Miners Host Marshall in 74th Homecoming Affair
KICKING OFF: UTEP (4-1, 2-1 C-USA) plays its first home game in nearly a month on Saturday, when the Miners face Marshall (3-3, 2-1 C-USA) for the first time ... UTEP is home for the first time since defeating New Mexico, 21-13, on Sept. 24 in the Sun Bowl ... the Miners are coming off back-to-back road games, falling at Memphis 27-20 on Oct. 1 before rebounding to triumph at Tulane 45-21 on Oct. 14 ... Saturday’s game is UTEP’s 74th Homecoming contest ... UTEP is 32-40-1 all-time in Homecoming games ... the Miners have won five of their last seven Homecoming affairs, including last year’s 51-20 rout of Hawaii ... UTEP is facing a conference opponent on Homecoming for the 10th consecutive year ... the last time the Miners met a non-conference opponent on Homecoming was on Oct. 14, 1995, when they dropped a 38-28 decision to Tulsa in the Sun Bowl ... at the time Tulsa was a I-A independent in football, now the Golden Hurricane is a joint member of Conference USA with UTEP ... Saturday’s game will be nationally televised by CSTV Football Nation on i (formerly PAX) ... it marks the seventh straight national telecast of a UTEP football game, including last year’s EV1.net Houston Bowl which was carried by ESPN ... UTEP has won six straight games in the Sun Bowl ... the Miners are 7-1 at home under head coach Mike Price, including 2-0 in 2005 (44-41 double-overtime win over Houston, 21-13 win over New Mexico).
LAST TIME OUT: UTEP got back on the winning track last week, downing Tulane 45-21 at Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston, La. ... the Miners scored the game’s last 21 points after the Green Wave pulled to within a field goal (24-21) on a three-yard pass from Lester Ricard to Preston Brown with 10:46 to go in the third quarter ... UTEP did not commit a turnover two weeks after coughing up the ball six times in a 27-20 loss at Memphis ... the Miners also forced three Tulane fumbles, converting two into touchdowns ... sophomore running back Marcus Thomas, making his first career start, rushed 12 times for 93 yards and caught five passes totaling 110 yards ... starting quarterback Jordan Palmer completed 22 of 32 pass attempts for 278 yards and three scores before giving way to reserves Orlando Cruz and Joe Castro in the fourth quarter ... Ricard threw for 376 yards and three TDs to lead Tulane, which was playing its fifth game in its fifth different stadium ... the Green Wave was displaced from its hometown of New Orleans due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina ... Marshall edged UAB 20-19 on Saturday in Huntington, W. Va. ... the Thundering Herd erased a 19-14 deficit when Bernie Morris scored on a 40-yard TD run with 6:32 to play ... Morris completed 14 of 28 passes for 99 yards and also rushed eight times for 50 yards in the victory ... Ahmad Bradshaw was Marshall’s leading rusher, running for 72 yards on 17 attempts.
THE SERIES: UTEP and Marshall will be meeting for the first time in football on Saturday ... it is not, however, the first time that the Miners have faced an opponent from the state of West Virginia ... UTEP has met West Virginia University in football three times, most recently on Nov. 25, 1950 in El Paso (a 48-7 Miner victory) ... the Miners also hosted the Mountaineers in the 1949 Sun Bowl game, dropping a 21-12 decision ... it was UTEP’s second bowl appearance.
THE COACHES: UTEP’s Mike Price and Marshall’s Mark Snyder are facing one another as head coaches for the first time ... Price is 0-1 lifetime versus Marshall ... Price’s 1987 Weber State team was beaten by the eventual national runner-up Thundering Herd, 51-23, in the NCAA I-AA playoffs ... Snyder was a star defender on the 87 Marshall squad, registering a school-record 10 interceptions ... Snyder was linebackers coach at Ohio State in 2002 when the Buckeyes beat Price’s Washington State Cougars, 25-7, in Columbus.
