UTEP-New Mexico Game Notes
Following a bye week, UTEP (1-1) returns to action on Saturday at regional rival New Mexico (1-2) ... kickoff is set for 3:06 p.m. MST at University Stadium (38,634/natural grass) ... UTEP is playing its first game at UNM since the 2001 season opener, a 26-6 Lobo victory ... the Miners are 1-0 on the road this season and 7-4 on the road under head coach Mike Price ... New Mexico is 0-2 at home, losing to Portland State (17-6) on Sept. 2 and Missouri (27-17) last Saturday ... the Lobos have dropped their last five games at University Stadium dating back to 2005 ... UTEP, which lost its last game to Texas Tech (38-35 in overtime on Sept. 9), is 5-3 under Price when coming off a defeat ... Saturday’s game will be nationally televised on CSTV, with Tom Hart (play-by-play) and Chris Rix (color) calling the action ... CSTV has carried each of the Miners’ first three games this season.
New Mexico leads the series 41-29-3, including 25-9-1 in games played in Albuquerque ... UTEP has won three of the last four meetings between the schools, including last season’s 21-13 decision in the Sun Bowl ... the Miners’ last win in Albuquerque came on Oct. 10, 1998 by a 22-19 score ... New Mexico owns the longest winning streak in the series at 17 games from 1970-86 ... since then the Miners have gone 8-7 against the Lobos ... UTEP coach Mike Price is 1-0 versus New Mexico and the Lobos’ Rocky Long is 1-3 against the Miners.
The Last Meeting
Two defensive players scored second-half touchdowns, and UTEP shut down New Mexico after the break en route to a 21-13 victory on Sept. 24, 2005 in the Sun Bowl ... UTEP improved to 3-0 for the first time since 1987 and only the eighth time in school history ... the Miners trailed 10-7 at the half but outscored New Mexico 14-0 in the third quarter, as safety Joe Fleskoski and cornerback Nate Draughon scored on an interception and blocked punt recovery, respectively ... UTEP limited the Lobos to seven first downs and 123 yards of offense in the second half ... New Mexico finished the game with 285 yards on 68 plays and one touchdown ... Jeremy Jones collected 12 tackles and Chris Mineo had two sacks for the Miner stop troops ... Fleskoski added 10 tackles ... the defensive dominance was the story on a night when UTEP managed just 57 yards of offense in the second half ... Jordan Palmer completed 16 of 31 passes for 178 yards for the Miners, and Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. had eight catches for 91 yards ... DonTrell Moore rushed for 161 yards for the Lobos ... Kole McKamey completed 15 of 24 attempts for 136 yards for UNM, but he rushed for minus-four yards on 10 carries a week after running for 152 yards in a win over New Mexico State ... the Lobos gained 149 yards on the ground, but only 66 came in the second half ... the crowd of 50,425 was a record for a Miner-Lobo game.
The Last Meeting in Albuquerque
UTEP was held to 13 first downs, 170 total yards and -53 yards rushing in a 26-6 loss at New Mexico on Sept. 1, 2001 ... senior quarterback Wesley Phillips made his first career start for the Miners, completing 18 of 30 passes for 211 yards ... he was sacked nine times, tying a school record for the Lobos ... Jarrod Baxter rushed for a career-high 184 yards for UNM, which trailed 6-5 before reeling off 21 unanswered points.
UTEP/New Mexico Ties
Lobo cornerbacks coach Troy Reffett was a member of the Miner staff from 1990-03, serving as defensive coordinator his last two seasons. An El Paso native, Reffett played for the Miners from 1986-89 ... UTEP head coach Mike Price went 3-2 head-to-head against Bob Toledo from 1996-2002, when Price was the head coach at Washington State and Toledo was the head coach at UCLA. Toledo is now assistant head coach and offensive coordinator for the Lobos ... senior DL Justin Watson is the only New Mexico native on the Miner roster, hailing from Farmington ... conversely, the Lobo roster is dotted with 21 Texans ... UTEP TE Jamar Hunt and UNM OG Devin Clark both attended Mountain View High School in Mesa, Ariz.
