The UTEP Miners made a statement last weekend in a dominating win over a North Texas. Today, they'll have a shot to exact revenge on a loss suffered from last season for the second week in a row. In 2013 Rice dismantled UTEP in every way possible in a convincing 45-7 win. This season has brought a new sense of toughness and a renewed commitment to Head Coach Sean Kugler's program and it's paying off for the Miners. With bowl eligibility secured, UTEP is looking to get to 8 wins; a total that hasn't been reached since the 2005 GMAC Bowl squad that went 8-3.
Rice comes into this matchup fresh off a 41-14 loss to Marshall, Conference USA's top team. Earlier in the season, Rice played and lost to two very tough teams in Notre Dame and Texas A&M. They stumbled against Old Dominion afterwards in a 3 point loss which was a shock for the 2013 C-USA Champions. Since then, the Owls reeled off 6 wins in a row before facing Marshall.
The Owls offensively rank 68th in the NCAA in total offense and 47th in rushing offense. What's interesting about this Owl team is that they rank 3rd in time of possession. You may ask, why is that relevant? It's important because UTEP is number one in the country in that statistical category. In this matchup, points will be at a premium. Every possession in this game will be crucial because both teams hold on to the ball for long periods of time. Quarterback Driphus Jackson has an impressive touchdown to interception ratio with 15 TD's and 4 INT's. UTEP for the second week in a row will face an offense with two solid running backs in Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard. Davis leads the team in rushing with 824 yards but Dillard leads the team in rushing touchdowns with 8 on the season. Jackson has two targets he likes to hit in the passing game with Jordan Taylor and Mario Hull. Both have four touchdowns but look for Taylor to be a favorite target.
An area where the Owls have a distinct advantage in this game is on the defensive side of the ball with the pass rush. UTEP is 19th in sacks allowed and will need to vastly improve in this area. Rice is 9th in the NCAA in sacks led by Brian Nordstrom who has 7 tallied thus far. For UTEP to win this ballgame, they'll have to slow down the pass rush and keep Jameill Showers upright. Linebacker Alex Lyons leads the team in tackles with 56, but close behind is Jaylon Finner with 51 at his KAT back position. Though Rice excels in getting pressure, this team struggles to cause turnovers. Near bottom of the country in interceptions and turnovers caused.
The Miners can win this matchup if they hold on to the football, cause turnovers, and protect Jameill Showers. It's a proven fact that UTEP can rush on any defense. The key to this game will be allowing Showers to sit in the pocket comfortably. UTEP has been most impressive when the passing game has had a presence to assist the running game. When the running game clicks, the play action and deep passing routes become more and more valuable. It's clear to see that the Miners look best when they are able to run as well as pass. The UTEP defense has been stout as of late and look for them to continue to load the box, mix in blitzes, and create pressure in the backfield. As seen in the dominating performance in the UTSA ballgame, this team has the ability to cause chaos behind the line of scrimmage. The performance in the trenches will be big in this one.
With a former offensive lineman at the helm in Kugler, look for UTEP to give fanatical effort in this facet of the game. The battle for second place in the Conference USA West division begins tonight.