After starting the week with coaching and administrative drama, it’s back to football for UTEP. The Miners return home with their 0-5 record to host the back-to-back C-USA Champs WKU on homecoming night in the Sun Bowl.
Western Kentucky hasn’t faced UTEP since 2014 when the Miners were a few yards away from a huge road win, but times have changed for both programs since then.
WKU has a new head coach in Mike Sanford and have started the season 2-2 so far. A new head coach hasn’t changed much in terms of recruiting prowess, but the transition has had a few hiccups compared to the offensive dominance WKU has had over the past couple of season.
WKU’s 4-2-5 defense has proven stout through two games. The Hilltopper defense has allowed just 74 points through four games, the fewest through four games since 2007. They are also allowing just 5.2 yards per play, and 3.4 yards per rush so far this season.
Linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe is the Tops’ leading tackler, and also leads the team with 3.0 tackles for loss. Last year he had 10-plus TFL’s for the season.
WKU also has legitimate size on the defense line, but have only recorded four sacks on the season.
Offensively, Mike White returns as one of C-USA’s premier quarterbacks.
White is completing 66 percent of his passes so far this season, but only has two touchdown tosses, and only one 300-yard passing game so far.
His most dangerous weapon is wide out Nacarius Fant who is averaging 9.4 yards per catch so far this season. Fant averaged 14 yards per catch last year, and has four catches of 15 yards or longer so far this season.
Marquez Trigg takes over at running back this season, and is a midfield weapon during WKU’s drives. He has averaged four yards per carry between WKU’s own 40-yard line, and their opponent’s 40-yard line.
UTEP will have Zack Greenlee start at quarterback this week as Ryan Metz nurses a shoulder injury.
Quardraiz Wadley provided some much needed rushing production last week in his second start of the season. Wadley ran for 156 yards giving the Miners some explosion and hope out of the backfield against Army.
Wadley’s return did wonders to UTEP’s rushing success rate. Bringing it to 43.8 percent on the season ranking UTEP 55th nationally.
Tyler Batson had a solid receiving day against Army, and will be a key target along with tight end David Lucero. Batson caught five passes for 80 yards last week, and Lucero hauled in his first career touchdown as a Miner.
The big question for UTEP is what the emotion and energy will be like on the sidelines after Sean Kugler’s departure, and the adjustment with Mike Price now on the sidelines calling the shots.
You won’t see much of Price’s palm print on the team this week as Price started practicing with UTEP on Wednesday, so expect the same usual game plan of ball control on the offensive side of the ball this week.
Four players to watch
Quardraiz Wadley---UTEP, RB
Wadley brings some much needed play making ability to UTEP’s offense, and appears to be very comfortable running behind UTEP’s big offensive line. The sophomore is averaged 5 yards per carry, and should see his load increase this week even after 28 carries last week.
Ruben Guerra---UTEP, Right tackle
Guerra filled in last week at right tackle, and had the highest grade among all C-USA right tackles last week according to Pro Football Focus. Guerra had a rough start last week, but finished strong and could become another strong lineman for UTEP in the future.
Mike White---WKU, QB
UTEP’s secondary is allowing a passer rating of 174.13 this season. White hasn’t had a strong statistical season like last year, but this could be a game in where White puts up video game numbers in an effort to get right.
Nacarius Fant---WKU, WR
Just like White, Fant can use this game to get the offensive explosion back for WKU. Fant will also return punts, and the Miners will have to be solid in containing the explosive 5’9 spark plug.
Vegas has UTEP as a 19-point dog this week.
There is no telling which UTEP team comes to play, and WKU wants to get their execution levels back to a high level.
If UTEP is able to run the ball, and play keep away, things could get interesting, but the Miner defense has struggled against solid passing attacks. Pass rush is key from the Miner defense, something that has been nonexistent though.
Not sure exactly how to handicap this one, but it’s just hard to say UTEP rebounds and fights for four quarters after a rough week off the field.
WKU rolls and gets right, while UTEP continues to look for answers and solutions, but this time Mike Price will be the one responsible in finding those clues for success.
WKU 49 UTEP 10