UTEP leads the nation in sacks allowed (0.0) ... the Miners are ninth in passing offense (294.0 ypg), 21st in scoring offense (34.5 ppg), 38th in passing efficiency (142.58), 46th in kickoff returns (21.3 avg.), 48th in total offense (369.0 ypg) and 49th in rushing defense (106.0 ypg) ... individually, senior LB Troy Collavo is ninth in tackles (11.5 avg.), junior DB Quintin Demps is first in interceptions per game (1.5), senior WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. is first in receiving yards per game (126.0), second in receptions per game (10.0), fifth in all-purpose yardage (168.5 avg.), 32nd in scoring (9.0 ppg) and 48th in kickoff returns (21.3 ppg) ... senior QB Jordan Palmer is seventh in total offense (294.5 ypg) and 46th in passing efficiency (134.69).
UTEP leads Conference USA in sacks allowed (0.0) ... the Miners are second in passing offense (294.0 ypg), scoring offense (34.5 ppg) and rushing defense (106.0 ypg) ... UTEP is third in kickoff returns (21.3 avg.) ... individually, senior LB Troy Collavo is third in tackles (11.5 avg.) ... junior DB Quintin Demps is first in interceptions per game (1.5) ... senior WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. is first in receptions per game (10.0), receiving yards per game (126.0), all-purpose yardage (168.5 ypg) and scoring (9.0 ppg) ... senior QB Jordan Palmer is the league leader in total offense (294.5 ypg).
Two Games, Two Players of the Week
UTEP has had a player honored by the Conference USA office in each of its first two games this season ... junior FS Quintin Demps was tabbed the league Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 5 after recording two interceptions for 37 yards -- both leading to touchdowns -- in the season opener at San Diego State ... senior WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. was appointed the league Offensive Player of the Week on Sept. 11 after totaling 13 catches for 162 yards -- both career highs -- versus Texas Tech ... the 13 receptions marked the second-best total in school history and the most since Chuck Hughes had a record 17 catches against Arizona State in 1965.
Alex Trlica nailed a 49-yard field goal in overtime, sending 24th-ranked Texas Tech to a 38-35 win over UTEP before a capacity crowd of 51,827 on Sept. 9 in the Sun Bowl ... Trlica missed two field goals in the fourth quarter -- from 34 and 51 yards -- but came through in the extra session as the Red Raiders snapped UTEP’s six-game regular season non-conference winning streak ... Graham Harrell completed 40 of 52 passes for 376 yards and two touchdowns for Texas Tech, which was playing its first game versus UTEP in El Paso since 1963 -- the year the Sun Bowl opened ... Jordan Palmer completed 34 of 51 attempts for 334 yards and three scores for the Miners ... UTEP faced third and two at the Texas Tech six-yard line in the overtime session, but Palmer’s pass -- to an apparently open Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. -- was tipped by 6-8 Red Raider defensive end Jake Ratliff and intercepted by free safety Darcel McBath ... five plays later, Trlica gave the Red Raiders the lead for good, breaking a 35-35 tie ... Joel Filani led Texas Tech with 10 catches for 169 yards ... both teams combined for 974 yards, including 751 passing ... Texas Tech took its biggest lead of the game at 24-12 on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Harrell to Robert Johnson with 11:25 remaining in the third quarter, but the Miners responded with 16 unanswered points to take their largest advantage of the game, 28-24, on a 36-yard field goal by Reagan Schneider early in the fourth quarter ... the Red Raiders pulled within 28-27 on a 26-yard field goal by Trlica, then went ahead 35-28 on a nine-yard scoring run by Shannon Woods and ensuing two-point conversion ... Palmer found Higgins for a 39-yard touchdown with 1:04 to go in regulation, knotting the contest at 35.
