After falling to the Oklahoma Sooners 24-7 on Saturday, the Miners must now turn around and get ready for another big time challenge this Saturday. UTEP will travel to Oxford, MS to take on the Ole Miss Rebels of the SEC, the second of three BCS Conference opponents for the Miners this season.
The Miners and the Rebels have faced off only once before, in the 1967 Sun Bowl. That was a 14-7 win for the Miners, and also happened to be the last time UTEP won a bowl game. Overall, the Miners are 1-6 versus the SEC, with losses coming against Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, and Tennessee twice.
The Rebels enter the contest at 1-0, after dropping Central Arkansas 49-27 at home. Central Arkansas played Ole Miss tough for about three quarters, and actually led at the half before faltering. The Miners come in a 0-1 after their loss Oklahoma.
The Rebels are led by sophomore QB Bo Wallace. Saturday, in his first contest as the starter for Ole Miss, he completed 20 of 24 passes for 264 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. He also rushed 13 times for 82 yards and a touchdown.
The running game for Ole Miss starts with their QBs. As just mentioned, Wallace had 13 carries. Backup QB Barry Brunetti came in late and rushed another 8 times for 54 yards, and former QB Randall Mackey, who first year coach Hugh Freeze transformed into a RB, rushed 15 times for 50 yards.
The QBs had no issues spreading the ball around to plenty of receivers. In the opener, 8 guys had at least one grab, and five had at least two. Sophomore Donte Moncreif led the way with 8 catches for 104 yards and a TD. Senior TE Jamal Mosley had four grabs for 79 yards and a score, and junior Korvic Neat had 6 catches for 75 yards.
Defensively, freshman LB Denzel Nkemdiche led the way in tackles. He totaled 8 takedowns, including 3 for loss, and one sack. On the line, sophomore DE C.J. Johnson had 6 tackles and a sack, and in the secondary, junior Dehendrey Collins had 7 tackles and a pass deflection.
The Miners are led by senior QB Nick Lamasion. In the opener, he had his worst game in a UTEP uniform, completing only of 6 of 24 passes for 39 yards. Granted, he was up against a tough defense, and his receivers could've helped him out considerably more, but his performance against Oklahoma was one to forget.
In the backfield, Nathan Jeffery showed in week 1 exactly why he was named to the Doak Walker Award watch list a month ago. He ran circles around the Sooners, totaling 177 yards on 21 carries, an average of 8.4 yards a carry. He also scooped and scored the Miners only TD on a blocked punt in the first quarter.
Considering the passing game was so anemic in week 1, its hard to say who the top receivers are. But, senior Mike Edwards, and sophomore Jordan Leslie are definitely in the conversation. However, Edwards suffered a concussion in the game against the Sooners, and is likely to miss the game in Oxford.
Because of that, I'd expect junior college transfer Ian Hamilton to step in on the outside for the Miners. Its time to figure out what he's got. Also, the TE group led by junior Kevin Perry, and sophomore Eric Tomlinson should certainly play more of a role this Saturday.
The defense is led by guys at all levels. In fact, just look out for all 12 starters, and about the first 5 or 6 reserves. The unit as a whole played lights out in week one. The line was able to control the line of scrimmage, the linebackers were able to shut down plays at the second level, and secondary showed that they can cover anyone. This is a unit to be respected, especially come conference time.
All in all, this should be a pretty damn good game on Saturday. The Miners are looking for their first win against an SEC school, their first win on the road against an SEC school, and at that, the first win on the road against any BCS school in history.
Ole Miss will be looking for a win that will help validate themselves for this season. While the win over Central Arkansas was nice, a win over a UTEP team that just gave national title favorite Oklahoma all they could handle would be even better.
The Rebels opened as a 7.5 point favorite, and considering the lack of offensive production for the Miners, outside of Nathan Jeffery, that's pretty understandable. But, if Nick Lamaison shows up, like he is able to, then things will certainly even out in this game.
On top of that, if the Miners' defense can continue to play at the high level that they did in the opener, then I'd almost venture to say that the Miners may be the favorite. If we can stay healthy, then I would definitely say that. In my opinion, our UTEP Miners are, finally, going to break through on the road against the BCS. What do you think?