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Arizona vs. UTEP: Previewing the Wildcats and Miners by the numbers

Can Arizona bounce back after last week’s loss to Houston? We dove into the numbers to find out.

NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

This Friday, the Arizona Wildcats are traveling by plane...err...train...err... automobile to El Paso to face off against the UTEP Miners. Can the Wildcats bounce back after last week’s loss to the Houston Cougars? We dove into the numbers to find out.

4.95 / 6.04

Arizona fans are, understandably, upset about the passing game so far. Brandon Dawkins has been inaccurate, and though Khalil Tate had some success against Houston, the sample size was small and he did throw a late interception.

Compared to UTEP fans, though, we’re spoiled. The Miners are averaging 4.95 yards per passing attempt this season, while the Wildcats are averaging 6.04 yards per attempt.

Sure, Arizona played NAU in the season opener, which provided a solid buffer, while the Miners had to play the Oklahoma Sooners. But even against Rice —the seventh worst FBS team, per Football Outsiders — UTEP averaged only 6.2 yards per attempt. Against Houston, Arizona averaged 5.9. Adjusting for the fact that Houston is good and Rice is awful, I’d take the Wildcats’ passing game.

2.2 / 7.7

The running game, meanwhile, also tends to favor Arizona. UTEP is averaging 2.2 yards per carry on the season. The Wildcats are at 7.7.

Again, the same argument applies - the Miners had to play Oklahoma and the Wildcats got to play NAU. So again, let’s just look at UTEP’s game last week (against Rice) and the Arizona’s game last week (against Ed Oliver (and Houston (but mostly Ed Oliver))):

  • UTEP ran the ball 24 times last week. They gained 26 yards. That’s an average of 1.1 yards per carry. Their longest run was 15 yards. All of these are very, very bad.
  • Arizona ran the ball 39 times last week. They gained 152 yards. That’s an average of 3.9 yards per carry. Their longest run was 27 yards. They did this on a day when they “struggled” to run the ball, and they did this against the best defensive lineman in college football. This is not great, but it is significantly better than 1.1 yards per carry against a marginal Conference USA team. Oh, and they did this without Nick Wilson.

The Wildcats should run all over UTEP. The Miners gave up 306 yards on the ground to Rice last week, allowing over 6 yards per carry. J.J. Taylor, Brandon Dawkins, Khalil Tate, and (if he’s available) Nick Wilson should all be licking their chops at this opportunity. If we’re lucky, Arizona won’t have to attempt a pass in the second half this week.


It is no surprise, then, that Arizona is the heavy favorite in this game. Per S&P+, Arizona is expected to win by 17.

That does not, however, take into account the fact that UTEP starting quarterback Ryan Metz is out with a shoulder injury. Accounting for that, the spread is Arizona -23. UTEP has maybe a 10 percent chance of winning this game, even at home, even against a Wildcats squad that is still figuring out what to do on offense.

A relatively easy win over UTEP would give Arizona the opportunity to cleanse its system of last week’s disappointing loss to Houston. Starting the season 2-1 with the Wildcats’ traditionally soft out-of-conference schedule isn’t ideal, but would keep bowl-eligibility hopes alive and give the team a chance to get back on track. At this point, that’d be enough.