Postgame Notes vs. Texas Tech
UTEP dropped to 15-3 when scoring 30 points or more under coach Mike Price. It also snapped a streak of eight straight wins for the Miners when reaching the 30-point barometer ... it was UTEP’s first loss in five home non-conference games under Price ... the crowd of 51,827 was the largest for a Miner home opener, and the fourth-largest turnout for a home game in school history ... UTEP had two quarterbacks (Jordan Palmer, Lorne Sam) throw touchdown passes in a game for the first time since Sept. 7, 2002 at Kentucky, when Orlando Cruz and Jon Schaper achieved the feat ... it was UTEP’s second straight home loss following a school-record string of nine consecutive victories in the Sun Bowl spanning two seasons (2004-05) ... it was UTEP’s first loss in seven games all-time when playing before 50,000+ fans in the Sun Bowl.
UTEP on the Road
The Miners are 7-4 on the road under coach Mike Price after posting a 1-18 road mark from 2001-03 ... UTEP was 3-2 on the road in each of the last two seasons, and is 1-0 away from home in 2006 with a 34-27 triumph at San Diego State on Aug. 31 ... the Miners have posted winning road records in three consecutive seasons just once in school history, from 1930-32 (3-1 in 1930, 1-0 in 1931, 3-1 in 1932) ... in fact, UTEP has had a winning road mark on only 17 occasions in 88 previous years of football ... if the Miners prevail at New Mexico on Saturday, they will open a season 2-0 away from home for the first time since 1987, when they won at Colorado State and San Diego State to kick off their road slate ... since 1950, UTEP has won its first two road games just twice -- in 1955 (won first three) and 1987.
UTEP vs. the State of New Mexico
After taking on New Mexico Saturday, the Miners will host Interstate 10 rival New Mexico State next week ... UTEP is facing the Lobos and Aggies back-to-back for the 10th time in school history ... this also happened in 1920, 1928, 1952, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1976, 1984 and 1988 ... the last five times UTEP has faced UNM and NMSU back-to-back has resulted in sweeps either by the Miners (three times) or their opponents (twice) ... UTEP swept both UNM and NMSU last season ... the Miners haven’t swept both schools in consecutive years since a three-year run from 1987-89.
Miners and Byes
UTEP is 4-0 under Mike Price when coming off bye weeks ... the Miners beat New Mexico State (45-0) and Rice (35-28 in 2OT) in 2004, and Houston (44-41 in 2OT) and Tulane (45-21) last season ... the last time UTEP faced New Mexico when coming off a bye week was in 1984, a 34-7 Lobo victory ... obscure note of the week: UTEP is 2-3-2 all-time versus UNM when having two weeks to prepare for the game (tied in 1927 and 1947; won in 1936 and 1969; lost in 1971, 1977 and 1984).
Jones Breaks Leg, Out For Season
Senior linebacker Jeremy Jones broke his right leg in practice on Sept. 16 and will miss the remainder of the season ... Jones led the Miners with 130 tackles in 2005, and had a team-leading 24 stops in the first two games this year ... he is on watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Butkus Award ... in 39 career games for UTEP Jones has been credited with 202 tackles, including 19.5 for losses ... Jones had surgery on Sept. 17 ... he is expected to receive a medical hardship and return to the Miners as a fifth-year senior for the 2007 season.
UTEP hasn’t allowed a sack in its first two games this season ... the Miners have run 126 total offensive plays during that stretch ... the last time UTEP had two games in a season without allowing a sack was in 2000 (three times -- at Oklahoma, versus Hawaii, at San Jose State) ... the last time UTEP had consecutive games without surrendering a sack was the final two contests of the 1995 season (against New Mexico and Wyoming in the Sun Bowl) ... Utah, which has played three games, is the only other school in the nation to not allow a sack early in the 2006 season.
Offense Explosive Early On
UTEP has scored over 30 points in each of its first two games to open the 2006 season ... the Miners tallied 34 points at San Diego State and 35 against Texas Tech ... last year UTEP scored a total of 78 points in its first two games (34 at NMSU, 44 versus Houston) ... UTEP has scored 30+ points in its first three games of the season just once in school history (first four games of 1987) ... the Miners have put up 30+ points 18 times in 26 games under coach Mike Price ... Price ranks fifth among all UTEP coaches with 18 games scoring 30+ points behind Bobby Dobbs (25), Mike Brumbelow (21), Mack Saxon (19) and Bob Stull (19) ... UTEP has scored 30 points or more in seven road games under Price’s direction.