NCAA INDIVIDUAL RANKINGS: Tyler Ebell: 73rd-rushing (69.6 ypg), 42nd-all purpose yards (124.8 ypg); Jordan Palmer: 57th-passing efficiency (128.7); 19th-total offense (290.4 ypg); Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr.: 30th-punt returns (11.5 ypr); 17th-kickoff returns (28.0 ypr), t32nd-receptions per game (6.0 rpg), 14th-all purpose yards (163.8 ypg), 37th-scoring (8.4 ppg), 21st-receiving yards per game (95.2 ypg); Chris Francies: 92nd-receiving yards per game (58.3 ypg); Joe Fleskoski: t42nd-interceptions (0.4 ipg), t55th-passes defended (1.0 pdpg); Quintin Demps: t42nd-interceptions (0.4 ipg), t13th-passes defended (1.4 pdpg); Ryan Hotchkiss: 52nd-punting (40.8 ypp); Reagan Schneider: t5th-field goals (2.0 fgpg), 24th-scoring (9.2 ppg); Jeremy Jones: 14th-tackles (11.4 tpg), t41st-tackles for losses (1.4 tflpg); Troy Collavo: 40th-tackles (9.4 tpg), t62nd-sacks (0.6 spg); Alex Obomese: t86th-sacks (0.5 spg); Nate Draughon: 6th-passes defended (1.6 pdpg).
NCAA TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense: 89th (112.8); Passing Offense: 15th (294.0); Total Offense: 41st (406.8); Scoring Offense: 28th (32.8); Rushing Defense: 40th (123.0); Passing Efficiency Defense: 46th (120.1); Total Defense: 73rd (386.4); Scoring Defense: 47th (23.8); Net Punting: 27th (37.3); Punt Returns: 31st (12.0); Kickoff Returns: 29th (23.6); Turnover Margin: 40th (+0.4); Pass Defense: 99th (263.4); Passing Efficiency: 64th (125.9).
CONFERENCE USA INDIVIDUAL RANKINGS: Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr.: 2nd-all purpose yards (163.8 ypg), 2nd-kickoff returns (28.0 ypr), 2nd-receiving yards per game (95.2 ypg); Reagan Schneider: t1st-field goals (2.0 fgpg), 3rd-scoring (9.2 ppg); Jordan Palmer: 2nd-points responsible for (14.8 ppg), 3rd-total offense (290.4 ypg).
CONFERENCE USA TEAM RANKINGS: The Miners lead the league in rushing defense (123 ypg). UTEP is second in kickoff returns (23.6 avg.), passing offense (294 ypg) and scoring offense (32.8 ppg), and third in net punting (37.3 avg.).
NO PLACE LIKE HOME: UTEP has won its last six games in the Sun Bowl ... the Miners can tie the school record for consecutive wins in the Sun Bowl with a victory over Marshall on Saturday ... UTEP previously reeled off seven straight wins in the Sun Bowl from 2000-01 ... the Miners are 7-1 when playing in the Sun Bowl under Mike Price ... UTEP is averaging 39.5 points (316 total) and has an average margin of victory of 22.3 points with two shutouts at home under Price ... the Miners have also averaged 42,904 fans per home game since Price arrived on campus ... UTEP’s average home attendance in 2005 is 47,992 (Sun Bowl capacity is 52,000) ... UTEP recorded its fourth-largest attendance in the Sun Bowl on Sept. 24 versus New Mexico (50,425) ... the crowd was the largest since Nov. 11, 2000, when the Miners drew a record 53,304 spectators against Rice ... it also marked the fifth time that UTEP has had over 50,000 in attendance at the Sun Bowl ... UTEP is unbeaten (5-0) at home when 50,000 or more fans are in attendance ... UTEP is 6-0 when playing before 40,000+ spectators at home under Price.
THOMAS MAKES THE MOST OF FIRST START: Sophomore running back Marcus Thomas had a big game in his first career start the last time out at Tulane ... the former Parade prep All-American and Phoenix native compiled 203 all-purpose yards ... he rushed 12 times for 93 yards (7.8 per carry) and caught five passes totaling 110 yards (22 per catch), both personal bests ... it was the first-ever 100-yard receiving game by a UTEP running back ... he became the fifth player on the current Miner roster to have a 100-yard receiving game, joining wideouts Jayson Boyd, Chris Francies, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. and Chris Marrow ... Thomas had the longest rush (47 yards) and longest reception (60 yards) by a Miner player this season at Tulane.
