Injuries at quarterback, disappointment, and a losing records both stare UTEP and Middle Tennessee in the face heading into Saturday’s tilt.
Except for Middle Tennessee, there is still small hopes for a bowl berth in 2017 coming into Saturday’s matchup with a 3-5 overall record.
2017 was supposed to a year in where Middle Tennessee put up eye popping offensive numbers, and competed for a C-USA title, but injury to stud quarterback Brent Stockstill has derailed those plans.
Stockstill, who threw for over 7,000 combined yards the past two seasons has only played in two games this year, and his back up John Urza was forced to end his football career due to a major concussion.
So in steps freshman Kyle Banks who has only attempted 11 passes this season.
Middle Tennessee will also be without All-American and future NFL star Richie James who was also shut down earlier this week with a season ending injury.
The Blue Raiders have lost back-to-back games starting with a heartbreaker to UAB, and then Marshall held them to just 10 points two weeks ago as Middle comes off a bye last week.
5’8 freshman running back Brad Anderson will be a key player UTEP will have to slow down. He’s averaged 5.6 yards per carry, and makes big plays on 48.6 percent of carries.
Ty Lee is a 5’9 wide out who has the most targets, and is averaging 12.4 yards per reception this season, leading the Blue Raiders in receiving yards.
Another offensive player to keep an eye on for MTSU is Shane Tucker who is an experienced senior and has played mainly running back but has seen extensive time as a wide receiver this season.
UTEP will counter with another apparent quarterback change as Ryan Metz appears to be the starter this week according to the El Paso Times.
Quardraiz Wadley might also return, but UTEP’s backfield starters remain a game time mystery.
UTEP was able to put a couple of much needed scoring drives against UTSA, but the Miners second half struggles continue for another week under Brian Natkin.
UTEP’s offense is ranked 126th in the third quarter, and 130th in the fourth quarter when it comes to S&P+ which measure the Miners ability to be efficient, explosive on offense along with finishing drives which has been a major issue.
Alvin Jones continues his strong senior season, while safety Devin Cockrell will be a question mark with an injury.
Justin Rogers recorded an interception last week as UTEP’s secondary now ranks 27th nationally in pass deflections to incomplete passes forced. A number this unit has greatly improved since a terrible start to the season.
UTEP’s starting corners Kalon Beverly and Nik Needham have 13 combined pass breakups between them, and will face the first true air raid offense of the season.
Both teams have had disappointing seasons, but winning cures all in this possible toss up matchup.
Three keys for a UTEP win
Run game needs to show up
UTEP’s run game has been non-existent pretty much all season, but some life was shown last week. Josh Fields and Kevin Dove were semi-productive against UTSA. UTEP needs an efficient run game with a few explosive runs to help keep the chains moving.
Get pressure on Banks
As good as offensive coordinator Tony Franklin is, the inexperience at quarterback could hurt MTSU in certain situations. UTEP will need to hit home on their zone-fire blitzes, and force Banks to make quick, and hopefully fatal decisions in terms of turnovers.
Let Metz ball
Natkin actually opened up the passing game against UTSA, but Zack Greenlee had a terrible game. This could be a major bounce back game for Metz against a wounded team. Let Metz ball, UTEP really doesn’t have any other proven offensive options who are producing, and Metz can give UTEP a shot to put up points with his arm and legs.
It’s hard to predict a UTEP upset despite what MTSU is going through, but the Miners should keep things close for a bit.
If MTSU finds something in Kyle Banks, the Blue Raiders should roll, but if the Miners force Banks to make some mistakes this could get interesting.
Hard to see UTEP’s offense turn a corner, but can Metz be the cure?
Middle Tennessee 35 UTEP 14
S&P Projected final score: Middle Tennessee 32.4 UTEP 17.7