The UTEP Miners (2-2, 0-0) and the UTSA Roadrunners (0-4, 0-0) square off in what will be the Conference USA opener for both teams.
The Miners enter fresh off a pair of back to back wins over New Mexico State and Incarnate Word. While they weren't the most impressive of wins, the grit and fight of this team has shown through.
UTSA comes in without a win to speak of, but the record is a bit misleading. The Runners have played arguably the toughest non-conference slate in the country, and they've been competitive at times against some tough competition.
Freshman quarterback Blake Bogenschutz leads the way for UTSA, and has done a pretty good job of it in the early going. So far, he's completed 57.9% of his passes for 699 yards to go along with 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
While this team hasn't exactly developed an air it out type of identity by any means, Bogenschutz is certainly capable of slinging it around, and don't be surprised to see UTSA take some shots on the Miners' young secondary, especially in the early going.
The Runners were much more willing to air it out in the first two weeks of the season, but that has been scaled down in the last two, as Bogenschutz has attempted just 31 passes in weeks 3 and 4, compared to 76 in the first two weeks.
Much of offensive gameplan has been centered around the run and junior tailback Jarveon Williams. He is averaging 6.1 yards a clip, and is coming off a 170 yard performance last week against Colorado State. He and freshman Jalen Rhodes should get the majority of the touches out of the backfield.
Senior tight end David Morgan II has become a favorite target for Bogenschutz, and already has tallied 222 yards and 2 scores on 17 grabs this season. Senior Aaron Grubb and sophomore Kerry Thomas Jr. will also see plenty of action, with those two having 19 and 12 receptions, respectively.
Up front, the Runners have some size, but not a whole lot of experience. Three sophomore start including at center and two on the left side of the line, only William Cavanaugh (6), and Jordan Gray (5) had started a division I contest entering the 2015 season.
As a whole, the offensive unit enters ranked 118th nationally in scoring offense (20.0 ppg), but they do rank 86th in total offense (383 ypg), and 70th in rushing offense (171.25 ypg).
Senior defensive tackle Brian Price (6'3 305 lb) anchors the front line of the Roadrunners base 4-2-5 defense. He, alongside fellow senior, defensive end Jason Neill look to be a force up front. Neill entered the 2015 season as the team's leader in sacks from a year ago.
Senior middle linebacker Drew Douglas and sophomore outside backer Marcos Curry will be two names to look out for in the middle of the Runner defense. Douglas was the leading returning tackler from a year ago, while Curry ranks 2nd on the team in total tackles this year.
The back five are perhaps the most experienced group of the UTSA defense. Senior cornerback Bennett Okotcha is the leader of the group, and entered 2015 as a Preseason All Conference player. It is the youngest of the group though, in sophomore Nate Gaines that is currently the team's leading tackler (29 total).
Defensively, UTSA is still struggling to find themselves, but that may be a bit unfair to say considering the level of competition that they have played thus far. The unit ranks 102nd nationally in total defense and 121st in scoring defense, but has done decent against the run, ranking 78th nationally on yards per attempt.
That doesn't exactly bode well for the Miners if they're going to come out trying to run the ball like we've seen here in the early going. Even against a team like Incarnate Word, the Miners had very minimal success moving the football in their run first scheme. UTSA ranks 119th, giving up 9.1 yards per pass attempt, and that's where the Miners will have opportunities to take advantage of this defense.
KEYS TO THE GAME
LET THEM PLAY!
The last two weeks we've seen this team come away with a couple of gritty wins, but those wins only became a possibility once the vanilla gameplan was scrapped, and Ryan Metz was allowed to just go out there and play the game. We cannot afford to start this game with our conservative and predictable offensive play calling. Open things up, don't be afraid to take some shots, and the rest will take care of itself.
WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE
Neither team has been great in the turnover department thus far, but UTSA has really struggled to find takeaways as they've only got 2 on the young season. We must make sure that continues this weekend, while we find one or two ourselves. If we can make that happen, that will go a long way in making sure that we're put in a position to win this game.
GET PRESSURE ON THE QUARTERBACK
Its no secret that the Miner defense has been torched thus far on the season. We rank 125th nationally, giving up better than 45 points a game. If we are unable to get pressure on Bogenschutz, meaning pressure with 4 or 5 guys, this will be a long night, and once again we will be giving up 45+. We've got to be able to get to the quarterback and make him make quicker decisions. Otherwise, if allowed to just sit back in the pocket, he will eat us up!
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