MINERS GET RUNNING GAME GOING: UTEP had over 100 yards rushing for the second time this season at Tulane ... the Miners rambled for 149 yards on 35 carries, despite having -3 yards on the ground through the first quarter ... in the previous two games, the Miners had been limited to a combined 144 yards on the ground ... UTEP had a season-high 174 yards rushing on 44 attempts versus Houston on Sept. 16 ... the 35 rushing attempts at Tulane tied a season high (also 35 at New Mexico State on Sept. 3) ... UTEP compiled 122 yards rushing on 22 attempts (5.5 avg.) in the second half versus the Green Wave ... the Miners are 8-1 under Mike Price when they rush for 100 yards, and 4-4 when they don’t ... UTEP is also 5-1 under Price when having a 100-yard rusher ... UTEP has had one 100-yard individual performance in 2005 (Tyler Ebell, 149 yards against Houston).
NO TURNOVERS: UTEP followed up a six-turnover performance at Memphis on Oct. 1 with no miscues on Oct. 14 at Tulane ... the Miners recovered three Green Wave fumbles, putting their turnover margin at +2 on the season ... UTEP has committed 12 turnovers in 2005 (six interceptions/six fumbles lost), while forcing 14 turnovers (nine interceptions/five fumble recoveries) ... the Miners climbed from 77th in the nation in turnover margin to 40th following their spotless night at Tulane ... under Mike Price, UTEP is 12-1 when having equal or fewer turnovers than its opponents, including 4-0 this season ... UTEP finished the 2004 campaign +2 in turnover margin ... UTEP has not had consecutive seasons with a positive turnover margin since 1987-88-89 ... speaking of turnovers, UTEP has now gone two straight games without recording an interception for the first time since Sept. 6-20, 2003, a span of three games.
DEFENSIVE NOTES: The Miners are tied for seventh nationally with 3.8 sacks per game behind Nebraska (5.7 spg), Louisville (4.7 spg), Ohio State (4.7 spg), Florida State (4.0 spg), Rutgers (4.0 spg), Washington State (3.8 spg) and LSU (3.8 spg) ... UTEP rates 15th in the country in tackles for losses per game (8.2) ... the Miners limited Tulane to 48 yards rushing on 26 attempts (1.8 avg.) on Oct. 14 ... it marked the second time this season that UTEP has held a foe to fewer than 50 yards rushing ... New Mexico State rushed for -17 yards in the season opener on Sept. 3, the worst performance by a Miner opponent since 1965 ... since Tim Hundley came on board as defensive coordinator in 2004, UTEP has held four teams to less than 100 yards on the ground (twice in 2004, twice in 2005) ... the Miners haven’t surrendered less than 100 yards rushing in three games since 2000 (five times) ... opponents are averaging 3.3 yards per carry this season, lowest since 1968 (3.3 ypc) ... since 1970, UTEP has held opponents to less than four yards per carry on three occasions counting this season ... the others were 1991 (3.8 ypc) and 2004 (3.7 ypc) ... UTEP has given up fewer than 300 yards of offense four times under Hundley, including 285 to New Mexico on Sept. 24.
OFFENSIVE NOTES: UTEP had its most complete offensive performance of the season at Tulane on Oct. 14 ... the Miners scored a season-high 45 points ... UTEP has now had two 40-point performances this season, and six in 17 games under head coach Mike Price ... Price is the first Miner coach to have teams put together six 40-point games in his first two seasons at the school since Mike Brumbelow also performed this feat in 1950 and 1951 ... no Miner coach has directed his team to seven 40-point games in his first two years at the helm of the program ... UTEP is 6-0 under Price when reaching the 40-point barometer ... the Miners have had over 400 yards of offense in the last two games, tying their longest streak under Price ... UTEP put together back-to-back 400-yard games twice in 2004 (Hawaii-Louisiana Tech, SMU-Tulsa) ... the last time the Miners compiled 400+ yards of offense in three straight games was in 2003 (four consecutive, Sam Houston State-SMU-Louisiana Tech-Hawaii)... the Miners have had 500+ yards in two games this season (most since two in 2003) ... the last time UTEP had three 500-yard outings was in 1988 (four) ... UTEP did not commit a turnover at Tulane for the first time this season and the second time under Price (first time was Sept. 11, 2004 versus Weber State) ... it marked the first time that UTEP did not commit a miscue against an NCAA I-A opponent since Oct. 4, 2003 at SMU ... the Miners had one turnover versus New Mexico State (Sept. 3) and New Mexico (Sept. 24) earlier this season.
