The Arizona Wildcats will hit the road this weekend for the first time this season to play under the Friday night lights in El Paso, Texas against the UTEP Miners at 7:15 p.m. MST.
UA is coming off a hard-fought loss to Houston and looks to get back on track, and here’s what you can expect from UTEP.
A look at UTEP
2017 Record – 0-2 (0-1 Conference USA)
2017 Results - Week 1 loss at Oklahoma (56-7), Week 2 loss vs. Rice (31-14)
Key Offensive Players – Ryan Metz (QB), Will Hernandez (OL), Kavika Johnson (WR), Terry Juniel (WR), Walter Dawn Jr. (RB)
Key Defensive Players – Dante Lovilotte (LB), Alvin Jones (LB), Julian Jackson (LB), Devin Cockrell (SS)
Wildcats’ coach Rich Rodriguez needed to find a wide receivers coach in the offseason after the departure of Tony Dews, and he selected Theron Aych from UTEP to fill that void. Aych’s time with the Miners last season will provide value for UA this week as they prepare for Friday’s showdown.
UTEP has had a rough start to the 2017 season. They opened the year on the road against Oklahoma where they lost 56-7. It’s clear this wasn’t much of game for most of that afternoon but the Miners did put together an impressive eight-play, 78-yard drive to answer an OU touchdown in the first quarter. This would end up being the only points UTEP scored that afternoon, though.
UTEP then lost to Rice at home this past weekend, 31-14. The Owls ran for 306 yards and three touchdowns on 6.2 yards per carry. And, similar to Arizona’s offense, only needed to throw for 131 yards in their win.
UTEP quarterback Ryan Metz is in his fourth season with the program. He is coming off a 2016 campaign in which he started seven of 12 games, recorded a 3.5:1 touchdown-to-Interception ratio and finished with a 64.7 completion percentage which was good for third best in Conference USA.
Metz has lost his top four receivers from last season, one of which was UTEP’s stud running back Aaron Jones. This leaves the door open for players like Kavika Johnson, Terry Juniel and Walter Dawn Jr. to step in and capitalize on the opportunity.
So far, Metz is 28-51 for 259 yards and a touchdown. But he left Saturday’s game vs. Rice with an apparent shoulder injury and his status for Friday’s game vs. Arizona is unknown.
As for the defensive side of the ball, the strength appears to be within the linebacking corp as seniors Dante Lovilotte, Alvin Jones and Julian Jackson are the heart and soul. They also have a standout strong safety in Devin Cockrell who is likely to see a fair amount of time in the box defending UA’s run heavy offense.
The Miners shouldn’t be taken lightly but if the Wildcats’ defense can play like it did against Houston, they shouldn’t struggle picking up the road win. This will serve as a good opportunity for RichRod to tweak some things on both sides of the ball before entering conference play next weekend.