GAME NOTES: The Miners of Texas-El Paso again seek their first home win of the season on Saturday night, as they host the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in Conference USA action at Sun Bowl Stadium.
The Miners have won just once through the first four games of 2013, that lone victory coming at New Mexico State (42-21), a team which has now lost 16 straight games dating back to the 2012 season opener. Since picking up that victory in Las Cruces, UTEP has suffered two more defeats, the latest coming last weekend in a 59-42 shootout versus Colorado State in Fort Collins.
As for the Bulldogs, former members of the Western Athletic Conference before making the move to C-USA for football this season, they too have just one win, but in their case it wasn't even against a school from the Football Bowl Subdivision. Since defeating Lamar in the first week of September, Louisiana Tech has dropped three straight decisions, the latest being a 35-16 final against Army in the inaugural Heart of Dallas Classic last Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.
Former foes in the WAC, these two teams last met in 2004 when UTEP captured a 44-27 victory on the road, snapping a five-game series slide in the process. Still, the Bulldogs own a 6-2-1 advantage between the squads dating back to 1939.
The Louisiana Tech run defense was put to the test last weekend by the Black Knights and came up small as the Bulldogs permitted not just 414 yards on 77 attempts, but five touchdowns as Army captured the win in Dallas. The Bulldogs managed just two tackles for loss and a single sack, logged by Lloyd Grogan, as the Knights controlled the action for close to 40 minutes.
Offensively, Ryan Higgins tried to give the Bulldogs a fighting chance with his 20-of-36 passing effort, which accounted for 320 yards and a score, but he was intercepted once and sacked four times. Because he was taken down so often behind the line of scrimmage, LaTech was credited with just 57 net rushing yards after Kenneth Dixon gained 71 yards and scored once.
Andrew Guillot reeled in five passes for a game-high 123 yards and a touchdown in the setback.
Higgins, who has been taking the snaps since fellow quarterback Scotty Young went out with a rib injury, is completing his passes at a 57.9 percent clip, but has just as many touchdowns (three) as he does interceptions in his three appearances. Both signal callers have made it a habit to spread the wealth down the field, yet top receiver D.J. Banks, with his 20 catches, is averaging less than eight yards per reception and has yet to find the end zone.
After putting up significant points a year ago, ranked among the nation's top scoring teams, the Bulldogs have dropped down to a mere 16.4 ppg, which ranks them 115th in the country entering the week.
Trailing by 21 points in the third quarter, the Miners rebounded to tie the game at 28-28 versus Colorado State last weekend, but then the team again became too lenient on defense and ended up with the double-digit road loss. Jameill Showers accounted for six total touchdowns for the visitors, throwing for five scores and hitting the end zone on one of his 15 running plays as well.
Showers converted 26-of-43 passes for 365 yards and was sacked three times, bringing his net rushing figure down to 21 yards. Eric Tomlinson posted a game-high eight receptions for 75 yards and a TD, while Jordan Leslie checked in with only three catches for 130 yards and two scores.
Defensively, the Miners surrendered 591 yards on only 63 plays, which means Colorado State averaged better than nine yards per snap, making it almost impossible to gain possession enough times to be competitive.
Through four games, the pass defense has been dreadful for the Miners, checking in with an efficiency rating of 179.87, which is 122nd in the country out of 123 FBS programs. Because opponents have been able to go over the top so easily versus UTEP, the squad is giving up 38.5 ppg which is 112th in the nation.
Showers finally broke out against the Rams and while he has completed 62.3 percent of his pass attempts overall and has just a single interception, he has but seven aerial TDs, five of which came last week.
As long as Showers can again find cracks in the defense the Miners will have a fighting chance this weekend. However, what UTEP needs is a much stronger defensive stand and an offensively-challenged Bulldogs squad might be coming along at just the right time.