MINERS WIN TIME OF POSSESSION: UTEP won the time of possession battle for the first time this season at Tulane - by a mere eight seconds, no less ... the Miners compiled 30:04 of possession time to the Green Wave’s 29:56 ... UTEP dominated Tulane in the time of possession line in the second half (18:22 to 11:38) as the running game emerged ... UTEP is 6-0 under Mike Price when having an advantage in time of possession and 6-5 (3-1 in 2005) when trailing in that department.
PALMER AND PASSING RECORDS: Junior quarterback Jordan Palmer now has 44 passing touchdowns in his career ... the total is second in school history behind 51 by Billy Stevens (1965-67) ... Palmer also has 5,439 passing yards, 413 completions and 757 attempts, rating third in school annals in all three categories ... he needs 1,046 yards to tie Stevens, 70 completions to catch Sammy Garza and 186 attempts to match Stevens ... Palmer is on pace to throw for 3,487 yards this season, which would be a school record ... the current mark is held by Garza (3,140 in 1986) ... only two Miner players have thrown for 3,000 yards in a season (Garza in 1986 and Stevens in 1965).
PALMER AND TOTAL OFFENSE RECORDS: Jordan Palmer could also become the school’s career total offense leader this fall ... he has recorded 5,531 career yards (5,439 passing, 92 rushing) to rank third in school annals, 525 yards behind leader Sammy Garza (1983-86) ... he is also responsible for 49 touchdowns, which ranks second in school history ... Billy Stevens (1965-67) holds the record with 56.
SPEAKING OF PALMER: Jordan Palmer threw for a career-high 431 yards against Memphis on Oct. 1 ... the mark is the fourth-highest total in school history ... Palmer’s previous high was 379 yards earlier this year versus Houston ... Palmer has now passed for over 300 yards six times during his career, including twice in 2005 and five times in his last eight outings dating back to 2004 ... the school record for 300-yard passing games is seven by Billy Stevens (1965-67) ... Palmer’s completion percentage (.688, 22-32) at Tulane on Oct. 14 was his best since Nov. 20, 2004 versus SMU (.741, 20-27).
YOU CAN START HIM UP: Jordan Palmer has started at quarterback in UTEP’s last 17 games, posting a 12-5 record during this span ... Palmer’s starting streak is the longest by a Miner signal-caller since Sammy Garza started 23 consecutive games from 1985-86 ... Palmer is looking to become the first Miner quarterback to lead the team in passing in consecutive years since 1990-91 (Mike Perez).
RED ZONE NOTHING TO BE BLUE ABOUT: The Miners’ difficulties in the red zone came to an end at Tulane on Oct. 14 ... UTEP scored touchdowns on all four of its trips to the zone ... in the previous four games, the Miners were just 11 for 17 inside the red zone, including two for five (three turnovers) at Memphis on Oct. 1 ... UTEP opponents are 14 for 18 inside the red zone this season, with eight touchdowns and six field goals ... the Miners made an impressive defensive stand in the zone late in the second half at Tulane ... with the Green Wave trailing 24-14 and facing first down at the UTEP 14-yard line, linebacker Troy Collavo stripped quarterback Lester Ricard on a draw play and the Miners recovered the ball to preserve the 10-point lead ... UTEP has forced four turnovers (three interceptions, one fumble lost) when opponents were in the red zone this season ... against Houston on Sept. 16, Quintin Demps sealed the 44-41 victory when he picked off Cougar QB Kevin Kolb at the Miner two-yard line in the second overtime.
A MILESTONE FOR MATT: Senior running back Matt Austin went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for his career at Tulane on Oct. 14 ... Austin achieved the milestone on a 26-yard run in the fourth quarter ... the feat is particularly remarkable considering that Austin has never started a game for the Miners ... he has played in 40 games for UTEP, rushing for 1,023 yards on 228 carries ... Austin has had a pair of 100-yard games for UTEP ... he ran for 112 yards at Kentucky in 2002 and 112 more at Hawaii in 2003.
