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Army vs. UTEP Game Preview: Improved Army invades the Sun Bowl

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NCAA Football: Rice at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Army Black Knights (2-0) @ UTEP Miners (1-1)

Series Record: First Meeting

Kickoff: 5:05 p.m. Mountain Time

TV: American Sports Network

Vegas says: Army -3.5, O/U 46.5

Highlighting UTEP's 2016 home slate is the 2-0, and improving Army Black Knights.

But talk of their 2-0 start has been on the back burner for most of the week as the Army family has dealt with the death of starting cornerback Brandon Jackson whotragically passed away in a single car accident last weekend.

Attributing to that strong start against two respectable teams has been an outstanding defensive start.

Army rolls with a 3-4 slant defensive scheme, and has been an unmovable object in both games during the fourth quarter so far this year.

Linebackers Jeremy Timpf, and Andrew King have combined for 25 tackles so far, and the Army secondary has recorded six pass break ups, and two interceptions with the other two interceptions coming from linebackers.

On offense, UTEP will face an efficient triple option attack that has picked up 41 rushing first downs, second in the nation next to Air Force who runs the same attack.

Fullback Andy Davidson is the integral part of the triple option as the dive full back and has racked up 228 yards on the ground with a five yard per carry average.

Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw has picked up 11 first downs on the ground, and another four through the air and is Army's second leading rusher behind Davidson.

Jordan Asberry is Army's most explosive slot back and has averaged 6.7 yards per carry to form a true three-headed monster spearheading their triple option attack.

When Army does throw, they look for chunk yards down the field with tall wide receiver and kick returner Edgar Poe who is averaging 19 yards on his three receptions. Army has only attempted 11 passes on the season, but four of those attempts have moved the chains with long gains for first downs.

The news on the UTEP front is not about the recent loss to Texas, but the health of key players on offense and defense.

Zack Greenlee will start at quarterback for UTEP after he was able to practice all week.

While on the defensive side UTEP's top defender is on the mend.

Alvin Jones has yet to practice this week, and could be labeled as doubtful though UTEP does not give out official injury reports or statuses.

Meanwhile the UTEP defense held their own against nationally ranked Texas, albeit for a half, but the Miners showed their toughness and ability to tackle in the open field.

UTEP received some unexpected production from freshman linebacker Jayson VanHook, and junior transfer Dante Lovilette against Texas. Both played fast, and were physical at the point of attack which is always key.

Without Jones, Silas Firstley will be moved inside, while VanHook will play outside linebacker and probably won't be in the Miners secondary for nickel or dime packages.

Outside linebacker Nick Usher also had a strong game against Texas with two sacks, and seems to be adjusting just fine at outside linebacker in the Miners 3-4 defense.

On offense, if Zack Greenlee returns, the question is which offensive game plan does UTEP throw out there?

We saw tremendous balance against NMSU, then UTEP went uber conservative against Texas in protecting the ball. Aaron Jones is Aaron Jones, and will be that every Saturday, but can the Miner offense turn a corner in the passing game against a defense that has had more dominate moments that leaky instances?

With so many emotions of an event type feel, and Army's loss of a key player, this game has toss up and possible instant classic written all over it.

Four UTEP keys to a win

Stop the run on third down

It's dumb to come out and say, "Stop the run" as a key to win this game for the Miners. Against a triple-option someone can beat a triple option team by three scores and still give up 300-plus on the ground. So it's about stopping the run in key situations. The key is to put Army in 3rd and longs if possible, which means playing in the backfield and putting them behind the 8-ball on early downs. Army went 7-of-14 on 3rd downs in their first game against Temple which wore them down in the fourth quarter.

Start fast

Army is a team UTEP does not want trail by two scores at any point of the game. Meanwhile, Army's slow, methodical style will be tough for them to catch up if UTEP can put an early dent in the scoreboard. With the way both teams run the ball, and clock it's hard to see a blowout going either way. If UTEP gets ahead early, they can play keep away. But if UTEP gets down by double digits, Army will do the same thing at a higher efficiency rate.

Keep Greenlee Standing

Army has been almost automatic when it comes to getting off the field on defense because they get good pressure on the quarterback. Through two games Army has six sacks, an area the UTEP offensive line needs to be clean in particularly in early passing downs to avoid being in 3rd and unmanageable spots. Also with Greenlee returning from injury, keeping him upright seems to be a key for the Miner offense for the rest of the season.

Blowup that fullback

Want to disrupt a triple-option? Multiple coaches have told me this week that blowing up the fullback is a major key. Now Army has a true soldier in Andy Davidson, but guys like Gino Bresolin, Sky Logan, and whoever is lined up at middle linebacker will need to take this option away and force perimeter option reads for quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw. Davidson is a key, and if the Miners blow him up, it takes away a big part of their early season success.

Five to Watch

Aaron Jones, UTEP, RB-----Army's defense vs. Aaron Jones is the main dish in this week's matchup.

Andrew King, Army, LB----He's exploded over the past two seasons with 24.5 tackles for loss, including 4.5 sacks last season. A true defensive leader, King is a havoc wreaking backer who will give UTEP problems.

Ahmad Bradshaw, Army, QB-----He's not a burner, but he gets the job done. If EA Sports made a college football video game again he would have one of the highest elusive ratings in the game. He won't run past you, but his supreme balance helps him run around you, and he always seems to do his best work on 3rd downs.

Nick Usher, UTEP, LB---Without Alvin Jones, Usher will have to produce a high amount of tackles against the triple-option, and make sure UTEP's outside contain is perfect. Usher had a nice game against Texas, and could follow that up with a solid showing this week.

Gino Bresolin, UTEP, NG-----He has one of the most important assignment in UTEP's possible plan to slow down the triple option. A seasoned veteran will be tested on almost every snap on Saturday.

Prediction

Both teams will slug it out and play hard, but I just feel Army's defense, and their ability to limit possessions is the difference.

Army 24 UTEP 22