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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 7, 8:00 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sun Bowl Stadium (51,500) -- El Paso, Texas. Television: FOX College Sports. Home Record: UNM 0-1, UTEP 0-0. Away Record: UNM 0-0, UTEP 0-0. Neutral Record: UNM 0-0, UTEP 0-0. Conference Record: UNM 0-0, UTEP 0-0. Series Record: New Mexico leads, 42-31-3.
GAME NOTES: For the sixth time in program history, the Miners of Texas-El Paso kick off a season of football against the New Mexico Lobos.
UTEP, one of only a handful of teams that waited until the month of September to get the ball rolling this year, begins its 96th season under the direction of new head coach Sean Kugler. A former Miner player himself, Kugler was most recently the offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. His last assignment at the college level was that of assistant head coach at Boise State back in 2006.
Kugler takes over a program that was just 3-9 a season ago, with one of those victories coming against a winless Southern Miss squad. UTEP was only 2-6 in Conference USA action in 2012.
The Lobos have already gotten off the ground in 2013, but the outcome at home against Texas-San Antonio last week was not what the program expected as it bowed to the Roadrunners in a 21-13 final. With the defeat, UNM has now bowed in seven consecutive outings, one of the longest slides in the nation entering play this week.
UTEP won the most recent meeting between these two teams in 2010 by a score of 38-20, but UNM is still ahead in the all-time series, 42-31-3.
For the third straight season, the Lobos scored first in their opening game, but this time around it was a little unorthodox as SaQwan Edwards brought back a fumble 45 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. However, a failed PAT was a sign of things to come for the Lobos as they went from a 13-0 lead less than 19 minutes into the meeting to an eight-point defeat after 60 minutes.
Quarterback Cole Gautsche did toss a 37-yard TD pass to Marquis Bundy, but the signal caller finished a mere 4-of-12 for 65 yards overall. Add Clayton Mitchem into the equation and UNM hit on just 6-of-17 pass attempts for a grand total of 84 yards. Considering the Lobos ranked 119th in the country last season with just 68.9 ypg through the air, the effort was at least a positive one.
However, that lackluster passing attack from 2012 was augmented by a running game that generated 301.3 ypg, fifth-best in the country, yet against UTSA the Lobos could muster only 193 yards and the leader in that department turned out to be Gautsche with his game-high 118 yards on 16 attempts.
The New Mexico defense managed to log three sacks of UTSA's Eric Soza, but still the signal-caller tallied a pair of touchdowns in the meeting. Fatu Ulale managed just three total stops, yet half of those came against Soza.
When it comes to offense for the Miners, their first goal this season is to find a quarterback who can stay active for a full season. In 2012, the program had three QBs attempt at least 40 passes and everyone combined to average 224.0 ypg, leading to 16 touchdowns, but also 13 interceptions. At the top of the depth chart this time around is Jameill Showers, a transfer from Texas A&M. Unfortunately, Showers had little game experience stemming from his time with the Aggies, so he'll be tested immediately when he steps onto the field this weekend.
The good news for Showers is that he has plenty of running backs ready to line up behind him and lend a hand. Although he's one of a number of players dealing with nagging injuries leading up to the opener, Nathan Jeffery is still aiming to be in the starting lineup on Saturday and reprise his role as the top ground gainer for the Miners. Last season, Jeffery appeared in 11 games, accounting for 897 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, both of which were more than half of the team's overall production.
Out on the wings, Showers will turn to Jordan Leslie and Ian Hamilton, the former coming off a 51-catch campaign, resulting in a team-best 973 yards and six touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Miners have lost their top overall tackler from a year ago in Josh Fely (112 stops), but at least linebacker Horace Miller is back in the starting lineup to fill some of the void. Miller not only brings senior leadership, he was also first on the team with six sacks a year ago and was tops with 7.5 tackles for loss overall, accounting for a sizeable chunk of his 31 overall tackles.
Expect a spirited effort by the Miners as they not only play in front of the hometown crowd, but also try to get their new coach off on the right foot.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas-El Paso 24, New Mexico 17
09/04 10:37:39 ET
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