Wild West Shootout?

Texas Tech takes on UTEP 10 p.m. Saturday at the Sun Bowl in El Paso.

KEY UTEP STATS
CATEGORYSTATNAT'L RANK
Rushing Yards Per Carry7.510th
Passing Yards Per Game116110th
Penalty Yards Per Game104th
Turnover Margin+35th
Tackles For Loss912th
Rushing Yards Allowed410121st
Total Defense477100th


The battle between Texas Tech and UTEP in El Paso could be a wild West shootout alright, but not the kind you might expect. Thus, instead of the Miners and Red Raiders spraying the pigskin all over the place, both teams could keep the ball on the ground and still score in the 30s or 40s.

The weather could be one factor. As of this writing, there is a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms in El Paso, and windy, rainy conditions could compel the coaches to play it safe and keep the ball on the ground.

Then there are the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the two teams. In their 31-24 road victory over New Mexico, the Miners (1-0) rushed for 330 yards and averaged a whopping 7.5 yards per carry. Sophomore running back Aaron Jones stepped for a career-high 237 of those yards.

And Texas Tech’s defense showed nothing against Central Arkansas that will deter UTEP from running the rock. The FCS Bears didn’t chalk up a massive rushing total (178 yards) but they ran the ball effectively when they needed to, and went 6 of 6 on fourth down conversions, collecting five of them via short-yardage runs. The Red Raiders (1-0) will have to prove conclusively that they can stop the Miners’ rushing attack because UTEP will most certainly test Tech early and often.

"We'll get their best shot," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "They'll be fired up and they should be. I know after watching our film, they'll expect to win the game, so we better be prepared."

But as raggedy as Tech’s rushing defense was, UTEP’s was much worse against the Lobos. UNM, a school that hasn’t had a winning season since 2007, gashed the Miners for 410 rushing yards, and it would have been worse had Lobo QB Cole Gautsche, who already accounted for 184 rushing yards on 14 carries, not succumbed to injury early in the fourth quarter.

What’s more, the pass-crazy Red Raiders showed the ability to run the pill a bit against Central Arkansas. Tech rushed for 184 yards as junior running back Deandre Washington slithered for 104 yards on 20 carries. It would seem highly likely that Washington will have his second straight 100-yard game in El Paso, and it’s hard to recall the last time a Tech back had back-to-back triple digit rushing games.

"I really think I'm just getting started," Washington told RaiderPower.com earlier this week. "I feel good, I'm healthy, so as long as the Lord say so, as long as I stay healthy, I'm looking forward to having a big year."

But as much as the two clubs may try to pound the rock, there are a couple of disparities to keep in mind.

First is turnovers. Tech quarterback Davis Webb tossed a pair of interceptions against CAU and the Red Raider defense failed to come up with a single turnover of its own. Conversely, UTEP forced three New Mexico turnovers—all in the fourth quarter—without themselves giving up the ball once. If that statistic plays out in El Paso, the Red Raiders will once again find themselves in a dogfight against an opponent they should theoretically blow out.

Second is penalties. The Miners committed only two penalties for a total of 10 yards against UNM—a most worthy achievement. The Red Raiders, on the other hand, were flagged 15 times for 114 yards in their opener, which was frankly embarrassing. Tech is currently No. 120 in penalty yards per game and No. 121 in penalties per contest. And suffice it to say, the Red Raiders won’t get any home cooking in El Paso.

What it all boils down to is that this looks like a disturbingly interesting game unless Tech reverses some ugly numbers from the Central Arkansas tilt.

“I can tell you first hand as a player and a coach, there’s nothing like stepping on to that Sun Bowl field with 52,000 screaming people," UTEP coach Sean Kugler said. "It’s one of the more difficult places to play when this place is rocking. I’m excited for our players because I think they’re going to have the opportunity to experience that for the first time against a Big 12 team in front of the nation.

"It’s an exciting week but again it is one game, it’s a non-conference game, but it’s against a quality opponent and we’re going to prepare as such.”

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