It may not have been a road win against Marshall, and it may not have been a win that clinches the conference or even bowl eligibility, but Saturday's win may prove to be the game of the year.
The Miners looked absolutely stellar in their 34-0 romp over the UTSA Roadrunners Saturday at the Alamodome, in a game that many, including myself, felt was an absolute must win for this season to be successful. Simply put, the Miners dominated in all facets of the game.
Saturday's victory was the first conference road win for the Miners since 2012, when Mike Price's Miners narrowly escaped the 0-12 Southern Miss Golden Eagles 34-33 after a failed 2 point conversion with under 3 minutes to play.
It also marked the first time the Miners have picked up a road win in the state of Texas since knocking off SMU 48-45 back in 2007.
Perhaps most impressive though, it was the Miners' first shut out of an FBS opponent since shutting down NMSU 45-0 in the Sun Bowl in 2004. That was Price's first year, and also turned out to be an 8 win season that ended with a trip to the Houston Bowl.
Think about this though, the last time the Miners were able to shut out an opponent on the road, was against the New Mexico Lobos back in 1988. That was a 10 win season that also saw the Miners make it to the Independence Bowl.
History aside though, this win may turn out to be the turning point of a season. For six games, the Miners had played very sporadic, uninspired, inconsistent football. A style that had led to a 3-3 record, including a pair disappointing and embarrassing losses.
But that team out there Saturday, was not the team we'd seen through the first half of the year. The offense, while not dominant, was very consistent and balanced, totaling 351 yards, with a 54/46 split in passing yards to run yards, while displaying that creative playcalling we've all been looking for.
The defense, was absolutely dominant, controlling the game from the first drive. That unit forced an astounding 11 three and outs, including 7 straight to start the game, while turning a 12th drive into a 1 play possession after a forced fumble.
In all, the defense gave up just 70 total yards, which was the third fewest yards allowed in program history. They also gave up just 2 fist downs, and allowed only 1.6 yards per play.
Adding to the play of both the offense and defense, was the special teams. That unit had been a huge liability in recent weeks, and it turned out to be a great strength against the Runners.
Jay Mattox, who hadn't punted since high school, turned in 7 punts at an average of 46.1 yards per kick. And, while they weren't the prettiest kicks, they were extremely effective, and he even pinned the UTSA offense inside their 10 yard line on four out of five drives between the second and third quarters.
Again, it was just a complete team effort; something that we have not seen from a UTEP team in at least a decade. And something that if we continue to see could make this season turn into a very special one.
The win Saturday was not simply the fourth win of the season. It was the biggest win of the season, and easily the biggest in Sean Kugler's short career. That game could, and should, prove to be the turning point for the Miners.
Coming into the contest at 3-3, the Miners faced a tough road ahead, and would've faced an even tougher road had they fallen to 3-4.
Now though, at 4-3, and with an upcoming home game against Southern Miss, the Miners have a very real opportunity to put themselves into a bowl game, and even potentially get themselves into the conversation for a chance at winning C-USA West.
The latter will take some help from Louisiana Tech, who sits atop the division, but the rest lies squarely in the hands of the Miners.
Of course, its not realistic for this team to play as well as they did Saturday on a regular basis, but if they can come anywhere near that level there is not another game on the schedule that they can't win.
Up next, the Miners will look to continue their winning streak with the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at home, and over the next three weeks will face teams that have a combined record of 8-15.
If they can pick up the win against the Golden Eagles, they'll turn in their first 3 game win streak since 2010. That also happened to be the last time the program made it to a bowl game.
If they've actually turned the corner, things should get real interesting around here, real soon. We still have to take it one week at a time, but following the win of the year Saturday, its hard not to be optimistic about the rest of the season.
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