The UTEP Miners will look to improve on their 1-0 start as they take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders (1-0) Saturday night in the Sun Bowl. Kickoff for the contest is slated for 9:00 p.m. MT and the game will be carried live by Fox Sports 1.
UTEP enters the contest fresh off a 31-24 win over the New Mexico Lobos a week ago in Albuquerque. The Miners started strong in that one, racing out to a 24-7 halftime lead, before holding on for the one score victory.
Texas Tech enters off a victory not so similar to that of the Miners. Central Arkansas jumped ahead of the Raiders 16-7 early in the second quarter, and actually trailed just 42-35 as the game clock wound down. Although they'd have a chance to tie, that's how the contest would end.
The Red Raiders and the Miners have met three times in the last 16 years, with Tech holding a 3-0 advantage in those games. However, the last two contests turned out to be very entertaining ones. The two teams last played on September 8th 2007 in Lubbock, in a contest that saw NFL star Michael Crabtree go off for 188 yards and a pair of scores on 15 receptions. Tech won that one 45-31.
UTEP also fell in the last game played in El Paso 38-35. The Raiders entered that contest ranked 24th in the nation, and got all they could handle from the Miners before finally prevailing in overtime.
Now, as the two teams prepare to square off tonight, not a ton has changed. At least not for Texas Tech. The Red Raiders will look to air it out behind the arm of Davis Webb, and should things hold form, they'll expect to have great success. Texas Tech finished 2nd in the nation a year ago, passing for 392.8 yards a game, and currently ranks 5th (452 ypg) following the opening week of college football.
The Miners on the other hand, will look to run the ball early and often, and they too will expect to have their way in the ground game. The Miners rushed for 330 yards in week 1, behind 237 from sophomore Aaron Jones, and averaged 184 (46th nationally) a year ago.
Again, Davis Webb leads the Raider offense, and has quite a few weapons to work with alongside him. Senior receiver Bradley Marquez is off to a hot start, hauling in 11 catches for 184 yards an a couple scores against Central Arkansas.
DeAndre Washington is the go to guy out of the backfield, as he returns as the leading rusher. He got off to a great start as well, going for 104 yards on 20 carries (5.2 ypc).
And, despite those guys, the offensive line actually enters 2014 as perhaps the biggest strength of the offense. They return not only nearly every starter from a year ago, but also with great depth.
Defensively, the Red Raiders are led by end Branden Jackson and inside linebacker Eguavoen. Look for those names to be called a ton. The rest of the defense, and really the unit as a whole remains largely unproven. The defense returns five starters from a year ago, but all of the five are in the front seven.
Central Arkansas mustered 406 total yards against that Tech defense, and the unit ranked just 86th in the FBS a year ago, giving up better than 415 yards a game. They also gave up 178 rushing, and allowed more than 200 yards a game in 2013. If they have the same trouble stopping the run against the Miners, this game will be a lot closer than most expect.
Speaking of that, the Miners opened the week at 18 and a half point underdogs, and actually moved to upwards of 21 point dogs before finally settling in around 20. Its pretty clear what Vegas thinks. But, of course, the Miners will have other plans.
Senior Jameill Showers will lead the way for the UTEP offense, and will be joined by a pair of extremely talented backs in the backfield. The aforementioned Aaron Jones, as well as senior Nathan Jeffery.
Showers is a very athletic and capable quarterback who can get it done with both with his arm and with his feet. He actually has history with Tech coach Cliff Kingsbury so it'll be interesting to see what, if any, impact that will have on the game.
Jameill likely won't be asked to throw the ball a ton though, at least not to start. The Miners will look to establish the run early, and should lean heavily on Jones and Jeffery throughout the night.
When they do throw, look for seniors Ian Hamilton and Jarrad Shaw to be get most of the looks, as well as tight end Eric Tomlinson. He didn't have a large role in the game against New Mexico, but I'd expect that to change as the season progresses.
The Miners up front remain a bit inexperienced. It showed in the pass game in last week's contest, but their ability to open holes was also evident in seeing the success of the run game.
Defensively the Miners are led by senior linebacker Anthony Puente and senior safety Wesley Miller. Puente racked up a career high 11 tackles in week one against New Mexico.
Others guys like sophomore linebacker Alvin Jones and senior defensive back Adrian James will also be expected to have the name called quite a bit against the Raiders, but perhaps the success of the unit will fall on the ability of the front four to get pressure on Webb.
The defense as a whole remains largely untested, especially against this type of offense, but we will definitely know where they stand against the pass following Saturday night's game. This one should prove to be a very interesting game.
By name alone, Texas Tech should be favored by 20+ points, and they are. However, coach Kugler has his Miners buying into what to what he's selling, and they're only getting better.
A week ago, for one half, this team looked like the real deal. We all know the second half didn't turn out exactly as planned, but if they can put two halves together they will be able to compete with these Raiders, and can even beat them.
The key to the game for the Miners will likely turn out to be their ability to keep the offense on the field, and their ability to get pressure on the quarterback. Texas Tech WILL score points. The real question is how many?
If the Miners are able to sustain drives, capitalize on scoring opportunities, and take advantages of any turnovers given them, they should at least have a chance to win the game.
On the other hand, should they be unable to sustain drives, and force their defense back on the field after short drives, this one could turn into that 20 point blowout Vegas expects.
Texas Tech 41, UTEP 38