Game 10: UTEP Looks to Rebound Against East Carolina
Nov. 7, 2011
UTEP (4-5, 1-4 C-USA) returns to the Sun Bowl to face East Carolina (4-5, 3-2 C-USA) in the first of its final two home games of the 2011 season. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. (mountain).
The Miners are coming off a 41-37 loss at Rice. The squad is looking for its first C-USA home victory of the season after dropping decisions to Houston (49-42) and Southern Miss (31-13). The Miners have not dropped three straight home games to league foes since the 2007 campaign when they fell to East Carolina (45-42 in overtime), Houston (34-31) and Southern Miss (56-30). The last time the Miners started 0-3 at home in conference play was in 2003. The Miners are 2-2 at home this season.
East Carolina is 2-0 against the Miners with a 1-0 advantage in the Sun Bowl. The last meeting between the two teams in the Sun City came with a 45-42 overtime Pirate victory in 2007.
The Last Meeting
Brandon Simmons ran for three scores and had a touchdown catch to help East Carolina defeat UTEP 53-21 on Nov. 28, 2008 in Greenville. East Carolina scored the first 24 points and scored on all five first-half drives to take a 30-7 lead into halftime. The Pirates scored on nine of 10 offensive possessions.
UTEP's Terrell Jackson scored on a 28-yard touchdown run late in the first half and Trevor Vittatoe threw a 50-yard TD pass to Kris Adams late in the third quarter.
The Last Time Out
Nick Fanuzzi was 30 of 43 for 405 yards and three touchdowns in Rice's 41-37 victory over UTEP last Saturday. The Owls compiled 671 yards of offense in the contest and snapped a three-game losing skid.
Nick Lamaison was 16 of 29 for 294 yards and threw three for touchdowns to lead the Miners. Mike Edwards had seven catches for a career-high 187 yards and two TDs.
Lamaison threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Leslie with 42 seconds remaining, but the Owls recovered the onside kick to end the game.
UTEP in the National Ranks
The Miners rank in the top-50 nationally in net punting (second; 42.6 avg.), kickoff returns (second; 27.6 avg.) and sacks (tied for 42nd; 2.11 avg.).
Individually, Ian Campbell ranks first in the nation in punting (47.6 avg.), Vernon Frazier is fourth in kickoff returns (32.2 avg.), Nathan Jeffery is 39th in kickoff returns (25.3 avg.) and Dakota Warren is tied for 23rd in field goals (1.44 avg.).
Scouting East Carolina
The Pirates are coming off a 48-28 loss at the hands of Southern Miss last week, falling to 4-5 and 3-2 in Conference USA action to tie for second in the league's Eastern Division. East Carolina ranks 21st nationally in pass defense (188.8 avg.) and freshman linebacker Jeremy Grove is seventh nationally and third in C-USA in tackles (11.9 avg.).
Paced by senior quarterback Dominique Davis, the Pirates are 10th nationally in passing offense (312.4 ypg.). Davis is 18th nationally in total offense (293.7 ypg.) and senior WR Lance Lewis is 12th in receptions per game (7.5 avg.).
East Carolina is the only team that UTEP hasn't beaten since joining Conference USA. The Miners are 0-2 versus the Pirates with losses during the 2007 (45-42 in overtime) and 2008 (53-21) seasons. UTEP is 4-3 versus SMU, 4-3 versus Tulane, 3-3 versus Tulsa, 2-2 versus Marshall, 1-1 versus UCF, 1-2 versus Southern Miss, 2-5 versus Houston, 2-5 versus Rice, 1-3 versus Memphis and 1-3 versus UAB.
UTEP and East Carolina will be squaring off for the first time in nearly three years. Five members of this year's Miner squad played in the Nov. 28, 2008 game at ECU, all in a reserve capacity -- DB Antwon Blake, LB Isaiah Carter, LB Jamie Irving (redshirting this season), WR Donavon Kemp and DL Bernard Obi.
Miners Have Faced McNeil Before
UTEP has played three games in its football history where Ruffin McNeill, current head coach of the East Carolina Pirates, was on the opposing sideline. On Oct. 23, 1999, McNeill was defensive coordinator at Fresno State when the Bulldogs topped the Miners 24-23 in overtime. McNeill was on the Texas Tech staff when the Red Raiders knocked off UTEP during the 2006 (38-35 in overtime) and 2007 (45-31) seasons.
Season on the Brink for Both Teams
UTEP and East Carolina are both 4-5 and need wins in two of their last three games to secure bowl eligibility. The Miners finish up with Tulsa at home (Nov. 19) and UCF on the road (Nov. 25). The Pirates will host UCF (Nov. 19) and play at Marshall (Nov. 26). UTEP is seeking back-to-back bowl bids for the fourth time in school history (1948-49, 1953-54, 2004-05). East Carolina is pursuing its sixth consecutive bowl bid.
Miners Shooting For Rare Feat
UTEP has won at least two of its final three regular season games just four times over the last 40 seasons (1986, 1988, 2000, 2004). Out of that group, only the 1986 Miners did not participate in postseason play.
Miners Play 2 of Last 3 at Home
The Miners will play back-to-back November home games for the first time since 2005 when they hosted Tulsa, Texas Southern and UAB in succession. That was also the last time UTEP was home for two of its final three regular season games. UTEP is 29-17 in the Sun Bowl under coach Mike Price, including 2-2 this season.
