Game 9: UTEP Seeks Second C-USA Win At Rice
Oct. 31, 2011
The UTEP football team (4-4, 1-3 C-USA) takes to the road to face Rice (2-6, 1-4 C-USA) on Saturday at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas. Kickoff is slated for 1:30 p.m. (mountain time) in Houston, Texas. The Miners will play their fifth game in front of a national television audience, with the game being televised on Fox Sports Network. Ron Thulin (play-by-play), JC Pearson (color analyst) and Jeremy Bloom (sideline) will call the game.
The Miners are coming off a 31-13 setback at the hands of 25th-ranked Southern Miss to drop to 1-3 in Conference USA action and 4-4 overall. The Miners are looking for their second-consecutive conference road win after defeating Tulane on Oct. 15. The last time the Miners won back-to-back league road games came in 2005. Coincidentally, the Miners defeated Tulane (45-21; Oct. 14) and Rice (38-31; Oct. 29) in 2005. The Tulane game was played at Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston, La. UTEP hasn't won consecutive true conference road games since 2004 when it topped Fresno State (24-21), Louisiana Tech (44-27) and San Jose State (38-20) in succession.
Rice leads the series 8-6 and holds a 5-2 edge in Houston. The Miners are 3-4 against Rice under Mike Price, including 1-2 on the road. The last time the Miners defeated the Owls on their turf was a 38-31 triumph on Oct. 29, 2005. UTEP won the last meeting between the two squads, 44-24 in the Sun Bowl in 2010.
The Owls fell to 2-6 after a 73-34 loss at the hands of then 17-th ranked Houston on Oct. 27. The Owls have played a tough non-conference schedule that featured Texas, Purdue and Baylor, with Northwestern scheduled later in the season.
Rice's kicking game is as solid as UTEP's with the Owls ranked 10th nationally in net punting (40.46 avg.). Kyle Martens is averaging 44.9 yards per punt to rank 15th nationally and second in the league behind UTEP's Ian Campbell. Chris Boswell is tied for first in C-USA with UTEP's Dakota Warren in field goals (1.50). Cameron Nwosu is ranked 13th nationally in tackles (10.62 avg.) and Mario Hull is tied for 14th in punt returns (11.82 avg.).
The Last Meeting
Trevor Vittatoe threw for three touchdowns and 327 yards to lead UTEP to a 44-24 win over Rice on Oct. 10, 2010 in the Sun Bowl.
Vittatoe set UTEP career records for touchdown throws, passing yards and total offensive yards. Kris Adams caught all of Vittatoe's TD passes and finished with 134 yards receiving. Leilyon Myers ran for a pair of touchdowns and Jason Williams ran for another.
Four Miners return to their home city of Houston - senior DB Antwon Blake, sophomore TE Katrae Ford, freshman WR Mark Jackson and freshman WR Jordan Leslie. Sophomore TE Kevin Perry is an Opelousas, La. native, but played his prep ball at Westbury Christian High School in Houston. UTEP has 10 other players from the greater Houston area (junior LB Aubrey Alexius, junior OL Eloy Atkinson, senior RB Joe Banyard, freshman RB LaQuintus Dowell, senior OL Nathan McCage, senior DL Bernard Obi, senior LB Royzell Smith, junior DL Greg Watkins, freshman OL Jerel Watkins & junior DB Darren Woodard).
UTEP DL Adam Ayala and DL James Davidson and Rice DT Jamael Thomas and DE Jared Williams attended Huntsville High School in Huntsville, Texas. UTEP LB Isaiah Carter and Rice CB Phillip Gaines attended Judson High School in Converse, Texas. UTEP's Dowell and Rice OL Davon Allen attended Humble High School in Humble, Texas. UTEP OL Wayne Frazier and Rice DE Dylan Klare are from Refugio, Texas and attended Refugio High School. UTEP LB Hunter Nix and Rice DE Trevor Jones attended Prosper High School out of Prosper, Texas. UTEP's Obi and Rice OL Ian Gray attended Pearland High School in Pearland, Texas. UTEP LB Michael Pickett and Rice QB Taylor McHargue attended Vista Ridge High School. UTEP QB Blaire Sullivan and Rice LB Nick Elder attended Central Catholic High School out of San Antonio, Texas. UTEP LB Anthony Puente also hails from San Antonio as does Rice DE Scott Solomon. Both attended Marshall High School. UTEP DL Herbert Gonzales is also a San Antonio native as are Rice QB Nick Fanuzzi, K James Farrimond, SAF Gabe Baker and OL Justin Warren. UTEP TE Eric Tomlinson and Rice OL Clay Hebert attended Klein High School in Klein, Texas.
