UTEP Preview

The Arizona State Sun Devils kick off their 2004 campaign when they host the University of Texas-El Paso Miners. The game will mark the debut of former Washington State coach Mike Price. The following is a DevilsDigest preview of ASU's first opponent of the season.

The Miners ended the 2003 season on a seven-game skid, en route to a 2-11 season and ninth place finish in the WAC conference. Therefore, there's no question that they are thanking their lucky stars that Mike Price, a two-time Pac-10 champion, fell into their arms after a very short and conversational stint at the University of Alabama. Unfortunately for Price, he does not yet have a lot of talent to work with. The 2004 Miners return three All-WAC performers: senior punter Bryce Benekos, senior linebacker Robert Rodriguez, and senior running back Howard Jackson.

Jackson is the only returning first team all conference performer and is probably the Miners' best offensive player. The 5-9 160 senior racked up 2,146 all-purpose yards, breaking a single season mark that stood for 40 years. In 2003, Jackson collected 1,206 yards and six touchdowns, while averaging 5.5 yards a carry. He's an accomplished kick returner (24.4 yard average) that will also handle some punt return duties this year.

Rodriguez led the WAC in tackles last season with 135, a feat which he also accomplished in 2001. The El Paso native has posted double-digit tackles in 18 career games. He is on the watch list for both the Butkus award and the Lombardi Trophy.

Benekos was ranked 13th nationally among punters in 2003, with an average of 44.1-yard average. In his last nine games he averaged 46.3 yards a punt. The senior is on the Ray Guy award watch list.

The offense is led by sophomore QB Jordan Palmer, brother of Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer. The 6-5 230 Palmer started six games as a redshirt freshman in 2003, throwing for 1,168 yards, seven touchdowns and thirteen interceptions.

UTEP is a very experienced team, and returns 54 letter winners, and has 52 upperclassmen overall. Consequently, they don't have a true freshman in their depth chart. Both Rodriguez and defensive back Jahmal Fenner have started 25 games apiece.

The crafty and sometimes unpredictable Mike Price has complied a 20-5 mark in his last two years at Washington State. Nine members of his coaching staff have previous Pac-10 coaching experience, and seven of them have been to the Rose Bowl.

The Sun Devils lead the overall series 32-13-3, including a 20-5 edge in Tempe. The Miners will play for the first time since 1947 on day other than Saturday. UTEP is 36-45-5 in season openers, including 7-29-2 on the road. Their last road season-opening win came in 1982.

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