UTEP Has Struggled Against the Eastern Division
UTEP has been much better against C-USA Western Division teams (15-17 record) than Eastern Division squads (6-15 record) since joining the league for the 2005 season. The Miners' 15-11 C-USA home mark includes an 11-5 ledger versus the Western Division and 4-6 versus the Eastern Division. UTEP had won back-to-back games versus Eastern Division opponents in the Sun Bowl before falling to Southern Miss, 31-13, on Oct. 29.
UTEP Seeking End to November Swoon
The Miners are 9-19 in the month of November under coach Mike Price (5-16 since 2006) and haven't had a winning record in the month since 2004 (2-1). UTEP's November home record under Price is 3-5 following a 4-0 start in 2004 and 2005, although the Miners have won three straight November home games (beat SMU 36-10 in 2008, beat Marshall 52-21 in 2009, beat SMU 28-14 in 2010).
Miners Have Dented the Scoreboard Early
UTEP has put a touchdown on the board in the first three minutes in four of the last five games (Houston, Tulane, Colorado State, Rice). UTEP's first points versus the Owls last week came at the 13:57 mark of the first quarter, making it the quickest score of the Mike Price era. The previous fastest score came at 13:41 in the first quarter versus Colorado State on Oct. 22.
UTEP Has Featured Quick-Strike Offense in 2011
Of UTEP's 30 touchdown drives this season, 16 have been less than two minutes in duration. The Miners have been particularly impatient over the last four games, with 11 of their 14 TD drives during that span lasting fewer than two minutes.
Ground Game Highly Instrumental in Success
The Miners are 3-1 this season when they run for 100 yards or more and 1-4 when they are held under the century mark. UTEP has come out throwing over the last two games. Sixty-four of the Miners' 112 total offensive plays (57 percent) have been of the passing variety during that stretch. In the previous three games, the Miners ran the ball 66 percent (120 of 181 plays) of the time. UTEP is 3-1 when it has more rushes than passes this year. The Miners have averaged 206.8 yards rushing in their four victories and 112.4 in their five losses (includes 271 yards rushing in a 49-42 loss to Houston on Sept. 29).
Miners Had Big Plays in the Passing Game at Rice
UTEP averaged a season-high 18.4 yards per completion in last week's loss at Rice. The last time the Miners averaged more yards per completion was on Nov. 28, 2009 versus Marshall (18.5). Nick Lamaison completed five passes of 20 yards or more against the Owls, with three going to former junior college teammate Mike Edwards (26, 50 and 74 yards).
The Big Plays are Back
After being limited to a season-low three "big plays" (20 yards or more) by Southern Miss on Oct. 29, the Miners tied their season-high with 11 big plays at Rice (they also had 11 against Houston on Sept. 29). Five of UTEP's big plays versus the Owls came via the pass, five via the kickoff return and one via the rush.
UTEP Has Been Explosive on Kickoff Returns
Of UTEP's 72 big plays this season, 27 have come via the kickoff return, with 18 courtesy of Vernon Frazier and eight courtesy of Nathan Jeffery. The 70-yard kickoff return by Frazier in the second quarter at Rice was a career-long and the longest by a Miner since Marlon McClure's 100-yard return at Arkansas on Nov. 13, 2010. Frazier has had a kickoff return of 40 yards or more in six of nine games this season. Jeffery, meanwhile, established a career-high with 126 kickoff return yards versus the Owls. The Miners rank second nationally in kickoff return average (27.6) behind TCU (28.0), and Frazier is fourth (32.2 avg.) behind Texas' Fozzy Whittaker (42.4), Kansas State's Tyler Lockett (35.2) and Rutgers' Jeremy Deering (33.4).
Miners Have Had Fourth Quarter Struggles
UTEP has been outscored 67-33 in the fourth quarter this season. In the other three periods, the Miners have tallied 215 points to opponents' 192. UTEP has been outscored in the fourth quarter in six of nine games this season, including in five of the last six. The Miners haven't scored more than seven points in the fourth quarter in 22 straight games since putting 10 on the board in the final period of the 2009 finale versus Marshall.
UTEP has had a decided disadvantage in points off turnovers this season. The Miners are tied for 65th nationally in fumbles lost (eight), tied for 115th in interceptions thrown (14/only Central Michigan has more), tied for 108th in turnovers lost (22) and tied for 110th in turnover margin (-1.00).
Miners Have Shown Discipline in Conference Play
In five Conference USA games this season, UTEP has been whistled for 15 penalties totaling 116 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). The Miners rank in the top-30 nationally in both fewest penalties per game (tied for 21st, 4.8) and fewest penalty yards per game (29th, 42.4).
Keeping `Em Under 20
UTEP has held opponents under 20 points in eight of 22 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 20th in the FBS in red zone efficiency defense. Opponents have scored 24 times on 32 trips to the red zone (75 percent), but with only 15 touchdowns. UTEP is fifth in C-USA in red zone defense behind Southern Miss (.688), Tulsa (.730), Houston (.727) and SMU (.727).
Big Day For Edwards
Junior WR Mike Edwards finished with a UTEP-high 187 yards receiving at Rice last week. His college high is 216 yards at College of the Desert while at Mt. SAC in 2010. The 187 yards are the ninth-most by a UTEP player and the third-most since 1970 behind