SITE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
SERIES: First meeting
RECORDS: UTEP 2-1; USF 3-0
POLLS: USF (No. 18 AP, No. 1 USA Today)
PREDICTION: USF 35-14
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For UTEP: Get a running game going. The Miners are getting less than 85 yards a game on the ground. The Miners can keep this competitive if they continue to get exceptional play from special teams.
-- For South Florida: Don't let down. The Bulls look to have an advantage on both sides of the ball over a UTEP that has struggled in its running game and made eight turnovers in just three games. Getting an early lead would be helpful in getting the starters to the sideline, where they can rest with a trip to Pittsburgh for a Thursday night game coming up.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
UTEP's best offensive game plan this season seems to be focused not necessarily on punching it in for touchdowns, but just on getting it inside the 40-yard line for PK Dakota Warren to have a shot at a field goal. Warren connected on three field goals last week in a win at NMSU -- from 47, 42 and 37 yards out. The running game has been non-existent if you don't count the 60-yard scamper from RB Joe Banyard on a fake punt, and the passing game took a serious blow when starting QB Nick Lamaison went down Sept. 10 at SMU with a shoulder injury.
Without its best two players in SS Travaun Nixon and DT Germard Reed, UTEP's defense still managed to pretty much keep rival New Mexico State in check on Sept. 17. The Miners managed to sack NMSU QB Andrew Manley six times in the game and allowed just 16 net rushing yards. They don't expect that this week at South Florida, but combined with an impressive second half at SMU on Sept. 10, the Miners have actually been a very good defense for six quarters in a row.
USF has had a rather easy go of it the last two games after opening with the win at Notre Dame. QB B.J. Daniels has completed 67 percent of his passes for 869 yards and run for another 71 for the season. RB Darrell Scott has given the Bulls' running game some power inside, and he leads the team in rushing with 261 yards. Demetris Murray has 135. WR Sterling Griffin leads all receivers with 20 catches, nearly three times No. 2 Victor Marc, but Daniels is spreading the ball around. Between Daniels and backup Bobby Eveld, 18 different players have caught at least one pass in the three games.
Thanks to the five turnovers the Irish made, USF's defense has come up with 10 turnovers to start the year. LBs Mike Lanaris, Sam Barrington, and DeDe Lattimore a 1-2-3 in tackles with 20, 19, and 17, respectively. Backup DE Claude Davis leads in sacks with three. Opponents are rushing for less than 80 yards a game against USF.
Miners: Odd statistic of the week: UTEP is 0-15-1 all-time when playing in the Eastern time zone. The Miners managed a tie, 13-13, at West Virginia on Nov. 12, 1949. ... UTEP is 0-20 vs. automatic qualifying BCS conference teams since the BCS was created in 1998. ... As coach Mike Price had just two starting quarterbacks -- Jordan Palmer and Trevor Vittatoe -- in seven years at UTEP before this season, but through just three games this year, Price has technically started three different quarterbacks in junior-college transfer Nick Lamaison (Sept. 3 vs. Stony Brook), sophomore Carson Meger (Sept. 10 at SMU) and redshirt freshman Jay Hall (Sept. 17 at NMSU). ...Dating back to halftime of a Sept. 10 loss at SMU, the UTEP defense has been lights out. The Miners' defense has allowed just 10 points and 390 yards of offense. SMU scored a second-half touchdown on a fumble recovery that wasn't against the Miners' defense, and NMSU managed just 10 points last week.
Bulls: The Bulls face a quick turnaround with their Big East opener coming up the next Thursday at Pittsburgh. ... Fast starts have helped USF in the early going. The Bulls have outscored their first three opponents 44-0 in the first quarter and hold a 95-14 advantage in the first half. ... Turnovers hurt USF in their losses last year, but QB B.J. Daniels is making ball security a priority. Daniels has thrown only one interception in his 100 pass attempts and has completed 67 for an even 67.0 completion percentage. He ranks second in the Big East in passing yards per game (289.7) despite sitting out a good portion of the second half of the last two games and is rated second in passing efficiency. ... With one more win, USF would be halfway to the eight-win level it has achieved in each of the last five seasons. ... USF is 72-21 at home since the program started in 1997.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
WR Cliff Tucker -- The local product who played four years of ACC basketball at Maryland before transferring back home for one season of football with UTEP hasn't been used much this season, but that could change soon, especially in the red zone.
RB Joe Banyard -- The senior running back broke off a 60-yard run in the Sept. 17 win at rival NMSU, but that hardly means he's had a successful season toting the rock for the Miners. Banyard has just 125 rushing yards in three games.
LB Jeremy Springer -- The senior linebacker had a team-high 11 tackles, including one for loss, in the Sept. 17 win over NMSU and enters the Sept. 24 game at South Florida second on the Miners' roster with 19 tackles, including 1.5 for loss..
WR Sterling Griffin -- After missing last year because of an ankle injury, Griffin has led a resurgence in the passing game. He leads the Bulls with 20 receptions for 224 yards.
RB Darrell Scott -- The transfer from Colorado got his first start in last week's win over Florida A&M and had a big game. He leads the Bulls in rushing with 261 yards. He has both power to get tough yards inside and speed to break big plays.
DT Elkino Watson -- A true freshman, Watson leads all defensive linemen in tackles for USF with 15 stops. That's only four behind LB Mike Lanaris for the team lead. Watson has 4.0 tackles-for-loss.
QB Nick Lamaison (shoulder, doubtful), SS Travaun Nixon (knee, doubtful), DT Germard Reed (neck, doubtful).
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