First Quarter Has Been Quiet
The Miners have yet to score in the first quarter this season ... the good news is, opponents have scored just three points in the opening period ... UTEP has allowed one touchdown in the first quarter in its last six games dating back to 2005 (to Toledo in the GMAC Bowl) ... UTEP has been blanked in the first quarter just five times in 26 games under Mike Price ... the last time the Miners went two games in a row without scoring in the opening period was the first three games of the 2003 season (at Arizona, versus Cal Poly, versus San Diego State).
Ours To Keep
UTEP has not lost a fumble since late in the third quarter at SMU last season ... since then the Miners have played three games without losing a fumble , running 217 total offensive plays over 14 periods (13 quarters/one overtime session) ... junior RB Marcus Thomas has had 75 touches since his last fumble (59 rushes, 16 receptions) ... UTEP last had three consecutive games without a fumble in 1999 (at Kansas State, New Mexico State, at Hawaii) ... UTEP closed out the 1997 season with seven consecutive games without losing a fumble ... through the games of Sept. 16, only 10 teams hadn’t lost a fumble this season -- UTEP, Air Force, Georgia Tech, Minnesota, Northern Illinois, TCU, Tulsa, UNLV, USC and Virginia.
Higgins’ Big Night
Senior WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. established personal bests for catches (13) and yardage (162), while scoring two touchdowns against Texas Tech ... the 13 catches marked the second-best game total in school history, and the most by a Miner player since Chuck Hughes had a record 17 receptions against Arizona State in 1965 ... Higgins had his fourth career multi-touchdown performance versus the Red Raiders and now has 22 career receptions for scores, second in school annals and just six behind the record-holder Lee Mays (28, 1998-2001) ... his sixth career 100-yard game tied Higgins with Volley Murphy (1967-68) and J.J. Rowlett (1991-94) for sixth place on the career chart ... Higgins is chasing Bob Wallace, who had eight 100-yard receiving games from 1965-67 ... Higgins also rates tied for sixth in school history in catches (128), sixth in receiving yardage (2,151), ninth in all-purpose yards (3,209) and ninth in kickoff return yards (843) ... if he keeps up his current pace, Higgins would have 130 catches for 1,638 yards over 13 games in 2006 ... both would be school records, as Hughes established the current standards with 80 receptions for 1,519 yards in 1965.
More on Higgins
Senior WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. ranks fifth among active NCAA I-A players with 22 career touchdown catches behind USC’s Dwayne Jarrett (31), Texas Tech’s Jarrett Hicks (28), Washington State’s Jason Hill (27) and Eastern Michigan’s Eric Deslauriers (24) ... Higgins also ranks 10th with 2,151 receiving yards, 13th with 3,209 all-purpose yards, 14th with 128 catches and 19th with 843 kickoff return yards ... Higgins’ 13 receptions versus Texas Tech are tied for third-most by an NCAA I-A player this season ... Texas Tech’s Robert Johnson had 15 catches against SMU (Sept. 2), and Michigan State’s Matt Trannon caught 14 balls versus Eastern Michigan (Sept. 9).
(Another) 300 Yards For Palmer
Senior QB Jordan Palmer continued to pad his school-record career offensive numbers against Texas Tech ... he completed 34 of 51 pass attempts for 334 yards and three touchdowns ... it marked the fourth time in UTEP’s last 13 games that Palmer has thrown 50 or more passes ... the Miners, however, are 1-3 in Palmer’s career when he has 50 or more pass attempts, beating Houston and losing to Memphis and UAB last season ... since the start of the 2004 season, UTEP is 2-7 when Palmer throws 40 passes or more, and 15-2 when he has less than 40 passing attempts ... Palmer’s 34 completions versus the Red Raiders eclipsed his previous personal best of 33, established against UAB a year ago ... he now has completed 623 of 1,078 passes in his career for 8,036 yards and 68 touchdowns -- all school records ... Palmer is also UTEP’s all-time leader for 300-yard passing games (11), total offense (8,121 yards) and touchdowns responsible for (74) ... UTEP dropped to 11-2 in Palmer’s career when he throws for three or more touchdowns with the loss to Texas Tech ... he has had at least three TD passes in seven of his last 10 collegiate outings ... Palmer has thrown for a touchdown in UTEP’s last 22 games.
