UTEP Football Notes / Game 7 / East Carolina
Oct. 8, 2007
Miners, Pirates Square Off in Battle of C-USA Divisional LeadersUTEP (4-2, 2-0 C-USA) hosts East Carolina (3-3, 2-1 C-USA) in an early-season matchup of Conference USA divisional leaders on Saturday in the Sun Bowl. It marks the first meeting between the Miners and the Pirates. Kickoff is slated for 7:05 p.m. MST. UTEP is riding a three-game winning streak with victories over Texas Southern (52-12), SMU (48-45 in overtime) and Tulsa (48-47). East Carolina has put together a two-game victory skein, knocking off Houston 37-35 on Sept. 29 and UCF 52-38 last week. The Miners are 3-0 at home this season and averaging 36.7 points in the Sun Bowl (50 ppg in their last two home games). UTEP is 16-5 in the Sun Bowl under fourth-year head coach Mike Price, including 6-3 in C-USA home games. East Carolina is 1-2 on the road in 2007 with a victory over Houston and losses to Virginia Tech (17-7) and West Virginia (48-7), teams that were ranked in the top 10 nationally at the time of the game. The Pirates played in the Papajohns.com Bowl a year ago.
Last Week: UTEP 48, Tulsa 47Trevor Vittatoe set a UTEP freshman record for passing yardage, and the Miners overcame a fourth quarter deficit to win for the second week in a row with a 48-47 triumph over Tulsa on Oct. 6 in the Sun Bowl. Vittatoe completed 21 of 27 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns, including a 14-yard strike to Joe West with 58 seconds remaining for the winning score. Tulsa drove to the Miner 36-yard line in the final seconds, but Jarod Tracy's 53-yard field goal was wide left as time expired. For the second time in three years, UTEP and Tulsa staged a thriller in the Sun Bowl. The Miners nipped the Golden Hurricane 41-38 in 2005. The Miners battled back from a pair of nine-point deficits to win, a week after overcoming a three-touchdown hole at SMU. UTEP trailed 30-21 early in the third quarter and 37-28 early in the fourth quarter. Marcus Thomas' 38-yard rushing touchdown - his third score of the game - pulled UTEP to within 37-35 with 12:33 to go in the game. Lorne Sam's 22-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Moturi with 8:30 remaining gave the Miners the lead, 41-37. But Vittatoe's two-point conversion attempt was picked off by the Golden Hurricane's Nick Henderson, who returned the ball for a two-point defensive PAT. Quarterback Paul Smith gave Tulsa a 47-41 lead off a one-yard touchdown run with 4:34 to go in the game before the Miners marched 76 yards on 11 plays for the winning score. Smith finished 26-of-43 passing for 383 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Two Tulsa players had 100-yard receiving games - Brennan Marion (136 yards) and Trae Johnson (127 yards). Thomas ran 27 times for 134 yards, and Moturi had a career-high 174 yards on seven catches for the Miners. The Miners had 570 yards of offense, including 219 rushing.
UTEP in the NCAA/C-USA StatsThrough the games of Oct.6, the Miners rated 11th nationally in turnover margin (1.17), 14th in net punting (38.2 avg.), 25th in scoring offense (35.5 ppg), 28th in punt returns (13.0 avg.), 31st in rushing offense (190.2 ypg), 32nd in passing efficiency (138.51), 38th in sacks allowed (1.5 avg.), 39th in total offense (424.7 ypg) and 43rd in kickoff returns (23.0 avg.). Individually, senior RB Marcus Thomas was tied for second in scoring (13.2 ppg) and 14th in rushing (121.0 ypg), freshman QB Trevor Vittatoe was 21st in passing efficiency (145.85), senior DB Quintin Demps was tied for 28th in interceptions (0.5 avg.) and 48th in kickoff returns (25.3 avg.), freshman Kyle Petersen was 29th in punting (43.3 avg.) and sophomore DB Braxton Amy was tied for 41st in tackles (9.5 avg.). UTEP was first in Conference USA in punt returns and punting, second in turnover margin, and third in scoring offense and passing efficiency. Thomas was tied for first in the league in scoring, and rated third in rushing. Sophomore DB Cornelius Brown was third in passes defended (1.3 avg.).
Palmer Returns to Sun BowlFormer UTEP QB Jordan Palmer, the school's all-time passing and total offense leader, will be in attendance when the Miners take on East Carolina Saturday. Following a brief stint with the Washington Redskins, Palmer is starting a new chapter of his professional career -- as a radio/television analyst. He will be the sideline reporter on the Miner flagship station KOFX 92.3 FM on Saturday, substituting for Jeff Limberg who will be out of town this weekend. Palmer threw for 11,084 yards and 88 TDs for the Miners from 2003-06.
