UTEP Leery of Rice
UTEP figures to be a heavy favorite heading into Saturday's game at Rice. The Miners are 5-1 this season, and coming off back-to-back drubbings of Tulane (45-21) and Marshall (31-3). The Owls are 0-6 and have given up more than 40 points in every game this year.
But if last year's game is any indication, UTEP can count on getting Rice's best shot this weekend in Houston.
The Miners were 6-2 and ranked 23rd nationally heading into the 2004 matchup at the Sun Bowl. Rice was 3-6 and coming off a 52-21 loss at Fresno State. UTEP won the game 35-28 in double overtime when Quintin Demps stripped Rice running back Ed Bailey at the goal line and Robert Rodriguez pounced on the football.
"I'm sure Rice is down," UTEP coach Mike Price said at his Monday media luncheon. "But all they need to do is look at film of last year's game to raise their spirits."
Rice has lost to UCLA, Texas, UAB, East Carolina, Tulsa and Navy this season. Bailey is gone, although the Owls continue to run the football effectively in his absence. Rice ranks 23rd nationally in rushing, averaging 203.3 yards per game on the ground. Junior Quinton Smith has rambled for 443 yards in 2005.
The Owls are 96th in scoring offense (19.2 ppg) and 117th in scoring defense (47 ppg).
Two quarterbacks have seen extensive action for Rice. Freshman Chase Clement has passed for 327 yards and two touchdowns, while sophomore Joel Armstrong -- who started last year's contest in El Paso -- has rushed for 243 yards and four scores.
"Clement has come in and beaten out Armstrong, who I thought was a tremendous quarterback," Price said.
Anchoring the Owl defense is senior defensive end John Syptak, who has posted 31 tackles and 5.5 tackles for losses this season.
"We want to know where he is on the field at all times, and who's going to block him," Price said.
Price said senior wide receiver Jayson Boyd will attempt to return to practice this week, and senior wide receiver Chris Francies could be available on Saturday. But the Miners might be down to two tight ends after junior Josh Chamois injured his ankle against Marshall.
The Miners were able to move the football minus Boyd, Francies and starting tight end Jake Sears on Saturday, rushing for 194 yards and compiling 409 yards of total offense.
"We put the two-back in with the injuries to the receivers," Price said. "We worked on some things last week that we didn't use in the game, so we'll run a little more two-back [against Rice]."