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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 16, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sun Bowl (51,500) -- El Paso, Texas. Television: None. Home Record: FIU 0-5, UTEP 0-4. Away Record: FIU 1-3, UTEP 1-4. Neutral Record: FIU 0-0, UTEP 0-0. Conference Record: FIU 1-4, UTEP 0-5. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The Texas-El Paso Miners will go after their first league win of the season when they host the FIU Panthers in a Conference USA clash at the Sun Bowl.
Even though FIU has managed to secure a victory in league play this season the Panthers have certainly not been a part of the C-USA elite. In their first season as members of the conference the Panthers have managed to accumulate just a 24-23 victory over Southern Miss, while dropping their other eight contests. The most recent setback was the worst of the season as Middle Tennessee, a former Sun Belt Conference rival, posted a 48-0 rout of FIU. It was the second shutout the Panthers have suffered this season and was the fourth straight loss for the squad.
Since defeating New Mexico State, 42-21 in mid-September, the Miners have been in free fall. They have lost seven straight games, including al five against C-USA competition. The last three losses have been especially brutal as the Miners have been outscored by a combined score of 143-21. Most recently the Miners, who are playing in their final home game of the year, were defeated by North Texas in a 41-7 decision. UTEP managed just 184 yards of total offense in the losing effort.
This is the first year for FIU as a member of Conference USA and some of the members have yet to face the Panthers prior to this season. That includes UTEP.
When a team has just a 1-8 record it comes as no surprise that it has struggled to put forth much on the offensive side of the ball. FIU fits that bill as it is scoring just 10.1 points per game, while ranking dead last in the conference in total yards (226 ypg).
E.J. Hilliard has taken over the starting job at quarterback after Jake Medlock struggled. Hilliard has gotten the start in each of the last two games. However, he hasn't exactly excelled. Despite completing better than 60 percent of his pass attempts, Hilliard has just 522 yards and two touchdowns all season. He has been intercepted twice without an interception in his two starts. The pass protection for FIU has been miserable this year with FIU quarterbacks taking 35 sacks.
The tandem of Lamarq Caldwell and Silas Spearman has been carrying the ground game. Caldwell led the team with 48 yards on 14 carries against Middle Tennessee. He has been the leader most of the year in terms of yards, with 336 yards on 98 carries with one touchdown. Spearman (107 yards, 290 yards, four TDs) has more carries and has been more effective in getting to the end zone.
Hilliard and Medlock have both relied heavily on tight end Jonnu Smith when they have been able to complete passes. Smith leads the team in receptions (30), yards (277) and is tied in touchdowns (two). T.J. Lowder (18 receptions, 241 yards, two TDs) is the only other player with more than 15 receptions.
Though not a premier squad on defense among the C-USA, the Panthers are at least a bit more competitive on that side. FIU is 10th in the league in total yards allowed (417.8 ypg) and 11th in scoring defense (38 ppg). Markeith Russell has racked up 72 tackles to lead the team, while Justin Halley (43 tackles. two INTs) and Greg Hickman (3.0 sacks) have been reliable contributors as well.
The Miners have been a much more successful offensive team than FIU this season. Still, the numbers aren't good, as UTEP still ranks in the bottom half of the league in scoring (23.1 ppg) and total offense (359.3 ypg).
Mack Leftwich got the start at quarterback against North Texas as regular starter Jameill Showers continues to deal with a shoulder injury. Leftwich did throw for 128 yards and a touchdown, while completing 14-of-20 pass attempts but he was also intercepted once. Showers is listed as questionable yet again for Saturday, meaning Leftwich will probably be under center.
Leftwich will once again be looking for Jordan Leslie when he drops back to pass. Leslie has been the most productive receiver for the Miners with team- highs in receptions (37), yards (535) and touchdowns (six). Ian Hamilton (22 receptions, 344 yards, TD) has shown some flashes of big-play ability.
Running the ball has been primarily the domain of Aaron Jones. However, Jones is coming off a dismal effort against North Texas when he managed just six yards on five carries. On the year, he has averaged a much more respectable 5.2 yards per carry, tallying 811 yards and four touchdowns on 155 touches. Nathan Jeffery (215 yards, TD) is Jones' understudy.
It is on defense that UTEP has struggled the most. The Miners are the second worst team in the conference in total defense (478.8 ypg) and scoring defense (41 ppg). James Davidson (4.0 sacks) is at the forefront of a weak pass rush, while Devin Cockrell (55 tackles) leads the team in stops. Dashone Smith has the team's only two interceptions.
Leftwich didn't look bad in his start against North Texas, though there is certainly room for improvement. Against FIU he may be able to find some, especially as this looks to be the last winnable game left on the schedule for the Miners.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas-El Paso 33, FIU 30
11/14 16:05:43 ET
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