THREE’S NO CROWD: Wide receivers Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr., Jayson Boyd and Chris Francies became the first trio of recievers to gain over 100 yards receiving in the same game at Memphis on Oct. 1 ... Higgins caught seven passes for 134 yards and a touchdown ... Boyd had five catches for 126 yards ... Francies had six receptions for 120 yards ... Higgins has had five career 100-yard games, Boyd three and Francies two ... a fourth wideout, Chris Marrow, has had one 100-yard game as a Miner.
ALL-PURPOSE KIND OF GUYS: The duo of Tyler Ebell and Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. has racked up 1,443 all-purpose yards this season, which is 54 percent of UTEP’s total ... Ebell has collected 624 yards with 348 coming on the ground, 182 as a receiver and 94 on kick returns ... Higgins has picked up 819 with four yards rushing, 476 receiving, 115 on punt returns and 224 on kickoff returns ... Higgins ranks 14th nationally in all-purpose yardage, and Ebell is 42nd ... Higgins looks to become the first receiver to lead the team in all-purpose yards since Lee Mays did so in 2000 ... Higgins could crack UTEP’s top 10 list for career all-purpose yards this season ... he currently has 2,223 yards in his three-year career ... since being held in check in the season opener at New Mexico State (53 all-purpose yards), Higgins has exploded for 766 all-purpose yards over the last four games (191.5 avg.) ... Ebell has gained 2,245 all-purpose yards during his career at UCLA and UTEP ... Higgins’ average of 163.8 yards per game in 2005 would rank as the fourth-best seasonal total in season history, while Ebell’s average would be 10th (124.8 ypg).
MORE ON “TD” LEE: Junior receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. has scored a touchdown in the last four games and 13 of his last 15 dating back to 2004 ... he had the third multiple touchdown game of his career at Tulane on Oct. 14 ... Higgins had a pair of receptions for scores versus the Green Wave ... he reached the end zone three times against Houston on Sept. 16 ... over the last four games, Higgins has scored seven touchdowns ... over the last 15 games, he has made his way to the end zone 17 times ... Higgins is on a pace to collect 1,142 yards receiving in 2005, which would be the second-best seasonal figure in school annals ... he is on pace to register 17 receiving touchdowns, which would shatter the current school standard held by Lee Mays (15 in 2000) ... with 17 career touchdown receptions, Higgins rates sixth in school annals ... ahead of him are Chuck Hughes, Reggie Barrett, Bob Wallace and Volley Murphy, part of a four-way tie for second place with 19 each ... the record-holder is Mays, who had 28 touchdown catches from 1998-2001 ... Higgins has had 90 or more yards receiving in nine games during his career, including each of the last four (119 ypg during that span) ... for his career, he has averaged 19.5 yards per catch (79 rec-1,538 yards) ... he ranks ninth in career receiving yardage behind J.J. Rowlett (1,627, 1991-94).
TACKLE BATTLE: Three linebackers rank 1-2-3 on the Miner team in tackles ... junior Jeremy Jones is first with 57 stops, followed by junior Troy Collavo (47) and senior Thomas Howard (38) ... UTEP’s top three tacklers were also linebackers a year ago ... Jones, who previously did not have a game with double-digit stops entering the season, has had 10 or more tackles in four out of five games this year ... he has led the team in tackles in three of five contests, including a personal best 14 at Tulane on Oct. 14 ... Collavo had 10 of his 11 stops in the first half versus the Green Wave ... Howard registered a season-high 14 stops against Houston (Sept. 16), and Collavo was credited with a career-high 12 takedowns versus the Cougars.
LOTS OF PICKS: UTEP has registered nine interceptions this season ... the total is tied for 20th in the nation ... the Miners haven’t had an interception in the last two games ... UTEP’s five picks against Houston on Sept. 16 marked its highest total in a game since recording six versus San Diego State in 1989 ... seven different Miners have collected interceptions this season -- Quintin Demps, Josh Ferguson, Joe Fleskoski, Thomas Howard, Jeremy Jones, Jason McQuay and Alex Obomese ... Demps and Fleskoski lead the team with two picks apiece.