More on Palmer
Senior QB Jordan Palmer is second among active NCAA I-A players with 68 career touchdown passes, seven behind Florida’s Chris Leak (75) ... Palmer is also third in touchdowns responsible for (74), fourth in total offense (8,121 yards) and fifth in passing yardage (8,036).
UTEP’s own version of “Slash” -- junior quarterback/wideout Lorne Sam -- has a sparkling passing efficiency rating of 774.40 through two games ... that’s because the Florida State transfer completed his lone pass attempt of the season -- and of his collegiate career, for that matter -- versus Texas Tech ... Sam hit junior Joe West for a 41-yard touchdown in the second quarter against the Red Raiders ... Sam also rushed for a nine-yard score later in the game ... he has averaged 9.2 yards every time he has touched the ball (three rushes for 18 yards, two catches for 28 yards) ... Sam played quarterback at Buford (Ga.) High School, where he was a teammate of Notre Dame RB Darius Walker ... Sam was used exclusively at wide receiver for Florida State from 2003-04, catching 10 balls for 173 yards (17.3 avg.).
UTEP has forced four turnovers this season (three interceptions/one fumble), converting all four into scores (three touchdowns/one field goal) ... in the season opener at San Diego State, the Miners scored 20 points off three Aztec miscues with a missed PAT ... UTEP is averaging 11.5 points off turnovers per game this year ... last year, the Miners averaged 6.3 points off turnovers per contest ... UTEP’s turnover margin was -10 in 2005 (34 giveaways/24 takeaways) ... this year the Miners’ turnover margin is -2 (six giveaways/four takeaways) ... quarterback Jordan Palmer has thrown six picks this year, but only two have resulted in points for the opposition (two touchdowns by San Diego State in the opener) ... so opponents have scored 33 percent of the time that Palmer has thrown an interception ... last year opponents scored 47 percent of the time that Palmer threw a pick (eight TDs/one FG on 19 interceptions).
Ground Game Gradually Improving
The Miners had only 38 yards rushing on 20 carries (1.9 avg.) in the season opener at San Diego State, but followed that up with 120 yards on the ground on 26 attempts (4.6 avg.) versus Texas Tech ... the latter number, however, is a bit skewed since quarterbacks Jordan Palmer and Lorne Sam teamed for 54 yards on four carries against the Red Raiders, including a career-long tying 42-yard scamper by Palmer in the third quarter ... UTEP running backs Marcus Thomas and Jason Williams have combined to run for 90 yards on 39 carries this season (2.3 avg.) ... Williams, a true freshman from Tyler, Texas, had the first rushing attempts of his collegiate career against Texas Tech ... UTEP is 11-3 under Mike Price when rushing for over 100 yards ... the Miners’ run blocking continues to be a work in progress due to an inexperienced offensive line that has a freshman (Cameron Raschke) and two sophomores (Robby Felix, Tyler Ribitzki) starting.
UTEP dropped to 2-1 in overtime under coach Mike Price with the 38-35 loss to Texas Tech ... the Miners beat Rice in double overtime in 2004 (35-28), and Houston in double overtime in 2005 (44-41), both in the Sun Bowl ... UTEP is now 2-2 all-time in extras ... the Miners fell in overtime at Fresno State, 24-23, in 1999.