UTEP-Rice Coaching Ties
UTEP's Assistant AD for Football Operations, Nate Poss is a graduate of Rice University. Poss earned four letters (1973-76) for the Owls and was in the starting lineup for two seasons (1975-76). Poss received his degree from the school in 1978. Owls defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach and UTEP WR coach Guy Holliday worked together at Western Michigan in 2000. Rice cornerbacks coach Chris Thurmond has coached against the Miners while at Tulsa (1983-91, 1994) and TCU (1995, 1998-2000). Thurmond was the cornerbacks coach at TCU in 2000 when UTEP and the Horned Frogs shared the Western Athletic Conference title.
UTEP in the Space City
The Miners have lost their last five games in the city of Houston dating back to a 38-31 triumph at Rice on Oct. 29, 2005. UTEP fell 34-17 at Houston in 2006, 56-48 at Rice in 2007, 42-37 at Houston in 2008, 30-29 at Rice in 2009 and 54-24 at Houston in 2010. UTEP is 1-6 in games played in the Bayou City under coach Mike Price, including a 33-28 setback at the hands of Colorado in the 2004 EV1.net Houston Bowl.
UTEP-Rice Series Has Produced Points
The Miners and the Owls have met six times as members of Conference USA, with Rice winning four of the matchups. UTEP has averaged 39.0 points in the six games and Rice has averaged 37.8. The winning team has scored at least 30 points in each of the last nine encounters between the Texas rivals.
Miners Begin Home Stretch
With a 4-4 record and having scored exactly as many points as its opponent (218), UTEP needs to at least split its final four games to secure bowl eligibility for the second straight season. The Miners are 9-18 in the month of November under coach Mike Price, and have posted two wins in the month once over the last five seasons (2008). Of the 14 matchups between UTEP and Rice, 10 have come in the month of November with the Miners posting a 3-7 record (1-5 in Houston).
UTEP Has Enjoyed Some Success on the Road
The Miners are in position to post three road wins in a season for the first time since 2005 with games remaining at Rice Saturday and at UCF on Nov. 25. UTEP (2-2 on the road in 2011) has won three or more road games in a season just six times since 1965 (1970, 1987, 1988, 2000, 2004, 2005). The Miners haven't registered four road victories since 1988. The last time UTEP won a road conference game in the month of November was on Nov. 10, 2006 at UAB (36-17).
A Series of Tough Breaks
There's no question that UTEP has played better than its 4-4 record would indicate this season. The Miners' four losses have come at the hands of teams (SMU, USF, Houston, Southern Miss) with a combined record of 24-7 entering the week. UTEP trailed SMU 21-17 and had possession with under three minutes to go. The Miners were within two touchdowns of USF (38-24) on the road midway through the fourth quarter. Trailing by a touchdown to Houston (49-42), UTEP drove to the Cougar 19-yard line in the final minute. And last week against Southern Miss, the Miners trailed 17-13 heading into the final period before the Golden Eagles engineered a pair of long scoring drives to put the game away.
A Quality Campaign
The stats for this year's Miner team compare favorably to last season's New Mexico Bowl squad, despite facing a significantly more difficult schedule.
Category 2010 2011
Scoring offense 26.0 27.2
Scoring defense 27.5 27.2
Rushing offense 137.1 161.4
Rushing defense 184.1 185.8
Passing offense 223.3 213.8
Passing defense 228.5 240.9
Total offense 360.4 375.1
Total defense 412.6 426.6
Kick return avg. 25.6 27.0
Punt return avg. 12.8 8.1
Sacks 14* 20
Interceptions 11* 8
* Total through 13 games
UTEP has had a decided disadvantage in points off turnovers this season. The Miners are tied for 78th nationally in fumbles lost (eight), tied for 108th in interceptions thrown (12), 109th in turnovers lost (20) and tied for 110th in turnover margin (-0.88).
-Turnovers- -Points Off Turnovers-
Game UTEP Opp. Margin UTEP Opp.
