Conversely, UTEP (5-4, 2-4) has shown heart all year long, so the Miners are certainly "in it to win it." The only blowout loss for UTEP was to Houston in the second week of the season (54-24). The Miners has lost their last two games by a combined 14 points, including a 4-point loss at Marshall last week.
2. Precise Padron -- Sophomore quarterback Kyle Padron had a slow start last week at Tulane, but he was money late in the second half. Padron completed approximately 75% of his attempts over the last 15 minutes of the Tulane game. He's leading the conference with a 138.8 QB rating (195-for-332, 2,490 yards, 22 TDs, 8 INT).
J.J. McDermott entered the game and split a few reps with Padron in the second half, and the junior from Katy helped sustain a crucial scoring drive with a pass to Darius Johnson. Could we see more action from McDermott this week?
Regardless, Padron got the job done when it counted vs. Tulane, breaking a 17-17 tie with an 82-yard TD pass to Aldrick Robinson early in the fourth quarter. Of course, Robinson deserves plenty of credit too, since the WR did quite a bit on his own to reach the end zone after hauling in an intermediate pass. Robinson is the No. 1 receiver in the conference with 863 yards. No other receiver has more than 750.
3. Receivers Continue to Respond -- WRs coach Jeff Reinebold has to be thrilled with both Robinson and Cole Beasley after the two teamed up to decimate Tulane's secondary. The numbers are eye-popping: 14 combined catches for 317 yards and a touchdown.
Sure, we'd love to see more TDs in that stat line, but RB Zach Line has taken care of that once the the Mustangs get close to the goal-line. When SMU gets inside the 10, it's a safe bet that Line will get six points and that's a testament to Coach Adrian Klemm's unit up front. By the same token, the Mustangs need to cut down on sacks, as only Nick Fanuzzi of Rice (18) and Ryan Griffin of Tulane (19) have taken more than Padron and Memphis' Ryan Williams (17 apiece).
4. Keep "Lining" Up -- SMU has the leading passer, receiver, and rusher in C-USA, and no running back is remotely close to touching Zach Line's stats for the year. With 918 yards rushing, Line has what appears to be an insurmountable lead (barring injury) over Ronnie Weaver (UCF), and Bryce Beall (Houston), who each check in at 638 yards.
Line is averaging close to 7 yards per carry and he's a viable option out of the backfield on short passes (11-106, 9.6 ypc). His value may be more apparent than ever this Saturday with SMU kicker Matt Szymanski ailed by injury. The Mustangs will want to cash in with six points in the red zone and that's Line's specialty: bulling his way through traffic.
5. Intimidation, Incorporated -- You have to love the style of play from linebackers Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis. Even when SMU was trailing by two touchdowns last week, you wouldn't have known it by watching the attitude of Reed and Davis. The pair play with non-stop motors and they simply love to physically destroy anyone in their path.
Pete Fleps and Youri Yenga may not be as vocal as their aforementioned linebacker mates, but they don't have to be. Fleps and Yenga get it done - period. Fleps is the second-leading tackler on the team with 79 stops (50 solo), and Yenga is right behind with 61 tackles.
Reed has been a one-man wrecking crew, racking up 91 tackles (67 solo) -- best on the team. Davis is third on the team with 66 tackles and second in C-USA with 8.5 sacks. He steadily wreaks havoc in the opposition's backfield (13.5 tackles for loss).
There's no question that the loss of DB Sterling Moore has been difficult for the SMU secondary, but the unit responded well last week. In fact, the Mustangs kept Tulane's passing game under wraps for four quarters, and Bennie Thomas and Richard Crawford have steadily shown improvement. Ryan Smith and Chris Banjo prevented Tulane from tying the game with consecutive stellar plays in the SMU end zone.
The defensive line has been steady, as Margus Hunt, Taylor Thompson, and Marquis Frazier have put together solid seasons. Hunt and Kevin Grenier have come up big with multiple field goal blocks, while Thompson (second on the team with 3.5 sacks) has shown flashes of briliance in pass rushing situations. Frazier is eighth on the team with 28 tackles. Szymon Czerniak has come on strong lately and earned the start at nose tackle last week.
BOTTOM LINE -- At first glance, SMU and UTEP appear to be two teams heading in different directions. The Miners have had to endure nagging injuries to QB Trevor Vittatoe and RB Donald Buckram, both of whom are an integral part of the offense. SMU will have to contain 6-3, 195-pound WR Kris Adams, who is one of the best in the league.
Defensively, the Miners do well against the pass. As a team, UTEP has nine interceptions, with three coming from corner Travaun Nixon. If the Mustangs execute like they did in the fourth quarter last week, however, we could see another banner day out of the balanced offense, which is able to keep defenses honest with the "terrible threesome" of Padron, Robinson, and Line (and don't forget Beasley).