The UTEP Miners (2-3, 0-1) head to Miami to take on the FIU Panthers (2-3, 0-1) in what will be the conference home opener for the Panthers, and the first league road contest for the Miners.
UTEP enters off a disappointing loss to UTSA last Saturday in El Paso 25-6. The Miners simply could never get things going on offense and gave up 5 turnovers en route to the 19 point loss.
FIU enters having lost two straight, and most recently 24-14 at the hands of UMASS. They have been competitive in all their games though, and aside from Arkansas, this could be the best defensive team the Miners have faced this season.
The Panthers are led by sophomore quarterback Alex McGough who has completed nearly 65% of his passes for 1129 yards, 10 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. McGough and the Panthers rank 57th nationally in passing offense with 232 passing yards per game.
Sophomore running back Alex Gardner is the main threat out of the backfield for FIU, and he has racked up 305 yards and 3 touchdowns on 84 carries this year. That amounts to 3.6 yards per carry, while the team as a whole does just a bit better than that at 3.8.
McGough is also a bit of a threat to run the ball, and he has done so 34 times on the season for a total of 139 yards, with a long of 29.
Sophomore wideout Thomas Owens is the main weapon on the outside for the Panthers, and has already hauled in 29 grabs for 349 yards and 5 scores. He's not only their top receiver, but he's the biggest threat in the vertical passing game. I'd assume Kalon Beverly will earn the matchup, and will have his hands full trying to shut him down.
The Panthers will also get the ball to Gardner out of the backfield, so the Miners will need to do a good job in sticking to their assignments in order to keep him contained. He's got 26 catches for 217 yards thus far on the year.
Interestingly enough, the Panther offensive line doesn't have a single man that weighs over 300 lbs. That group is led by senior left guard Aaron Neilson, and junior left tackle Dieugot Joseph. If the Miners are going to have an opportunity to win this game, it will start by taking advantage of that undersized offensive line in controlling the line of scrimmage.
Defensively, the Panthers are led by three seniors up front in their 4-3 scheme, including 2014 second team All C-USA defensive end Michael Wakefield, and honorable mention defensive end Denzell Perine.
The Miners are going to have their hands full trying to handle those two off the edge. Perine has already tallied 4 sacks on the season, ranking him 2nd in C-USA behind one Alvin Jones, and T-22nd nationally.
The middle of the Panther defense is also a strength, as their three starters ranks 1, 2, and 4 on the team in total tackles. Sophomore Anthony Wint, a 2014 C-USA All Freshman team and All C-USA honorable mention honoree leads that list with 41 tackles.
FIU's secondary features senior Richard Leonard, a 2014 1st team all conference selection, and one who is likely to find himself playing on Sunday's in the future. Leonard, along with Jeremiah McKinnon, who leads the team in pass breakups with 6, hold things down on the outside.
The Miners will have their hands full trying to figure out this FIU defense. This is a unit that ranks 58th nationally giving up just 23 points per game, while ranking 40th in rush defense and 68th in total defense. Their weakest area? Passing defense. The Panthers rank 91st giving up nearly 250 yards a game through the air.
Its no secret that as the season has progressed, the run game has regressed, for obvious reasons. In any case, the Miners will need to find production out of the run to stay in this game, but will need even more out of the passing game to really have a chance to win.
KEYS TO THE GAME
TAKE CARE OF THE FOOTBALL!
The Miners had done a fairly good job taking care of the football through the first four games of the season, but that all went out the window last week as they committed five against UTSA. Keep in mind, UTSA was one of the worst in the country when it came to turnovers entering that game. Simply put, the Miners cannot give away the ball against FIU. They aren't a team that will light it up offensively, but if we start giving up the football this thing will turn into a blowout real quick.
CONTROL THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE!
This week features an extremely tough task for the UTEP offensive line as they will face one of the best fronts they'll see all year. But, this is an o-line that was highly touted coming into the year, and its time for them to live up to their expectations. The story is much different for the defensive line, as they have a matchup they may be able to exploit. Control the line of scrimmage, and you will control the game!
STAY BALANCED OFFENSIVELY!
At times we've seen this offense completely abandon the pass, and surprisingly at others completely abandon the run. This is a very good defensive team, and one that if given the opportunity to key on one area, will take advantage and shut it down. Even though the run game has slowed down greatly, we've got to stay balanced. Get creative in the play calling, and more than anything just let the guys play football!
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