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Mishaps bury UTEP in 28-7 loss at LA Tech

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NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at Texas El Paso Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

For three quarters and some change, it was UTEP’s most encouraging performance in three weeks.

But again, the same penalty issues, and inability to finish those ever-so-golden red zone worthy drives with six points buried UTEP in a 28-7 loss to LA Tech.

The Miners fall to 1-4 on the season, and 0-2 in conference play, and have dropped their fourth straight game.

After a shaky start defensively, UTEP played their three best defensive quarters of football this season, but two fourth quarter scores sealed the Miners hope of making things interesting in the final quarter.

LA Tech would get on the board first with an impressive 7-play, 84 yard drive on their first possession. Ryan Higgins was 5-of-5 for 81 yards on the drive including a 37-yard strike to Trent Taylor who had three catches for 57 yards to set up the opening score.

Jarred Craft took a dump off pass 17-yards after Taylor’s long gain to put the Bulldogs up 7-0 at the 8:19 mark of the opening quarter.

Higgins started 7-of-7 passing, and ran in a 22-yard touchdown on LA Tech’s second drive capping off a 9-play, 91 yard drive with 1:02 left in the first quarter.

After allowing scoring drives of 84-yards, and 91-yards, the UTEP defense clamped down and only allowed 26 yards on the Bulldogs’ final two drives of the first half.

But the Miners would come up scoreless on their five first half drives. The most promising drive would end in a tipped interception hauled in by Xavier Woods after UTEP drove 45-yards on 10 plays.

UTEP held the Bulldogs to just 20-yards on their first two second half drives, and finally got on the board with an important drive that chewed up almost eight minutes.

The Miners converted three third down conversions, and a gutsy fourth-and-eight during a 15-play, 58 yard scoring drive finished off by 10-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Metz to Hayden Plinke five seconds into the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 14-7.

Although the UTEP defense would gamble with a blitz, and Jarred Craft made them pay on the next LA Tech drive.

Two plays after UTEP cut into the lead, Craft went 70-yards untouched on a read-option hand off to give LA Tech a 21-7 lead with 14:11 left in the game.

Ryan Metz would drive UTEP 50-yards on the ensuing drive, but took a nasty shot along the sidelines on a 12-yard scramble and had to to be removed from the game.

Zack Greenlee came in the ensuing a 4th-and-four and airmailed a sideline pass to Plinke in the flats giving LA Tech possession up two scores.

The Bulldogs would take 7:31 off the clock via a 12-play, 78 yard drive, with Trent Taylor making a highlight reel grab in the back of the end zone to seal the deal with 1:29 left.

UTEP out-gained LA Tech 415-387, picked up 22 first downs, and held the ball for 35:36.

But the Miners were flagged six times costing them 55 yards in mark-offs and turned it over twice, with all of those miscues coming in inopportune moments when the game was still close.

Metz finished 20-of-28 passing for 215 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Aaron Jones had a quiet night by his standards but still put up 94 physical yards on 20 carries on a visibly hobbled ankle.

Plinke caught eight passes for 66 yards, Eddie Sinegal set career highs with six catches for 102 yards. Greenlee was 4-for-5 for 69 yards in relief of Metz, but the Miners only averaged 3.5 yards per rush in the game.

LA Tech’s Trent Taylor caught 10 passes for 121 yards, and Craft finished his night with 146 yards rushing and a touchdown. The Bulldogs ran for 196 yards with an 8.9 yard per carry average.

There were plenty of improvements like UTEP’s 7.4 yards per gain average on first downs, a more efficient/effective passing game, and holding another explosive spread offense to under 200-yards passing.

But in the end, too many self inflicted wounds, and lame duck drives mixed with red zone woes have killed UTEP’s chances of giving themselves a shot at knocking off a superior conference opponent.

The Miners return home next week to face FIU in the Sun Bowl.