KICKING IT UP A NOTCH: Junior Reagan Schneider now ranks fourth in school annals with 78 career point after touchdowns, tied for fifth with 156 kicking points and seventh with 26 field goals ... Schneider has also converted on his last 68 PAT tries ... Schneider set a school record with five field goals against Houston ... the previous UTEP standard of four field goals was held by four players, including Schneider ... Schneider has now scored 10 points or more six times during his career ... he is 14-for-18 (.778) on field goal attempts of 40 yards or more over the last two seasons ... during the same span Schneider is 11-for-15 (.733) on attempts from less than 40 yards ... he is six-for-seven on field goals of 40+ yards in 2005 ... after making his first six attempts from that range to open the season, he misfired on a 45-yard attempt at Tulane on Oct. 14.
OVERTIME STARTS, DEMPS ENDS IT: For the second time in his young career, sophomore Quintin Demps preserved a UTEP victory with a defensive play in overtime against Houston ... he intercepted a Kevin Kolb pass at the two-yard line in the second overtime to secure the Miners’ 44-41 win over the Cougars ... last year, Demps forced a fumble in the second overtime which was recovered by Robert Rodriguez to seal UTEP’s 35-28 conquest of Rice ... Demps has now registered four interceptions in 16 career games.
GETTING OFF TO A GOOD START: UTEP has outscored opponents 128-69 in the first quarter under Mike Price, including 29-10 so far this season ... the Miners have allowed an average of 4.1 points in the opening period under Price ... UTEP has surrendered just 32 points in the first quarter in its last 10 games (3.2 ppg) ... the Miners have allowed just two touchdowns in the first quarter in their last nine outings ... UTEP gave up a touchdown in the first quarter for the first time this season on Oct. 14 at Tulane.
GRIZZLED VETERANS: Offensive linemen Jose Garcia and Josh House are both in their sixth year with the UTEP football program ... both came to UTEP in the fall of 2000 and attended preseason training camp in Socorro, N.M. before taking on “gray shirt” status ... they redshirted during the 2001 campaign ... Garcia and House have started 27 and 17 games for the Miners, respectively ... House has gained 50 pounds since coming to UTEP and earned honorable mention All-Conference honors in 2004, his first year as a starter.
THE GRADUATE: DL Tevita Fifita earned his bachelor’s degree in communication in December and is working on his master’s degree in public administration ... Fifita has played in 33 games for the Miners, making five starts.
EBELL TIME: Former UCLA standout Tyler Ebell made his highly-anticipated Miner debut on Sept. 3 at New Mexico State ... he will have one year of eligibility with the Miners after redshirting his freshman year (2001) with the Bruins ... Ebell rushed for 1,495 yards and 12 touchdowns in two seasons at UCLA (2002-03) before sitting out last season per NCAA transfer rules ... the native of Ventura, Calif., was a Parade and PrepStar All-American as a prep, setting national records for rushing yardage (4,495) and rushing touchdowns (64) as a senior ... he is one of three former prep All-Americans on the 2005 Miner roster ... the others are junior quarterback/wide receiver Lorne Sam (PrepStar All-American) and sophomore running back Marcus Thomas (Parade All-American) ... Sam is sitting out this season after transferring from Florida State, and will have two years of eligibility at UTEP beginning in 2006.
1,000-YARD CLUB: Barring injury, UTEP will likely have four receivers with over 1,000 yards in their careers at season’s end ... senior Chris Francies (1,481 yards) and junior Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. (1,538 yards) have already joined the 1,000-yard club ... senior Jayson Boyd has 951 yards, with 782 coming at UTEP (he also played at Oregon State in 2002) ... junior Chris Marrow has tallied 839 yards ... all four of the aforementioned wideouts have had 100-yard games at UTEP ... Boyd reeled in a career-high seven catches for 140 yards in the EV1.net Houston Bowl last season ... Francies posted a personal best 120 yards at Memphis on Oct. 1 ... Higgins has had five 100-yard performances, including 156 yards against Houston on Oct. 16 ... Marrow registered 116 yards versus Weber State a year ago.