Miners Great in October Under PriceWith last week's 48-47 victory over Tulsa, UTEP moved to 11-3 in the month of October under head coach Mike Price. The Miners were 5-0 in October in 2004, 3-1 in 2005 and 2-2 in 2006. October has historically been UTEP's best month under Price by a long shot. The Miners are 1-0 in August under Price, 8-6 in September, 5-6 in November and 0-2 in December.
Happy HomecomingSaturday's matchup with East Carolina marks UTEP's 76th Homecoming game. The Miners are 33-41-1 all-time on Homecoming, including 2-1 under Mike Price (beat Hawaii 51-20 in 2004, beat Marshall 31-3 in 2005, lost to Rice 37-31 in 2006). UTEP has won six of its last nine Homecoming affairs dating back to 1998, following a seven-game losing streak on the occasion from 1991-97. The Miners have drawn over 40,000 fans on Homecoming each of the last three seasons -- 44,381 for Hawaii in 2004, 51,500 (sellout) for Marshall in 2005 and 42,685 for Rice a year ago.
UTEP and 2-0 Conference StartsThe Miners are 2-0 in Conference USA play for the second year in a row. Last year UTEP kicked off the league slate by upending SMU (24-21) and Tulane (34-20) in the Sun Bowl before dropping a 34-17 decision at Houston. UTEP is shooting for its first 3-0 conference mark since 2000, when the Miners won their first seven Western Athletic Conference games on the way to a 7-1 record and a share of the league title. The Miners also christened WAC play with three victories in 1987.
It Ain't Over `Till It's OverUTEP has overcome fourth quarter deficits of nine points or more to win in each of the last two games. The Miners trailed 42-28 at SMU with 14:45 to play before rallying for a 48-45 overtime victory, and UTEP was behind 37-28 with 14:33 to go before battling back to nip Tulsa 48-47. The Miners trailed SMU 28-7 late in the second quarter. UTEP set a school record by overcoming a 22-point deficit to win at BYU on Oct. 26, 1968. The Miners fell behind 25-3 in that game before digging themselves out of the hole and securing a 31-25 win over the Cougars.
Big Numbers For ThomasSenior RB Marcus Thomas has scored 11 touchdowns in only five games this season (he missed the season opener due to a minor violation of NCAA rules). Against Tulsa last week, he became the first player in school history to record three or more rushing TDs in back-to-back games. Thomas is tied for second nationally in scoring at 13.2 points per game. Rutgers RB Ray Rice and UCF RB Kevin Smith are also averaging 13.2 ppg. Texas Tech wideout Michael Crabtree is the national leader with 17 points per outing. Thomas is also 14th in the country in rushing, averaging 121 yards per game. That figure, if it stands, would be the second-best seasonal total in school annals. Fred Wendt averaged 154.6 yards rushing per contest in 1948. Thomas has put together three consecutive 100-yard rushing games, averaging 148.7 yards per outing during that span. Thomas had four straight 100-yard performances as a sophomore in 2005, a school record which he could tie on Saturday versus East Carolina.
More Notes on Marcus ThomasMarcus Thomas rushed 35 times for 207 yards -- both career highs -- at SMU on Sept. 29 to earn Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week honors. The 207 yards rushing were the most by a UTEP player in 12 years. Thomas is the seventh Miner to have a 200-yard rushing game. The others are Robert Elliott, John Harvey, Elzie Johnson, Singleton, Ed Smith and Fred Wendt. Thomas' seven career 100-yard games put him in a tie for eighth place on the UTEP career chart. Wendt (1942, 1946-48) is in seventh place with eight 100-yard games. Thomas' 11 rushing TDs in 2007 are tied for the fourth-top seasonal figure in school history. Paul Smith (third place) scored 12 rushing TDs in 1999. Additionally, Thomas is now ninth in school history with 2,054 rushing yards. His next target on the chart is Ray Holt (eighth place), who ran for 2,069 yards from 1974-78. Thomas has led the Miners in rushing in his last 21 games dating back to 2005.
Not Bad For a FreshmanTrevor Vittatoe ranks 21st nationally in passing efficiency (145.85), and 68th in total offense (210.5 ypg). He has 10 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in 150 attempts this season. Vittatoe has completed 63 of 103 passes (61.2 percent) for 1,034 yards over the last four games -- an average of 258.5 yards passing per contest during that span. Vittatoe set a school freshman record with 319 yards passing versus Tulsa a week ago. The previous record of 288 yards passing was established by John Rayborn at Air Force in 1995. Vittatoe's .778 (21 for 27) completion percentage against the Golden Hurricane marked the ninth-top effort by a Miner signal-caller (minimum 10 completions), and the best since Jordan Palmer went 24 for 30 (.800) at Rice in 2005. Vittatoe's 1,295 yards passing and 10 touchdown passes in 2007 are the second-best freshman totals in UTEP annals, behind Rayborn's 1,913 yards and 16 TDs in 1995.
