UTEP Miners (2-5, 1-3) @ Old Dominion Monarchs (4-3, 2-1)
Series Record: Tied 1-1
Kickoff: 6:00 p.m. Mountain Time
Streaming: C-USA TV
Vegas says: Old Dominion -4.5, O/U 55.5
With one team coming off an emotional 5 OT win, and the other coming off their worst loss of the season, it's hard to gauge who has the on-paper edge when UTEP and Old Dominion hook up on Saturday.
But for UTEP, momentum and some offensive confidence are things that should be present Saturday.
A fully healthy Ryan Metz threw for three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime against UTSA. UTEP's passing success rate still ranks 100th in the nation, but Metz is completing 66.2 percent of his passes, and is averaging 6.3 yards per attempt.
The best stat line for Mr. Metz, only one interception so far this season.
The one pass catcher who has greatly benefited from Metz's return is senior tight end Hayden Plinke.
Plinke has registered 14 catches for 150 yards in the two games Metz has started. Plinke owns a 60.7 percent catch rate, is averaging 6.7 yards per target this season.
Cole Freytag is quietly UTEP's leading receiver in terms of yards, and averages a team high 17.3 yards per catch. Eddie Sinegal is also improving weekly, and has a 62.1 percent catch rate on the season.
UTEP's ability to open up the pass game with the tight ends, opened up the run game with Aaron Jones last week.
Jones carried 21 times for 113 yards and a touchdown, but was able to roam free out of the backfield in the passing game aided by the Miners efficient use of crossing routes with the tight ends.
Agent #29 had four catches for 56 yards, including two touchdown catches on wheel routes in where the Miners forced the perfect matchup for Jones to exploit.
UTEP's offensive line also played one of their better games of the season with the health of starting tackles Jerome Daniels and John De La Rosa back to 100%.
Defensively, the UTEP defense was on the field for 97 plays but held UTSA to just 5.1 yards per play. The negative: they also allowed 11 scoring opportunities on the Roadrunners 16 total drives.
The Miner defense shut down UTSA's run game in the fourth quarter, after being torched on the ground in the first three quarters.
But guys like Devin Cockrell, Dante Lovilette, Alvin Jones, Jayson VanHook and Nik Needham continue their strong seasons in terms of production. And UTEP also tackled very well in the open field, thwarting those scoring chances UTSA's created.
Old Dominion's offense will be an extreme challenge for the Miners D to contain.
Running backs Jeremy Cox and Ray Lawry form a two-headed monster at running back, and have ODU ranked 10th in the nation in Rushing IsoPPP which measures explosive rushes.
Throw in quarterback David Washington who has also helped that rushing fact. The converted wide receiver is averaging 6.3 yards per carry (excluding sacks), and is breaking a big run on 54.5 percent of his non-sack rushing attempts.
Through the air, Washington is has only been sacked eight times in 200 pass attempts, and is completing 57 percent of his passes.
Zach Pascal is the Monarchs highest targeted wideout with 59 targets leading to 37 catches for 518 yards and five touchdowns. His 62.7 percent catch rate is best on the team along with a 50.8 percent success rate helps the Monarchs sport a 39.3 percent passing successes rate this season.
Travis Fulgham, and Jonathon Durhart are two other passing game targets UTEP has to key on, all three of ODU's main targets in the pass game are 6'2 or taller and average 14 yards or more per catch.
One of the more intriguing stat lines ODU has put up is their turnover margin which is one of the best in all of college football.
ODU's turnover luck has been so damn good, ODU is averaging 1.84 points off turnovers this season, and sports a +9 turnover margin on the season which ranks 5th in the nation.
Six different defenders have picked off passes on the defensive side, and the Monarchs defensive line owns an impressive 6.7 percent havoc rate which is the 30th best rate in the country among defensive lines.
TJ Ricks and Anthony Wilson have formed a tough-to-crack linebacker combo with both accounting for almost 20 percent of the Monarchs' total tackles. Wilson has added four sacks, while Ricks has four pass break ups.
In the secondary, safety Justice Davila has seven PBU's and is third on the team behind Ricks and Wilson in tackles. ODU has been very good in passing down situations in the back end, only allowing a mere 25.2 success rate when teams are forced to pass.
This game is important for both teams in terms of how they recover from last week's results.
Can UTEP turn the corner and make things interesting down the stretch of the season, or does ODU bounce back to the winning side?
Four UTEP keys for a win
Easier said than done against an ODU team who is very protective of the football. I feel UTEP has to force a minimum of two turnovers in this game which will help field position for the offense, and hopefully points off those forced mistakes.
Let Metz do his thing on early downs
UTEP can legitimately have two major offensive weapons if Ryan Metz is allowed to open things up in the pass game, but it needs to be done on early downs. Metz was known for taking chances which led to interceptions, but his mental growth is evident in his two starts, and his confidence is sky high. #LetMetzBall
Keep David Washington in a box
UTEP has struggled against athletic quarterbacks who can escape the pocket. Washington might be the most versatile and explosive quarterback UTEP has faced so far. UTEP will be challenged to not only get pressure on him, but to also keep in a box in where it limits his long stride into getting going down field. UTEP needs to dedicate a spy on certain downs to contain him, particularly on third and longs in where UTEP has struggled to keep contain on quarterbacks who can move.
Keep finding creative ways to get Walter Dawn and Aaron Jones the ball
Jones and Dawn had a field day against UTSA, and really should be able to do that against every one UTEP lines up against. Would love to see Dawn be more involved in the pass game out of the slot, and would love to see Jones moved around more to open up Dawn and others. These two are the Miners proven home run hitters, each need their touches, but being creative puts points on the board like they did last week.
Three matchups to watch
UTEP's offensive line vs. ODU front seven
Hayden Plinke vs. ODU's linebackers and safeties
Nik Needham vs Zach Pascal
UTEP will come out with loads of energy, and could even hold an early lead.
But is the Miners offense a threat? Hard to tell after just one game of success, but this game could come down to turnovers.
Given ODU's success there, the Monarchs will cash in on any UTEP miscue in the turnover department.
UTEP fights and gives themselves chances, but ODU bounces back late in the game.
ODU 28 UTEP 17