After picking up the first win of the season last Saturday against New Mexico State, the Miners now prepare for a road swing that features games in two of the most hostile venues that they will play in all season. This week, UTEP will battle #24 Wisconsin in Madison at Camp Randall Stadium.
The Miners are now 1-2 on the season, and will try to get to .500 overall heading into conference play. The Badgers, who entered the season as the #12 team in the nation, are now 2-1 on the season after narrow wins against Northern Iowa and Utah State, and a narrow loss at Oregon State.Wisconsin enters the contest fresh off a 16-14 home win over USU. The Badgers pulled out the win as Aggie kicker Josh Thompson missed a 37 yard field goal with only seconds remaining. In the game, Wisconsin managed only 12 first downs, and 234 yards of total offense, including 74 through the air.
As previously mentioned, UTEP comes into the contest off a 41-28 home win over rival New Mexico State. The Miners, who had struggled in the first two weeks offensively, were firing on all cylinders against the Aggies, as they jumped out to a 27-0 lead before NMSU got on the board. The Miners put up 487 yards of total offense, and quarterback Nick Lamaison had his first 300 yard outing of the season going 21-32 for 300 yards, 4 scores, and no interceptions.
Offensively, the Badgers are led by Danny O'Brien. The junior quarterback has gone 44-71 (62%) on the season for 454 yards, 3 touchdowns, and only 1 interception. However, there does seem to be a quarterback controversy brewing in Madison, and it is unclear who will start this weekend.
The backfield is headed by senior running back Montee Ball. A year ago, Ball rushed for 33 touchdowns, and was a finalist for the Heisman award. But, this year hasn't been smooth sailing. So far, the back has racked up 320 yards and 2 two touchdowns, but his yards per carry average is down to 3.8 compare to 6.3 a year ago, and 6.1 the year before that.
The receivers are led by junior wideout Jared Abbredius. On the season, he has 7 grabs for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns. A total of 9 other receivers (TE's and RB's included) have caught passes, including three others with 7 grabs, however none have eclipsed the 100 yard mark.
The defense is headed by linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland. Taylor, a senior, was a second team all conference selection a year ago, and currently leads the Badgers with 36 stops (16 solo). Borland, a junior, was a first team all conference player last year, and currently has 22 tackles on the year.
For the Miners, the offense is led by senior quarterback Nick Lamaison. As menioned, he was finally able to get the offense moving Saturday, as he passed for his first 300 yard game of the season, completing 63% of his passes for four scores and no interceptions. On the year, he has totaled 552 yards, with 5 touchdowns and no picks.
Sophomore running back Nathan Jeffery should return to action this week after being out the last two contests. Its still unclear just how heavy a workload he'll take on though. True freshman Autrey Golden will likely still get a handful of looks also, as he has totaled 124 yards on 24 carries while filling in for the injured Jeffery.
The receivers are led by sophomore Jordan Leslie and senior Mike Edwards. On the season, Leslie has now caught 14 passes for 233 yards and a couple scores, and Edwards has also reeled in 14 for 174 yards and a score.
Defensively, the Miners are led by junior linebacker A.J. Ropati and senior safety Richard Spencer. Ropati, who had been filling in for the injured Jamie Irving, has now tallied 22 tackles on the season. Spencer, who did well to battle through preseason injuries, has now racked up 29 tackles, including 13 and 11 in the last two weeks.
On special teams, senior punter Ian Campbell has now punted 20 times, with a long of 69 yards, and an average of 43.9 yards per punt. Those numbers are down a bit from a year ago, but Campbell is certainly still a weapon for the Miners.
Senior placekicker Dakota Warren is out indefinitely due to a back injury. Sophomore Steven Valadez, who is 1-2 on field goals, and 6-7 of on extra points takes over those duties. The Miners have also picked up a local walk-on in Enrique Flores who could potentially take over field goal kicking duties.
There's no doubt that a win in this game seems much more achievable than it did to start the season. The Miners offense is finally getting on track, and the defense has been to play extremely well. With both of them playing at a high level, and the Wisconsin offense sputtering at times, they just may be able to put themselves in a position to pick up a big win.
But first, the Miners must be able to overcome the road woes that have hurt them for years. Camp Randall will likely be the loudest and most hostile environment that the Miners will play in all season, and they have to be ready to take that on, and be able to stay composed no matter what happens early on in the game.
The defense has to play at the level that we saw for three quarters against Oklahoma, and for the majority of the game against NMSU. We can't be confused and off balance like were in Oxford. Likewise, the offense can't be stalling and putting their defense back in a bind over and over. Both units will need to help each other out.
This will definitely be an extremely tough task, and a huge test as we head into conference play next week at ECU. But, if we can continue to take care of the ball, move it down the field, and come up with some stops when necessary, we'll give ourselves an opportunity to win this game. I can't predict the upset, but I think it will be a close one.
Badgers 24, Miners 21