By UTEP Zay 

UTEP has reeled off two straight wins, including their first conference win of the season after beating Charlotte 41-35. The Miners, after starting a dreadful 1-3, now have a chance to win three straight games and improve to 4-3. The team that stands in the way of that is the 1-3 LA Tech Bulldogs. The Miners, who haven’t beaten the Bulldogs in Ruston since 2004, will have their hands full with another high-powered offense.

What do the Miners have to do to beat the Bulldogs and improve to 4-3?

Stop the chunk plays

The Miner defense had a big test last week against Charlotte, where they had to face one of the best offenses in Conference USA. The 49er's offense revolved around passing the ball, and it was a tough task for the young and inexperienced Miner secondary. The Miners gave up 3 receptions that went for over 35 yards last week. Unfortunately for the Miners, the Bulldogs have a high-powered offense that revolves around the deep pass. Their offense averages over 13 yards per completed pass. Their leading receiver, TE Griffin Herbert has put up over 300 yards and averages 23 yards per reception. They have deep threats all around that offense, and all five of their leading receivers have caught a pass over 35 yards this season. That’s why the Miners will need to stop the deep pass. They are already susceptible to giving up large plays as we saw last week, so if the Miners want to win, they will need to stop the deep pass and limit the chunk plays that LA Tech’s offense revolves around. If they don’t, it’ll be a long Saturday for the Miner defense.

Continue to run the ball

Last week against Charlotte, the Miners ran the ball 45 times for 252 yards. This helped open the passing game, as QB Gavin Hardison went 10/14 for 173 yards and 3 TDs. The Miners will once again face a sub-par rushing defense. LA Tech is giving up over 230 rushing yards per game. With both UTEP RBs getting it going, I expect UTEP to continue to run the ball. The Bulldogs are giving up over 6.3 yards per carry, and to put that into perspective, Charlotte was giving up 5.6 yards per carry. The Bulldogs have a big problem on defense, and the Miners will need to exploit that weakness and continue to run the ball. With the way UTEP is running the ball lately, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another 200+ yard rushing game from the Miners.

Protect the ball

The bright spot for the LA Tech defense is that they force a lot of turnovers. The Bulldogs have forced 7 turnovers through 4 games this season. For the Miners, you want to keep the defense off the field as much as possible in this one, so turning over the ball could hurt the Miners. If we’ve learned something these past couple of years, it’s that the Miners turn the ball over when they force the ball downfield. We’ve all seen what happens when UTEP become a one-dimensional offense (7 turnovers against UNM), so if the Miners want to win this one, they’ll need to avoid forcing the ball downfield and stick to what has worked, efficient runs and quick passes. You don’t see a lot of turnovers when UTEP does that. Their only turnover these past two weeks came from a Ronald Awatt fumble early in the 3rd quarter against Charlotte. As long as UTEP sticks to what has worked, you really won’t have to worry about turnovers.

Force Turnovers

The Miner defense had themselves a game against Charlotte last week. They forced two fumbles, both of which were returned for touchdowns, and had a game-winning interception late in the game. The Miners capitalized on Charlotte passing the ball a lot and forced three game-changing turnovers. They’ll have an opportunity to do that again, as in only four games this season, LA Tech has turned the ball over 13 times. The defense will need to help themselves out in this one and stay off the field as much as possible, so forcing turnovers will be key in this one. Playmakers like Tyrice Knight, Jadrian Taylor, Illijah Johnson, and Cal Wallerstedt have a chance to disrupt the Bulldog's offense and force turnovers. It’ll be a long Saturday if UTEP can’t capitalize on this excellent opportunity to not only get the ball for their offense but to also get off the field

Put together long drives/keep the defense off the field

One of the bigger reasons Charlotte almost came back on the Miners last week was because of how long UTEP’s defense was on the field, especially in the second half. Even though the Miners led the game in T.O.P., it felt like UTEP just couldn’t get a lengthy drive going in the second half. 4/6 of UTEP’s drives in the second half ended in under 4 plays. It was just a rough offensive showing in the second half, considering Charlotte has one of the worst defenses in college football. These quick drives kept the Miner defense on the field and you could tell, especially in the latter parts of the game, that the defense was just gassed. This just can’t happen against LA Tech, as the Bulldogs will capitalize on a tired UTEP defense. If you remember, the Bulldogs are fresh off their bye week and have played 4 games compared to UTEP playing in their 7th straight game. Fatigue will be an issue if UTEP can’t get off the field. This perhaps is the biggest key for the Miners this week.

The Bottom Line

If the Miners want to prove that they are a real team, they will need to go into Ruston and beat the LA Tech for the first time since 2004. The Bulldogs are favored by 3 points in this one, but if we have learned anything from this Miner team these past few weeks, it's that the Miners love being the underdog. Will we see a 4-3 UTEP after this one, or will the Miners fall back below .500 going into their bye week? Guess we’ll find out this Saturday.

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