UTEP Miners (1-5, 0-3) @ UTSA Roadrunners (3-3, 2-1)
Series Record: UTSA leads 2-1
Kickoff: 5:00 p.m. Mountain Time
TV: American Sports Network
Vegas says: UTSA -9.5, O/U 47
Sean Kugler said all the right things coming out of a bye week, but will the changes promised and made during the bye week be enough to snap UTEP's five game losing streak on the road in a season that is quickly sinking?
Coming into the second half of the season with a sour 1-5 record, UTEP looks to regain confidence in a place where confidence runneth over in a 2014 shutout against UTSA.
But……this is a different UTSA program with a renewed identity and coaching staff that appears to have things rolling the past two weeks after coming out of their bye week.
After dropping three in a row, the Runners have won two straight, and come in with one of the top defensive units in the conference. The first was a 55-32 throttling of Southern Miss in where they led 28-7 after the first quarter.
Led by a
possible freshman All-America linebacker Josiah Tauaefa who has 48 tackles and accounts for 13.7 percent of UTSA's total tackles this season, UTSA's defense has been a strong point as of late.
Due to his stout play, along with returning production from secondary members Michael Egwuagu, and Nate Gaines, UTSA's defense has been a major strength during their two game win streak. They shut down Rice's run game, and their pass rush and coverage made Southern Miss' veteran quarterback Nick Mullens look like a shaky true freshman.
Cashing in on turnovers has been a point an emphasis for UTSA, and giving up the rock has been a major problem for the Miners.
Offensively, UTSA has an offense that does not make very mistakes, and their play calling is balanced and has been a big part of their explosiveness.
UTSA ranks 26th in the nation explosive plays, and 22nd in explosive plays via the run game.
Running backs Jalen Rhodes and Jarveon Williams have anchored an emerging tandem at running back. Rhodes broke out against Southern Miss in where UTSA ran for 339 yards on just 35 carries, he currently averages 5.7 yards per rush, and is breaking a big run on 42.3 percent of his carries.
Quarterback Dalton Sturm has played nearly flawless this season, completing 64 percent of his passes, with only three interceptions, and all of his targets in the pass game have a 50 percent or higher catch rate.
Josh Stewart has been a major vertical threat the past two weeks, but proven wideouts like Kerry Thomas, and JaBryce Taylor should also be on UTEP's radar inside their zone coverages.
Sturm has eight targets who have at least eight catches or more, showing UTSA's multiple pro-set offensive scheme spreads the love to a number of capable playmakers, but the main goal is to move the chains with the run game.
For UTEP, Ryan Metz returns to the lineup after missing the FIU game with a concussion.
Hopefully Metz can inject some much-needed life and energy into UTEP's passing game as the Miners rank no higher than 98th in four major passing advance metric categories.
The Miners appear to finally be fully healthy with Alvin and Aaron Jones back to a reported 100% health wise, along with sophomore corner Kalon Beverly. They also get reinforcements along the offensive line as Jerome Daniels is back after missing time with a back issue.
Aaron Jones continues to have UTEP ranked 1st in the nation in rushing IsoPPP, and is popping the big run on 41.5 percent of his attempts.
Sean Kugler said young running backs like Quadraiz Wadley, and Kevin Dove could be added to the carry pitch count, and it's also possible Aaron Jones gets more involved in the passing game.
Alvin Jones presence will be welcoming for a defense that has seriously regressed over the last five quarters of football in both stopping the run, and allowing big plays in the passing game.
Four UTEP keys to a win
Don’t let Sturm beat you with his legs
In my mind, the one thing that makes UTSA's offense very dangerous and truly hard to stop is when Dalton Sturm is moving the chains with his legs. He is a very, very capable runner, and keeping him in a boxed pocket has to be a key for the UTEP defense.
Win the turnover battle
This is a simple key for every team that plays American Tackle Football from Pee-wee to the pros. But if UTEP wants to improve over the latter part of the season, improving the turnover margin will be a major key.
Create space for AJ
UTEP's offensive line has been a mess this year, but with a bye and a new cast of members working together for two weeks, can things finally get right for UTEP upfront?
Eliminate chunk plays, and make them earn it
Allowing big plays on the road is a death sentence. UTSA has been very explosive at home, and if UTEP allows that to happen, it could be a long night.
Three matchups were watching
Aaron Jones vs. Josiah Tauaefa
Tauaefa is a rising star, and Jones is well….Aaron Jones. This matchup should have NFL scouts looking at two future pro prospects.
UTEP offensive line vs. UTSA defensive line
Marcus Davenport who is 6'7, and 255 pounds has been disruptive the past two weeks, and UTEP's offensive line needs to show up in a big way. UTEP ranks 105th in power rush success rate, and is being stuffed on 25.5 percent of their runs. UTSA's defense rates 105th nationally, and 116th in those two categories. If UTEP struggles again offensively it's because UTSA's defensive line is eating.
Dalton Sturm vs. UTEP's secondary
Will he beat the Miners with his legs, or down field progressions that lead to big plays in the passing game? The obvious answer for us UTEP homers is neither (hell no), but Sturm's patience, accurate arm, and athletic ability will be factors that allow him to pick apart the Miners defense if allowed.
Miners keep it close with solid defense, and overall energy. But can the Miners offense put up points?
Not sure if they can, a sputtering offense helps UTSA close things out late in the game….
UTSA 27 UTEP 13