QB NO QUESTION MARK: UTEP entered the 2005 season with an established quarterback for the first time since 2000, when Rocky Perez was the clear-cut starter ... Jordan Palmer started all 12 contests a year ago, throwing for 2,818 yards and 26 touchdowns ... the last time UTEP returned a 2,000-yard passer was 1990, when senior Howard Gasser was coming off a 2,586-yard campaign ... Palmer became only the second Miner sophomore to pass for 2,000 yards in 2004, joining Billy Stevens who achieved this feat in 1965 (3,032 yards).
WHERE’S THE BEEF? IN THE O-LINE: UTEP’s depth chart for the Marshall game features four projected starters in the offensive line who weigh 300 pounds ... left guard Jose Garcia is 320 pounds, right tackle Luis Espinosa is 305, left tackle Josh House is 300 and right guard James Riley is 300 ... UTEP has never opened a season with at least four starting O-linemen weighing 300 pounds ... UTEP’s projected starting O-line for the Marshall game averages 6-3 and 300 pounds.
HOWARD AMONG NATION’S FINEST: Senior linebacker Thomas Howard was recently named the preseason Defensive Player of the Year in the state of Texas by Dave Campbell’s magazine ... it marks the first time in the 46-year history of the prestigious publication that UTEP has had a preseason player of the year on either side of the ball ... a Lubbock native, Howard came to UTEP as a walk-on defensive back in 2001 ... at the time he weighed 195 pounds, now he’s up to 240 ... his father, Thomas Howard Sr., was also a linebacker who enjoyed a lengthy NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Cardinals ... Thomas Howard Jr. has posted 249 tackles in 41 games for the Miners, including 30.5 for losses and 11.5 sacks ... he ranks ninth in school history with 30 tackles for losses behind Chris Mineo, Elroy Stoglin, Pete Shufelt and Michael Comer (31.0, tied for fifth) ... he ranks 10th with 11.5 career sacks as well.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Free safety Quintin Demps made quite an impact as a freshman last season ... he contributed 58 tackles, two interceptions and four pass break-ups while starting all 11 games he appeared in ... he was tabbed the co-WAC Freshman of the Year and a freshman All-America by three agencies (Football Writers Association of America, Scripps, The Sporting News) ... Demps showed a flair for making big plays ... his forced fumble in the second overtime sealed the Miners’ 35-28 win over Rice in the Sun Bowl ... he also had a 51-yard fumble recovery for a score against Boise State, and a 43-yard interception for a TD versus SMU ... Demps joined LB Thomas Howard and DL Chris Mineo as All-Texas defensive selections by Dave Campbell’s preseason magazine.
CONGRATULATIONS: Five Miners were awarded scholarships on Aug. 20, including three seniors ... they are freshman WR Dustin Bell (Dallas, Texas), senior WR Jacob Gonzales (San Antonio, Texas), senior LB Gabe Macias (El Paso, Texas), junior DB Bryant Tisdale (Clearwater, Fla.) and senior OL Jordan Tubig (San Antonio, Texas).
MINERS PICKED FIRST: UTEP is projected to finish first in the Western Division of Conference USA this season, based on a preseason poll of league head coaches ... the Miners received 68 votes, more than any other C-USA school ... Southern Miss, the preseason favorite in the Eastern Division, was second with 64 votes ... rounding out the Western Division are Houston (59 votes), Tulane (46), Tulsa (31), Rice (27) and SMU (21).
WATCH LISTS: Seven Miners have been named to watch lists for various post-season awards ... senior LB Thomas Howard is on watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Award, presented to the nation’s top defensive player; the Rotary Lombardi Award, presented to the top interior lineman; and the Dick Butkus Award, presented to the top linebacker ... senior DL Chris Mineo is also on the Rotary Lombardi Award list ... junior Jordan Palmer is on the watch list for the Davey O’Brien Award (top quarterback) ... senior Tyler Ebell is on the watch list for the Doak Walker Award (top running back) ... junior Reagan Schneider is on the watch list for the Lou Groza Award (top placekicker) ... junior Alex Obomese is on the watch list for the Ted Hendricks Award (top defensive end) ... junior Ryan Hotchkiss is on the watch list for the Ray Guy Award (top punter).
