UTEP Hits the Road This Week
Off to a 3-0 start for the first time in 18 years, the UTEP football team will face its longest road trip of the year this weekend when the Miners travel 1,100 miles to Memphis, Tenn.
UTEP and Memphis will square off on Saturday at 6 p.m. MST in the 62,380-seat Liberty Bowl. The game will be nationally televised on CSTV.
The Tigers are 1-2 this season, but UTEP coach Mike Price said at his Monday media luncheon that they shouldn't be judged by their record.
"They could be 3-0 easily," he said. "They had Ole Miss on the ropes and threw an interception, and they barely missed out on beating Tulsa," he said.
Memphis rallied from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to force overtime on Saturday at Tulsa, but came up on the short end of a 37-31 score when Golden Hurricane quarterback Paul Smith connected with Garrett Mills for the game-winning touchdown.
The Tigers are 1-1 at home with a 10-6 loss to Ole Miss and 59-14 victory over Chattanooga. Memphis has averaged over 42,000 fans in the Liberty Bowl this season, including 53,339 for the Mississippi game.
The snake-bit Tigers have lost two quarterbacks to injuries already this season. Junior Patrick Byrne broke his right fibula and tibia in the season opener, and redshirt freshman Will Hudgens suffered a fractured fibula and ligament damage to his right leg at Tulsa.
That leaves true freshman Billy Barefield as the likely starting signal-caller when the Miners come to town. The 5-10, 175-pound Barefield has completed 8-of-12 pass attempts for 73 yards and a touchdown in two games, while rushing for 78 yards on 10 carries (7.8 avg.).
Despite his youth and inexperience, Barefield has caught Price's attention.
"He's not really big but he's really, really fast," Price said. "He'll probably be a great scrambler and hard to sack. Eventually they'll probably run the option with him a lot, but I think they need to be careful with that so he doesn't get hurt."
If the Miners are to remain unbeaten this weekend, they'll need to find a way to at least contain Heisman Trophy candidate DeAngelo Williams. The 5-10, 217-pound senior back has rushed for 4,575 yards and 43 touchdowns in 36 games for the Tigers. He rates second nationally in rushing at 171 yards per game.
"He's a big-time player," Price said. "He has really good speed and he's hard to knock down. He's a team player who can block and catch. He'll be in the game all the time, but maybe they'll spread him out to a flanker position and throw it to him that way."
The Miner defensive line is expected to be bolstered by the return of junior Ricky Van and the gradual return to health of junior Zach West, who was in for just six plays last week versus New Mexico.
"We need a healthy defensive line this week because we'll be facing one of the top running backs in the nation," Price said.