The Central Florida Knights (7-2, 5-0) come to town to take on the UTEP Miners (2-7, 1-4) in a Conference USA matchup at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX. The Miners enter the contest off their bye week, playing last at Houston, a 45-35 loss, nearly two weeks ago. The Knights enter fresh off a 42-17 demolition of SMU, a team that had gotten the ball rolling in C-USA play.
The two team have met three previous times, with the home team winning all three contests. The last meeting came November 25, 2011 in Orlando, FL, a 31-14 win for the Knights. The last time the two teams squared off in El Paso was September 28, 2008. The Miners won that one by a final of 58-13.
The Knights are led by sophomore quarterback Blake Bortles who has completed nearly 70% of his passes this year. In total, he has 1985 yards, 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. While not a huge threat to run the football, he is mobile enough to make a play with his feet. He's got 93 yards and 4 scores on 42 rushes this year.
The running back situation at this point is somewhat by committee. Over the last couple of weeks, senior running back Latavius Murray has stepped forward as the lead rusher, but both sophomore Storm Johnson and senior Brynn Harvey are very capable runners. Murray leads the way with 693 yards and 10 touchdowns on 96 carries, Johnson has 452 yards and 4 scores on 103 carries, and Harvey's got 213 yards and 2 scores on 49 carries.
The Knights wide receiving corp is led by sophomore wideout J.J. Worton. On the year he's got 487 yards and 2 scores on 33 catches. Sophomore receiver Rannell Hall is second with 398 yards and 4 scores on 22 grabs, followed by senior Quincy McDuffie (21 catches, 251 yards, 2 scores) and junior Jeff Godfrey (26 catches, 248 yards, 2 scores). Godfrey was the Knights' quarterback a year ago, so he's always one to look out for.
The UCF defense is extremely talented at all levels, but is led by multiple guys in the secondary, and at the linebacker position. Some guys to look out for include defensive backs Kemal Ishmael and A.J. Bouye, and linebackers Jonathan Davis and Terrance Plummer.
Ishmael, a senior, is the team's leading tackler with 73 stops, and he also has a pair of interceptions. Bouye, who is also a senior, has 43 tackles to go along with 2 interceptions, and 7 pass deflections. Davis is also a senior and currently has 48 tackles, and 2.5 sacks, while Plummer is a sophomore and leads the linebackers in tackles with 69.
The Miners, to this point, had been led by senior quarterback Nick Lamaison. However, his inconsistent play has led the team to turn to redshirt freshman Blaire Sullivan. While its still unclear who will start come gametime, it is very likely that Sullivan will get significant playing time.
On the year, Lamaison has completed only 51% percent of his passes for 1,437 yards for 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Sullivan, who only had a couple of snaps under his belt until the Houston game, looked stellar in his fist true action. Down 45-7, he led the Miners on four straight scoring drives, and finished the game 6-10 for 105 and 2 touchdowns. He also rushed 10 times for 53 yards.
The running backs are led by sophomore Nathan Jeffery (127 carries, 551 yards, 2 touchdowns), who has been in and out of action this season due to lingering injuries. But, at this point, he seems healthy, and is also coming off one of his best performances of the season against Houston, going for 137 yards and 2 scores on 33 carries. Sophomore LaQuintas Dowell and freshman Autrey Golden could also be in line for some carries.
The wide receiving unit is led by the two headed monster of senior Mike Edwards and sophomore Jordan Leslie. On the season, Leslie has 44 catches for 713 yards and 5 touchdowns, while Edwards has hauled in 41 for 601 yards and 7 scores. Sophomore tight end Craig Wenrick has also made an impact as of late. He now has 11 catches for 145 yards and 1 score on the year.
Much like that of the Knights, this defense is also extremely talented at all three levels, but is led by playmakers at linebacker and in the secondary. They are led by a trio of seniors in linebacker Josh Fely, and defensive backs DeShawn Grayson and Drew Thomas.
Fely leads the team in tackles with 82, and also has 4 pass deflections. Grayson has 67 tackles and 8 pass deflections, and Thomas has 57 tackles, 1 interception, and 7 pass deflections.
On paper, this is a game that the Miners have no business in. The Knights are on top of Conference USA, and are in line for a trip to the C-USA championship game. However, that's not to say they don't have a chance. The Miners defensive unit is an experienced group that has the capability of keeping this game within striking distance.
The question arises, however, can this offense overcome its struggles and succeed against what may be the best defensive group in Conference USA? The jury is still on that one, but the Miners have shown promise in certain situations, especially last week when Sullivan took the reigns.
If history has anything to say about this one, the Miners win big. However, history doesn't always repeat itself. The bottom line is that the offense has been extremely inconsistent, and has asked way too much of the defense on a regular basis. Sullivan may be able to make this game interesting, but even if he can, will he be able to overcome his inexperience and lead this team to the biggest victory of the season? I guess we'll just have to wait and see. For now though,
Knights 37, Miners 28