Stony Brook 4 1 -3 0 10
at SMU 2 3 +1 10 7
at NM State 2 2 EVEN 0 0
at USF 3 0 -3 0 21
Houston 2 0 -2 0 14
at Tulane 3 4 +1 10 0
Colorado State 2 2 EVEN 10 7
Southern Miss 2 1 -1 0 7
Totals 20 13 -7 30 66
Ground Game an Important Element
Generally speaking, the Miners have enjoyed success this season when they have been able to run the football. UTEP is 3-1 when it rushes for over 100 yards and 1-3 when it is held under the century mark. The Miners have averaged 206.8 yards rushing in their four victories and 116.0 in their four losses (includes 271 yards rushing in a 49-42 loss to Houston on Sept. 29). Last week against Southern Miss, UTEP ran more pass plays (35) than rushing plays (27) for the first time in four games. In the previous three outings the Miners ran the ball 66 percent of the time (120 of 181 total offensive plays). UTEP is 3-1 when it has more rushes than passes this year.
Turning the Tables
UTEP has lost the field position battle in back-to-back games after winning it in each of the first six contests this season.
Average Starting Field Position
Opponent UTEP Opp.
Stony Brook U31 O20
at SMU U32 O27
at NM State U36 O26
at USF U33 O26
Houston U23 O22
at Tulane U38 O24
Colorado State U26 O39
Southern Miss U23 O29
Average U30 O27
Not What We're Used To
The UTEP offense was held to one touchdown last week against Southern Miss for just the fifth time in 46 home games during the Mike Price era. It also happened in 2007 versus New Mexico, 2008 versus Texas, 2009 versus Kansas and 2010 versus Memphis. The Miners were also limited to a season-low three "big plays" (20 yards or more) by Southern Miss after registering at least seven in each of the previous four games. With 262 yards against the Golden Eagles, UTEP was held under 300 yards of offense for the first time this season.
That's a First
UTEP did not attempt a fourth down conversion for the first time this season versus Southern Miss. The Miners are 10-for-14 on fourth down this season, a percentage (.714) that ranks 13th nationally and second in Conference USA behind East Carolina (.778).
Defense Has Been Even Better Than Stats Indicate
UTEP ranks 68th nationally in scoring defense, surrendering 27.2 points per game, but the stop troops has been on the field for only 183 of the 218 points allow this season. Opponents have scored 35 points directly off turnovers, with three TDs coming via the fumble recovery and two via the interception. So the defense is allowing only 22.9 points per contest, a figure that would rate 40th in the FBS.
Holding `Em Under 20
UTEP has held opponents under 20 points in eight of 21 games since Andre Patterson took over as defensive coordinator for the 2010 season. That's particularly impressive when you consider that the Miners kept foes under 20 points eight times in the previous 57 games prior to his arrival.
UTEP's Defensive Success Buoyed By Red Zone Efficiency
UTEP is tied for 10th in the FBS in red zone efficiency defense. Opponents have scored 19 times on 27 trips to the red zone (70.3 percent), but with only 12 touchdowns. Southern Miss leads C-USA in red zone defense (19-for-28, .679), a shade ahead of the second-place Miners.
Miners Have Been Particularly Disciplined in Conference Play
In four Conference USA games this season, UTEP has been whistled for 11 penalties totaling 91 yards. In four non-conference games, the Miners have had 28 penalties for 266 yards. UTEP had one penalty for 10 yards at Tulane on Oct. 15, its lowest total in a conference game since Oct. 14, 1989 versus New Mexico (0).
A Special Year For Special Teams
The Miners rank in the top-10 nationally in net punting (42.3-yard average, third) and kickoff returns (27.0-yard average, fifth). Rice, incidentally, rates 10th in the FBS in net punting with a 40.5-yard average.
Miners in the National Ranks
The Miners rank in the top-50 nationally in net punting (third; 42.3 avg.), kickoff returns (fifth; 27.0), passing efficiency defense (30th; 117.6) and sacks (34th; 2.38 avg.).
Individually, Ian Campbell ranks first in the nation in punting (47.8 avg.), Vernon Frazier is seventh in kickoff returns (30.43 avg.)and Dakota Warren is tied for 19th in field goals (1.50 avg.).
