Texas-El Paso (1-3) at East Carolina (2-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 29, 7:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (50,000) -- Greenville, North Carolina. Television: The CW, IMG Sports Network. Home Record: UTEP 1-1, ECU 1-0. Away Record: UTEP 0-2, ECU 1-2. Neutral Record: UTEP 0-0, ECU 0-0. Conference Record: UTEP 0-0, ECU 1-0. Series Record: East Carolina leads, 2-1.
GAME NOTES: After a difficult non-conference slate, the Texas-El Paso Miners aim to get back on track as they kick off their Conference USA season with a trip to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for a bout against the East Carolina Pirates.
UTEP dropped to 1-3 overall last week with a 37-26 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison. The Miners held their own against their Big Ten opponent, and trailed by just four points in the fourth quarter before the Badgers created some separation late in the contest. UTEP began the season with back-to-back losses to Oklahoma (24-7) and Ole Miss (28-10) before defeating rival New Mexico State (41-28). With the team's slow start, coach Mike Price's career record dropped below the .500 mark (175-177).
The Pirates were overmatched by their ACC counterpart their last time out as they dropped a 27-6 decision to the North Carolina Tar Heels in an instate battle in Chapel Hill. The loss dropped the team to 2-2 overall this season. ECU began its season with a convincing victory over Appalachian State (35-13), a loss at South Carolina (48-10), and a triumph at Southern Miss (24-14) in its league opener. Coach Ruffin McNeill will try to move his squad's league and home records to 2-0 this week when the Miners come to town.
The Pirates hold a narrow 2-1 advantage in the all-time series with UTEP. The Miners picked up their first win in the series last season, with a 22-17 victory at the Sun Bowl.
After being held to 17 points in their first two games, the Miners have scored 68 points in their last two outings. The offensive success has come via the arm of the team's steady signal caller, Nick Lamaison. UTEP's senior QB completed 22-of-39 passes for 259 yards and two scores in last week's loss. Lamaison has thrown 127 passes this season without an interception.
UTEP's passing game relies heavily on the wideout tandem of Mike Edwards and Jordan Leslie. Edwards has team-leading totals of 325 yards, three touchdowns, and 21 receptions. Leslie is averaging 93.7 receiving yards per contest over the last three games.
The rushing attack of the Miners lacks a consistent go-to-guy. Three different players have led the team in four games, with freshman Xay Williams being the most recent back featured. Williams produced the first touchdown run of his career and a season-best 53 yards in last week's loss to Wisconsin.
Despite having one of the most difficult schedules to this point, UTEP has been decent defensively. Opponents have scored in just 17-of-52 drives so far this season. UTEP is great at dislodging the ball from opposing ball carriers and already has forced nine fumbles through four games.
A dozen different players have recorded at least 10 tackles on the year for UTEP. Richard Spencer (36), Josh Fely (31), and DeShawn Grayson (31) have stood out as the key components.
Shane Carden took over the starting quarterback duties for ECU after the team's loss to South Carolina. In his two games as a starter, Carden has completed 30-of-57 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown.
Carden has been under consistent pressure to perform as the Pirates have had very little success running the ball. Vintavious Cooper, Michael Dobson, and Reggie Bullock have all seen a fair share of carries, but none of the three have produced. Cooper leads the team with 153 yards on 28 carries.
The top offensive weapon in ECU's spread offense has been Justin Hardy. The sophomore wideout has been unstoppable, catching 23 passes for 266 yards and three scores. Hardy had caught a touchdown pass in the first three games before being held out of the end zone by North Carolina last week.
With the exception of the South Carolina loss, ECU has been strong defensively. The Pirates have recorded seven takeaways and nine sacks already. In its conference opener, ECU made 12 tackles for loss against Southern Miss.
Jeremy Grove is anchoring the defensive unit with 31 total stops. Nine different players have accounted for the team's nine total sacks. The consistent pressure from all angles in the new 3-4 alignment has shown the ability to keep opposing offensive linemen guessing.
The Pirates are going to be a work in progress while Carden settles into his role as the new leader of the program. The young quarterback has done a great job avoiding turnovers, but he will continue to face new tests as opposing defensive coordinators attempt to expose his weaknesses. The Miners' 1-3 record is misleading considering their challenging opponents thus far. ECU holds a slight edge with the homefield advantage.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 27, Texas-El Paso 24
09/26 10:47:29 ET