Mr. CoolFor the second straight week, Trevor Vittatoe was the epitome of poise in the fourth quarter against Tulsa. In leading the Miners to a come-from-behind victory, Vitttatoe connected on eight-of-10 passes for 89 yards in the final period. Over the past two games, Vittatoe has gone a combined 18-of-23 for 220 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Sam Makes Impact of His OwnSenior QB/WR Lorne Sam has made his mark in UTEP's two conference victories as well. He ran for a career-high 106 yards and two touchdowns at SMU, while also making five catches for 88 yards. Of the five catches, four gave the Miners first downs, including three third-down conversions. Sam was at signal-caller for UTEP's overtime drive versus the Mustangs, rushing twice for 15 yards to set up Marcus Thomas' game-winning 10-yard run. Last week against Tulsa, Sam contributed six catches for 94 yards including a 29-yard touchdown, the first of his collegiate career (Sam played for Florida State from 2003-04). He also gained 82 yards rushing on 15 carries. UTEP has never had a player amass 100 yards rushing and receiving in a game, but Sam seems to have as good of a shot at achieving the milestone as anyone. Sam was also 2-for-2 passing for 32 yards versus the Golden Hurricane, and gave the Miners a 41-37 lead with a 22-yard completion to Jeff Moturi with 8:30 remaining in the game.
Noting the Miners' High-Powered OffenseUTEP is 25th in the country in scoring offense (35.5 ppg), 31st in rushing offense (190.2 ypg) and 39th in total offense (424.7 ypg). Over the last three games, the Miners have averaged 49.3 points, 244.3 yards rushing and 525.7 yards of offense. The Miners have strung together three consecutive 200-yard rushing games for the first time since 2003, when they did so in four straight contests. UTEP has had back-to-back games with 500+ yards of offense for the first time since 1988. The Miners haven't had three straight 500-yard games in the modern era of football at the school (since 1965). UTEP has posted its top two total offensive outputs under Mike Price over the last two weeks -- 558 yards at SMU on Sept. 29 and 570 yards versus Tulsa on Oct. 6. The Miners have also compiled three consecutive 40-point games for the first time since a three-game run in 2000. UTEP has never registered four 40-point games or more in succession.
All-Around AttackThe Miner offense was clicking on all cylinders in the win against Tulsa. Marcus Thomas rushed for 134 yards, Trevor Vittatoe passed for 319 yards and Jeff Moturi led the receiving corps with 174 yards. It marked the first time since the 1987 campaign that the Miners had a player pass for 300-plus yards, register at least 170 receiving yards and rush for more than 130 yards all in the same game. The feat came on Nov. 7, 1987 at Utah, in which John Harvey rushed for 202 yards, Pat Hegarty threw for 340 and Arnie Adkison recorded 200 receiving yards.
Special Teams Are SpecialUTEP has been solid in the special teams area in 2007. Junior K Jose Martinez is 2-for-2 on onside kicks. He is also 4-for-5 on field goals (only miss from 53 yards) and 27-for-27 on PATs. Freshman Kyle Petersen is averaging 43.3 yards per punt. Six of his 29 punts have resulted in fair catches, and seven have landed inside the 20-yard line. The Miners are averaging 23.0 yards on kickoff returns, tying their second-top seasonal figure in the last 49 years. UTEP also ranks 22nd nationally in kickoff return yardage defense (19.1 avg.), and 27th in punt return yardage defense (6.2 avg.).
Streak Continues For MoturiSophomore WR Jeff Moturi has scored a touchdown in UTEP's last five games, including a pair of scores versus Texas Southern and Tulsa. It is the longest TD streak by a Miner wideout since the school's all-time leading receiver, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr., also had a five-game skein in 2005. Higgins had a touchdown catch in eight consecutive contests in 2004. Moturi leads the team in catches (25), yardage (452) and TD receptions (seven). The school sophomore record for receiving touchdowns is 10, shared by Higgins (2004) and David Karns (1966). Moturi has had two 100-yard performances in 2007 -- 105 yards at New Mexico State on Sept. 15, and 174 yards against Tulsa last week. His 174 yards versus the Golden Hurricane marked the second-most by a sophomore in school history; Ed Puishes had 175 yards versus New Mexico State in 1969. Moturi's 78-yard TD catch from Trevor Vittatoe against Tulsa was the longest play from scrimmage for the Miners this year.
Ground Game on a RollUTEP has rushed for 733 yards over the last three games. The Miners piled up 308 rushing yards against SMU on Sept. 29, their most against a Division I-A opponent since compiling 309 at New Mexico on Nov. 19, 1994. UTEP is averaging 190.2 yards rushing per game and 4.8 yards per carry. It is UTEP's best rushing offense since 1992, when the Miners averaged 192.9 yards per game on the ground. The Miners are on pace to rush for 2,282 yards this season, which would be their most since 1988 (2,414). With 605 yards rushing in 2007, Thomas stands to become UTEP's first 1,000-yard back since Howard Jackson in 2004. UTEP has had six players run for 1,000 yards in a season in its football history.
