 yards on the ground.
And, with only 200.7 yards a game, the Green Wave pass game ranks 93rd in college football. So, its not exactly like we're talking about a high powered air attack that would keep the Miners defense off balance. Granted, UTEP statistically, doesn't have a great defense, as they rank 99th overall, but I think its fair to say they're better than the stats show, and have been hindered more than anything by a struggling offense.
No matter what, with an offense that ranks dead last in college football coming into the Sun Bowl, our veteran defensive unit should be able to have a field day.
For the Miners' offense, its still a bit unclear exactly how things will play out. There's no hiding the fact that we've had plenty of issues under center. For whatever reasons, the UTEP coaching staff has found a need to give Carson Meger a piece of the signal caller pie, even at times when Nick Lamaison was playing fairly well.
That's not to say Meger isn't capable. He definitely is. Its just been a bit odd as far as how the time has been divvied up. Now, with Lamaison nursing a strained hamstring back to health, and plenty of fans calling for redshirt freshman Blaire Sullivan to take the reigns, who knows what will happen come Saturday.
But, if we go back just a couple of paragraphs, we'll find an interesting fact. Tulane ranks 123rd in the FBS in rush defense giving up more than 250 yards a game! The gameplan for Saturday's contest shouldn't be focused on who is throwing the football. It should be focused on who is running it!
Considering that; 1.) The best quarterback should start under center. In my own personal opinion, that's Nick Lamaison. If he's good to go, he should get the nod. And 2.) The running backs should get more touches in this game than we've seen in any other game this season.
Give the ball to Nathan Jeffery 25+ times, and heck, give Autrey Golden another 15+ carries. Both guys can carry the load, and they will be the ones to allow this offense to get rolling. With a defense across the ball that hasn't shown they can stop any run game yet, there's no reason to think that will start now.
If we are able to establish the run game early and often, that will do wonders in taking the pressure off whatever quarterback happens to be playing under center. That will give them the confidence to make the throws when needed, and should give our offense a boost that we've really only seen one time this season; against NMSU.
This is the bottom line. UTEP is the better team in this game. There is just too much talent, and too much experience on this team for us to let another one get away. Will a win here make this season a success, or provide the spark this team needs to get this thing turned around? Probably not, but its a start.
All we can ask for is that this team go out and compete day in and day out. Everything else will take care of itself. Its homecoming, and plenty of $9 ice cold beer will be served. Its time for the Miners to notch one in the win column. Anything less is unacceptable.