Campbell Back on Top in National Punting Chase
After punting seven times for 328 yards in last week's game versus Southern Miss, junior Ian Campbell finds himself back atop the NCAA statistics with a 47.78-yard average. Four other players are averaging better than 47 yards per punt -- Temple's Brandon McManus (47.66), Oklahoma State's Quinn Sharp (47.59 avg.), Idaho's Bobby Cowan (47.45 avg.) and Oregon's Jackson Rice (47.41 avg.). A UTEP Miner has won the national punting title on three occasions -- Owen Price in 1940, Fred Wendt in 1946 and Ed Bunn in 1992. Price owns the school record with a 48.00 average in 1940.
Frazier Also Rates Among FBS Leaders
Senior RB Vernon Frazier is seventh in the country -- and first in Conference USA -- in kickoff returns with a 30.43 average. Frazier can join Marlon McClure (31.00 average, 2010) and Roy Ross (30.60 average, 1990) as the only players in school history to average 30 yards or better on kickoff returns for a season. Frazier has had a kickoff return of 40 yards or more in five of eight games this season (50 versus Stony Brook, 43 at SMU, 48 at NM State, 67 at USF, 42 versus Colorado State). He is also the Miners' second-leading rusher with 289 yards and had an 83-yard run against CSU, tied for the fifth-longest in school history.
Myers is Mr. Touchdown
Senior Leilyon Myers has flourished as UTEP's short yardage back this season. He has scored a touchdown in six of the last seven games and is second on the team with 42 points. Myers has totaled 13 scores in 21 games with the Miners after transferring from Palomar Junior College. He is third on the team in rushing in 2011 with 271 yards.
Miners Can Have Three 400-Yard Rushers
UTEP's three-headed senior monster of Joe Banyard (552 yards), Vernon Frazier (289) and Leilyon Myers (271) has been responsible for 86 percent (1,112 of 1,291) of the team's rushing yards this season. Banyard (7.6 avg.) and Frazier (7.2 avg.) are both averaging better than seven yards per carry. UTEP is on pace to have three 400-yard rushers for the first time since 1997 (Elzie Johnson 526 yards, Joseph Polk 471, Paul Smith 432).
UTEP's leading receiver has had a single catch in three straight games for the first time since the first three contests of the 1961 season. Sophomore Craig Wenrick had a 66-yard reception, the longest by a tight end in school history, at Tulane on Oct. 15. The Miners' receiving leader over the last two games have been freshman Nathan Jeffery (one catch for 36 yards) versus Colorado State and freshman Jordan Leslie (one catch for 40 yards) versus Southern Miss. UTEP hasn't gone four straight games where its leading receiver had a single catch since 1950. Leslie, meanwhile, has topped the team in receiving a team-leading three times in 2011.
Surprise! Edwards is Lamaison's Top Target
Former junior college teammates Nick Lamaison and Mike Edwards have revived their prolific passing connection at UTEP. After the duo led Mt. SAC to the 2010 national title, Lamaison has hooked up with Edwards 29 times this season. Not only does Edwards lead the Miners in catches, but he also tops the squad with 372 receiving yards (46.5 per game). He has also averaged 18.5 yards on kickoff returns and last week versus Southern Miss added punt returns to his list of responsibilities following the dismissal of Anthony McGhee from the team.
A True Team Effort
UTEP's defense has provided solid play this season with its biggest star, safety Travaun Nixon, missing half the year due to injury. The Miners already have more sacks (20) than they did a year ago (14), and with 46 tackles for losses are closing in on their 2010 total (50). Sophomore DL Horace Miller, a Louisville transfer, leads the contingent with four sacks. Junior DB DeShawn Grayson has a team-leading 55 tackles for a UTEP defensive unit that is on pace to go back-to-back seasons without a 100-tackle player for the first time since the implementation of the statistic in 1969.
Warren is in a Kicking Groove
Junior Dakota Warren has made seven of his last eight field goals dating back to the USF game on Sept. 24. During that stretch he has connected from 41, 42 and 47 yards. Warren is 6-for-8 on field goals from 40-49 yards this season (he was 1-for-5 from that distance last season). For the second straight year, he is perfect on PATs (26-for-26) and has made 68 consecutive extra points since joining the Miners for the 2010 season. Warren is attempting to become the second UTEP player to go two seasons without missing a PAT, joining Marshall Young who achieved the feat in 1992 and 1995. Warren already ranks seventh in the Miner record book for PATs made behind Hugo Castellanos (75, 1984-87) and he is 10th in field goals made (24) behind Jason Gillespie (25, 1989-91).