Houston Baptist at UTEP Miners (2-6, 1-4)
Series Record: First Meeting
Kickoff: 6:00 p.m. Mountain Time
Streaming: C-USA TV
Vegas says: UTEP -22.5
In a season in where nothing has been consistently right for the UTEP football team, mathematically a bowl is still possible, but can the season actually get righted in the final four games?
The first answer will be uncovered on Saturday when UTEP hosts FCS Houston Baptist.
The Huskies come in at 3-5 overall in the midst of a three game road swing, and coming off a road win at Lamar last week which marked their first-ever Southland Conference road win in program history.
Senior quarterback Tony Dawson is the straw that stirs the offensive drink for HBU.
Despite completing just 49.3 percent of his passes this season, Dawson has thrown five touchdown passes, but has also rushed for 454 yards and two scores. Dawson is an efficient scrambler who will be utilized with the read-option, and also gains most his rushing yards on scrambles.
Running back Terrance Peters is the Huskies' leading rusher averaging 5.0 yards per carry, and has two 100-yard rushing games this season. HBU will rely on their game to get the chains moving on offense.
HBU spreads the love in the passing game with seven players who have at least seven catches and 100 yards receiving on the season, but is a true run-first team.
The struggle for HBU has been on the defensive side. An undersized defense that will utilize their speed, mixed with havoc creating blitzes to off-set their size differences.
Junior linebacker Garrett Dolan spearheads the HBU defense, leading the Southland Conference and ranking fourth nationally with 12.1 tackles per game (97 total), adding two forced fumbles and two recoveries.
Senior linebacker Dorrin Turner has made 51 stops and the Huskies’ lone interception, junior linebacker Cody Moncure has made 43 and junior cornerback Derek Broussard has 40 tackles and a single-season record eight pass breakups. Freshman defensive end Andre Walker leads the team with 2.5 sacks.
UTEP will look to bounce back after a complete second half breakdown against Old Dominion in where UTEP's offense was virtually shut down once again.
UTEP's passing success rate ranks 95th in the nation, while UTEP's rushing success rate is 107th in the nation. Two marks that explain UTEP's offensive struggles.
Aaron Jones needs to just 60-yards to hit the 1,000 yard mark on the season, Jones is currently averaging 6.2 yards per rush, and is breaking a big run on 41.4 percent of his 152 total carries on the season.
Protecting Ryan Metz should be a big point of emphasis for UTEP this week. Metz has been sacked on 5.2 percent of passing attempts, but still has completed 63.3 percent of his passes this season.
UTEP's defense continues to start strong, then falters late via big plays or inept offense.
The Miners S&P+ defensive rating in the first quarter is the 55th best in the nation, but the third quarter and fourth quarter ranks are 124th and 109th.
That means UTEP is allowing efficient drives, big plays, and allowing points in the final two quarters which has been a negative formula this season.
UTEP's back seven continues to put up respectable numbers despite the struggle.
Sporting the fourth best pass deflection to forced incompletion percentage in the nation, UTEP's secondary also has a 6.4 havoc rate which ranks 67th in the nation. Dashone Smith has interceptions in consecutive games, and between Nik Needham, Kalon Beverly and Justin Rogers UTEP's corners have broken up 18 passes this season.
UTEP's linebackers have improved their havoc rate to 4.9 percent which is well above the national average thanks to play from Dante Lovilette, Nick Usher, Jayson VanHook, and of course Alvin Jones who has been steady since being at 100% health.
It’s a long road back to .500, is this UTEP team up to the challenge after a rough start in the first eight games?
Three things we want to see UTEP execute
An efficient run game
UTEP is bigger, stronger, and way more experience upfront. Therefore, running for 200-yards plus should happen against HBU. Normally we're asking the Miners to open up the pass game, but there should be no reason why UTEP isn't gaining five or six yards per rush in this one.
Spread the love on offense
Aaron Jones will get his, but it would great for guys like Quadraiz Wadley, Walter Dawn, Warren Redix, Cole Freytag, and Eddie Sinegal to also get involved. Big games with explosive plays can do wonders for confidence, and if UTEP is going to make an improbable run in the final stretch of the season. These guys will be big keys in helping UTEP put up points.
Shut down Dawson
Athletic quarterbacks have given UTEP's defense fits all season. Tony Dawson could either make this game close, or be shut down in where UTEP's defense can gain some confidence is boxing up a dual-threat quarterback. HBU might be a one-trick offensive pony with Dawson, taking him out will be a key.
Aaron Jones could flirt with 200-yards rushing, and the UTEP defense should be able to bottle up HBU's run game, and Tony Dawson.
Miners grab a comfortable win behind an impressive defensive performance, but will that confidence carry over to the final three games of the season?
UTEP 35 Houston Baptist 10