The Arizona Wildcats are set to make the 300-plus mile trip to take on the UTEP Miners this Friday.
We don’t know a whole lot about UTEP, so we asked Alex Nicolas, the managing editor of MinerRush.com, UTEP’s SB Nation site, to give us the inside scoop.
Here we go.
What are UTEP's strengths and weaknesses? How can they beat Arizona?
I have to be honest, and can’t sugarcoat this: Right now, UTEP hasn’t shown any consistent strengths, and tons of weaknesses.
UTEP has struggled finding success in the run game on the offensive side, and the defense has struggled in many areas, but stopping the run is a main glaring spot right now. UTEP hasn’t been the physical enforcing team they have been over the past couple of years, and that is another major weakness at this point.
The Miners can shock the world by creating big plays, turnovers, and flipping the field. They can also benefit from Arizona mistakes, and special teams miscues if they have any chance of making this close.
Who are some Miners that Arizona fans should know?
Offensively, quarterback Zack Greenlee will be making his first start of the season. The former Fresno State transfer is a pure pocket passer, and is a good run-check guy at the line of scrimmage.
UTEP will look for rushing production from 5’6 lightning rod running back Walter Dawn who broke off a long touchdown run against Oklahoma.
On defense, linebacker Alvin Jones and strong safety Devin Cockrell are physical run stoppers, who will both be NFL prospects next spring and both have put up positive production in 2017.
What went wrong for UTEP in their loss to Rice?
It started at the line of scrimmage, and simply put, UTEP got manhandled up front on both sides of the ball. From the first possession of the game, Rice’s defensive and offensive lines simply manhandled UTEP who was the much bigger team on paper.
That opened up Rice’s misdirection run game which averaged 6.2 yards per carry, and it attributed to eight tackles for loss by the Owl’s defense. UTEP was also battered with injuries, so everything went wrong, but it started with Rice dominating the line of scrimmage.
Rich Rodriguez called UTEP an "old, traditional team" in that they go under center, use tight ends, control the clock, etc. Is that an accurate description?
Yup, you will see UTEP roll out multiple personnel packages, and a tight end will be on the field at all times. UTEP will be in no hurry in terms of tempo.
UTEP might switch things up a bit as Zack Greenlee is not a mobile quarterback, so UTEP could use more shotgun looks in passing downs, but even when UTEP goes to the gun, they will still roll out the 12 personnel, or a similar power package.
What were expectations like for UTEP coming into this season?
Not very high.
UTEP lost their all-time leading rusher over the past three seasons to the NFL draft last spring, and another lowly ranked recruiting class gave this season zero positive expectations.
This is a young team with a lot of new pieces defensively, and new stable of running backs, so no one really knew what to expect from this team.
What is the atmosphere expected to be like on Friday?
Welp….seeing how UTEP drew just 19K and some change against Rice, doubt we’ll see a tough environment for a Friday night ESPN game.
You got high school football going on, El Paso’s AAA baseball team will host the PCL championship series Friday (which we stole from Tucson), and UTEP football is not a popular thing around the city right now, so this will not have the usual Sun Bowl atmosphere people talk and rave about.
How are UTEP fans feeling about this game?
Truth is, majority of UTEP fans are already checked out on this season even after two weeks. With so many injuries, and a rough start, most fans feel this is an easy win for the Cats, and Sean Kugler will have to beg fans to come to games the rest of the season.
I think UTEP’s effort will be a lot better than it was against Rice, but the Miners inability to slow down the read-option means big offensive output from the Cats.
UTEP’s offense has also been horrid, and it’s just hard to see that getting turned around in a short week.
Arizona 52, UTEP 14
Thanks again to Alex for answering our questions about Friday’s game. We answered MinerRush.com’s questions about Arizona, and that Q&A will be posted on their site. Be sure to check it out.