MinerTalk: Bowl Hopes are on the Line for UTEP Against LA Tech
For the first time since 2015, UTEP is competitively relevant again in football. It's been seven years since the program made a bowl game. On Saturday, the Miners (5-1, 2-0 C-USA) have a chance to punch their bowl eligibility ticket if they get past a tough LA Tech squad (2-3, 1-0 C-USA).
Listen to the full game live on 600 ESPN El Paso with Voice of the Miners Jon Teicher, Mike Perez and Mando Medina starting at 6 p.m. MinerTalk will immediately follow the broadcast on 600 ESPN El Paso, along with Sal Montes!
UTEP has beat bad teams. So what?
There has been quite the chatter about UTEP's mediocre schedule. We all knew this going into the season. All the FBS teams UTEP's beaten thus far haven't been successful at all. But why harp on this? UTEP is winning these games and closing them out, which is something they haven't done in the last half-decade.
With all of that said, it's still hard to gauge how this game will go. As Steve Kaplowitz wrote on Thursday, LA Tech has been historically dominant against UTEP and they come into this one on an eight-game win streak in the series.
LA Tech is coming off a bye week and most recently dropped a close one to No. 22 NC State (34-27). UTEP had a 26-14 road win against Southern Miss last week.
Where can UTEP find a break in this game?
LA Tech has proved they are a stout team on both sides of the ball. They average 33.4 points per game (38th in FBS) and they average 283.4 passing yards with quarterback Austin Kendall (24th in FBS). While they struggle to stop the pass on defense, they have seven takeaways in five games.
The passing game is going to be key on both sides. If UTEP quarterback Gavin Hardison can capitalize on the weak secondary, he could have a big passing game. Though, Hardison is often turnover-prone and has six interceptions this year. If LA Tech is able to get to him, Hardison might have a tough outing. The other question is how much will UTEP actually pass the ball as a run-first offense? The Miner run game struggled before Southern Miss, where Ronald Awatt amassed 154 rushing yards.
A round of applause for the UTEP defense that is ranked 16th in the country for total defense (300.7 ypg).
Conversely, this UTEP secondary will be tested in a big way. Earlier this year, the secondary was a bit suspect, but they've caught momentum during the last three weeks. The Miner defense has six takeaways, allows only 22 points against them per game (40th in FBS). In addition, their rush defense is consistent, having only allowed 94.8 yards per game (17th in FBS).
Impact players for UTEP
- WR Jacob Cowing — 609 receiving yards (101.5 yards per game), four touchdowns. Cowing is coming off a quiet two-catch performance against Southern Miss. Yet, a quiet night for Cowing included a 55-yard rushing score. Expect him to be more involved in the passing game this week. He ranks third in C-USA for receiving yards and seventh in FBS.
- RB Ronald Awatt — 437 rushing yards (5th in C_USA). Awatt has quietly become the most reliable back for the Miners, while Deion Hankins and Quardraiz Wadley missed a few games due to injuries. He had a career-best 159 rushing yards last week at Southern Miss.
- DE Praise Amaewhule — 4.0 sacks, 8 QB hurries, 4 pass breakups & one forced fumble. Through the past three outings, Amaewhule has found his swagger. The only stat you need to know for Praise is his performance in the 21-17 loss last year to LA Tech—3.5 sacks, four pass breakups and five tackles.
- NK Dennis Barnes & FS Dy'vonne Inyang — 4 INTs between both players. The secondary has stepped up big time in recent weeks, largely thanks to Barnes and Inyang. Aside from their takeaways this year, both players are able to get tackles for losses and impact the game in both the run and passing game.
Prediction: LA Tech 27 - UTEP 24
Okay, here's the case for UTEP winning on Saturday—steady passing game, UTEP wins the turnover margin and the defense gets to QB Austin Kendall, disrupting his night.
However, this LA Tech team might be too much for the Miners. Kendall will get his numbers through the air and the Bulldog defense will be prepared against the UTEP offense. This is by far the second-best team UTEP will have faced thus far, second only to Boise State.
UTEP will still make it a bowl game. But this three-game stretch (vs. LA Tech, at FAU, vs. UTSA) is going to be really challenging for a young squad. This doesn't take away from the positive season the Miners have had thus far though.