FROM THE WEIGHT ROOM: UTEP Coach Mike Price says this is the fastest team he has ever coached. The team average in the 40-yard dash is 4.73 seconds (4.95 two years ago), led by junior WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr.’s clocking of 4.18 seconds. Other significant 40 times belong to junior DB Nate Draughon (4.29), senior LB Thomas Howard (4.33) and senior RB Tyler Ebell (4.37) ... six Miners achieved vertical jumps of 40 inches or better in winter testing, double the number from the previous year. They are sophomore DB Emeri Spence (44 inches), senior DB Cedric Click (43), Draughon (42), senior WR Jayson Boyd (41), senior DB Marshall Sanford (40.5) and freshman RB Jon Lane (40) ... UTEP’s average standing long jump has increased from 8-5 to 8-10 1/4 in two years, and the average 10-yard dash time has improved from 1.6 seconds to 1.53 seconds. The average vertical jump has increased from 31.8 inches to 33.3 inches over one year ... junior WR David Sutton has the top standing long jump on the team at 10-10.
UTEP ON THE TUBE: Eight Miner games are slated for national television in 2005 ... three will air on ESPN networks and five on CSTV affiliates ... ESPNU televised UTEP’s game at New Mexico State ... the home opener versus Houston (Sept. 16) was carried on ESPN2, and the game at Tulane (Oct. 14) was televised by ESPN ... CSTV or its affiliate, the i network (formerly PAX), showed the New Mexico game on Sept. 24 and the Memphis game (Oct. 1) ... they will also pick up games against Marshall (Oct. 22), Rice (Oct. 29) and UAB (Nov. 19) ... prior to this season, a total of four UTEP games all-time have aired on national television, including the 2004 EV1.net Houston Bowl on ESPN.
MINER NUGGETS: With senior Chris Francies sidelined due to injury, sophomore wide receiver Joe West made his second career start and his first since Oct. 25, 2003 last week at Tulane ... the Miners scored 24 points in the first half versus the Green Wave. Tulane had surrendered only seven points in the first half all season entering the contest ... junior tight end Jake Sears tied his career-high with 40 yards receiving against Tulane ... UTEP had 100 yards in penalties for the second time this season at Tulane on Oct. 14. The Miners’ season-high for penalty yards in 2004 was 78 at San Jose State. The last time the Miners had two games with 100 yards in penalties in a season was 1986 (four times) ... defensive back Fred Pattton and defensive lineman James Olalekan are the only true freshmen to see action for the Miners this fall ... Joe Fleskoski has three career interceptions for 135 yards and two touchdowns ... his two interceptions for touchdowns rank second-best in school history ... Price was able to keep his coaching staff together during the offseason, a rarity for UTEP football. It marks the first time since 1987-88 that the Miner staff has remained intact from one season to the next ... two former Miners were inducted into the UTEP Athletic Hall of Fame on Sept 23. Fred Carr (1965-67) was one of the greatest linebackers in school history, and went on to play for Green Bay in the NFL (he is a member of the Packer Hall of Fame). Fred Wendt (1942, 1946-48) was the only player in school history to rush for 300 yards in a game, rocketing for 326 yards versus New Mexico State in 1948.
USELESS STAT OF THE GAME: There are several Marshalls with ties to the Miner football program ... senior linebacker Marshall Sanford has played in 36 games for the Miners ... he is closing in on 100 career tackles with 94 stops to his credit ... according to the UTEP media guide, he is one of five players with the first name Marshall to letter for the Miners ... the others are Marshall Armstrong (1971), Marshall Gorden (1978-80), Marshall Mustain (1926-28) and Marshall Young (1992-95) ... Mustain actually lettered for the Miners twice during the 1928 season, if you are to believe page 159 of the media guide ... Young is the most well-known of the Marshalls, since he scored 202 points as a kicker for UTEP and went on to play one season with Miami in the NFL ... while Marshall University is located in West Virginia, four of the five aforementioned UTEP football Marshalls hail from the state of Texas ... rosters don’t exist for the 1926-28 seasons, so there’s no telling where Marshall Mustain calls home.