Miners Recognizing 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Cavalry DivisionUTEP players are wearing a patch on their helmets this season in honor of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (4BCT) of the 1st Cavalry Division, headquartered in Fort Hood, Texas. The 4BCT consists of approximately 4,000 soldiers, of which nearly 3,800 are deployed to central and northern Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 4BCT activation took place at Fort Bliss in October 2005. At that point the unit began individual and collective training to prepare for deployment and combat operation in the Fall of 2006. The unit will return to El Paso in full no later than mid-January 2008.
The Miners Can Put Up Some PointsHead Coach Mike Price's UTEP teams have been prolific offensively, scoring 40 points or more on 12 occasions (UTEP is 12-0 in those games). The twelve 40-point games for Price are the second-most by any UTEP coach behind the 14 registered by Mike Brumbelow's squads from 1950-56. UTEP is 21-5 under Price when scoring 30 points or more, and 4-12 when being held under 30 points. The twenty-six 30-point games are the most by any Miner coach.
Demps Has Most Interceptions Among Active PlayersSenior DB Quintin Demps is third in school history with 15 interceptions, four behind the leader Charlie West who had 19 from 1965-67. D.J. Walker had 16 picks from 1999-2002. Demps is the active NCAA Division I-A leader with 15 career interceptions. He is second among active players with 301 interception yards behind Indiana's Tracy Porter (364). The 301 interception yards are also a UTEP school standard, eclipsing the previous mark of 256 yards by Richie Wright from 1986-88. Demps' 100-yard interception return in the first quarter at New Mexico State tied the longest in school history. Demps became the fourth player in school annals to have a 100-yard interception return, and the first since Michael Hicks at BYU in 1996. He has 117 yards on interceptions in 2007, already the sixth-best seasonal total in UTEP history. Demps is on preseason watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player in college football) and the Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back). He landed on preseason All-America teams by The Sporting News and Street & Smith's.
Penalties Hurting The MinersUTEP has been quite kind to its opponents this year, giving 18 first downs courtesy of penalties -- including eight to two conference foes. Overall, the Miners have been whistled for 45 infractions which have cost them 432 yards, including 30 penalties over the last four games. UTEP did cut its penalty total down to four last week against Tulsa, however. UTEP is tied for 86th out of 119 Division I-A schools with an average of 7.5 penalties per contest, and tied for 103rd in penalty yards per game (72.0).
Making `Em CountUTEP's receivers have caught a total of 94 passes this season -- an average of only 15.7 per game -- but they've made the most out of their catches. UTEP's yards per catch average is 15.0, the team's best figure since 1994 (15.0) and tied for its third-best effort in the last 40 years. The Miners averaged 16.2 yards per reception in 1974 and 15.8 yards per reception in 1977. Senior Joe West leads the Miners with 19.9 yards per catch, which if it stands would be the fourth-best seasonal total in school history.
Success In The Red ZoneThe Miners have done a good job of converting in the red zone in 2007, as they have scored on 21 of their 23 trips with 18 touchdowns. Over the last four games, UTEP is 17-for-17 in the red zone with 15 TDs and two field goals.
Felix a Staple in the Starting LineupJunior Robby Felix is on the preseason watch list for the Rimington Trophy -- presented to the top center in college football -- for the second consecutive season. Felix is the veteran of the Miner O-line, having started all 30 games since his freshman season of 2005. He was appointed third team All-Conference USA by league media and honorable mention by the coaches a year ago.
Price Already Tied For Fourth in Wins at UTEPIn only his fourth season at UTEP, Mike Price is fourth in school history with 25 coaching victories. Bobby Dobbs is in third place with 41 wins. Price owns 154 career victories, placing him tied for 11th among active Division I-A head coaches.
Miner NuggetsUTEP and Tulsa lit up the scoreboard for 95 points last week, the third-most combined points in a Miner victory all-time ... by beating Tulsa, UTEP recorded a victory when surrendering over 600 yards of offense for the first time since 1988 (Utah - 662 yards) ... the Miners have scored on their opening drive in all three home games ... UTEP's offensive line has allowed just nine sacks in six games. Last year Miner quarterbacks were sacked an average of 2.1 times per contest ... UTEP has enjoyed five separate winning streaks of at least three straight games in the Mike Price era. Putting that into perspective, the Miners achieved winning streaks of three games or more on just four occasions from 1975-2003 ... Price and Bob Stull are the only coaches in UTEP history whose teams haven't been shut out in a game.