UTEP had no penalties in the season opener at San Diego State, marking the first time that happened since Sept. 15, 1990 at Tennessee ... since 1965, UTEP has had no penalties in a game four times, but never in a season opener ... the Miners had eight penalties totaling 84 yards versus Texas Tech ... UTEP was whistled for 74 penalties in 2004 (47th in NCAA I-A) and 84 in 2005 (68th in NCAA I-A) ... the Miners are tied for 12th in the NCAA in penalties this fall, and rate second in C-USA behind Memphis (2.33 average in three games).
Freshmen Break In
Twelve freshmen have seen action for UTEP early this season ... true freshmen who have hit the field include DB Cornelius Brown, LB Aaron Sims, DB Melvin Stephenson II and RB Jason Williams ... redshirt freshmen who have played include OL Mike Aguayo, DB Braxton Amy, DB Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith, LB Landon Goodwell, DL Chris Moore, OL Cameron Raschke, DL Steve Riddick and LB Brian Wilkins ... Raschke has started both games at left guard ... when Raschke started the opener at San Diego State, it marked the eighth year in a row that UTEP has had at least one freshman in the starting lineup for week one.
Three Picks in Two Games For Demps
Junior DB Quintin Demps had two interceptions in the season opener at San Diego State, both leading to touchdowns ... he is one of 21 players in NCAA I-A to have two picks in a game this season, and the only one in C-USA ... Demps recorded his third interception of the season -- and the eighth of his career -- against Texas Tech ... Demps is tied for 13th among active NCAA I-A players with the eight picks ... the national leader is Duke’s John Talley (12 interceptions) ... Demps is one of eight I-A players with three or more interceptions this season ... South Florida’s Trae Williams and Baylor’s C.J. Wilson both have four picks in three games ... Demps has had a knack for making big plays since arriving at UTEP ... his interception of Houston QB Kevin Kolb in the second overtime clinched UTEP’s 44-41 win over the Cougars last season ... in 2004, Demps forced a fumble in the second overtime versus Rice, securing the Miners’ 35-28 victory over the Owls.
State of the Program
UTEP is coming off back-to-back eight-win seasons and consecutive bowl games for the first time in 50 years ... UTEP has never played in three straight bowls since the inception of the program in 1914 ... the Miners are 17-9 since 2004 under head coach Mike Price ... prior to Price’s arrival, UTEP went 6-30 from 2001-03 with three straight two-win seasons ... last year UTEP set a school record by averaging 47,899 fans in the 51,500-seat Sun Bowl stadium ... the Miners drew an overflow audience of 51,827 for their 2006 home opener versus Texas Tech.
Keep an Eye on Em
Several UTEP players are on watch lists for national postseason awards ... LB Troy Collavo is a candidate for the Butkus Award (best linebacker) ... OL Robby Felix is a candidate for the Dave Rimington Trophy (most outstanding center) ... WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. is a candidate for the Biletnikoff Award (top wide receiver) ... DL Alex Obomese is a candidate for the Ted Hendricks Award (top defensive end) and the Rotary Lombardi Award (top lineman) ... QB Jordan Palmer is a candidate for the Manning Award (quarterback/awarded at the conclusion of the bowl season) and the Maxwell Award (national player of the year) ... K Reagan Schneider is a candidate for the Lou Groza Award (top place-kicker) ... RB Marcus Thomas has been nominated for the Doak Walker Award (top running back).
UTEP is tied for 14th in the country in punt return defense (2.3 yards per return), and tied for 36th in kickoff return defense (18.0 yards per return) ... Saturday marks the boss’ birthday, and we’re not talking about Mike Price -- we’re talking about The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, who turns 57 ... coach Price’s favorite Springsteen song is “Born in the USA,” while Jordan Palmer prefers “Secret Garden” ... UTEP was picked second in Conference USA’s Western Division in a vote by league head coaches with 60 points, right behind Tulsa (61 points) ... two former Miners will be inducted into the UTEP Athletic Hall of Fame on Oct. 6. WR Chuck Hughes (1964-66) ranks second in school history for receiving yardage (2,882) and touchdowns (19), and Owen Price was a triple threat (rushing, passing, punting) from 1938-41.