Who: Texas Tech (1-0, 0-0) vs. UTEP (0-1, 0-0)
Where: Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, Texas
When: Saturday, September 12, 2:00 (CT)
Media: Fox Sports Net (TV), Texas Tech Radio Network (radio)
Returning Starters: Texas Tech (16), UTEP (12)
2014 Records: Texas Tech (4-8, 2-7), UTEP (7-6, 5-3)
Coaches: Texas Tech (Kliff Kingsbury 13-13), UTEP (Sean Kugler 9-17)
Series History: Texas Tech leads 15-6-1 (most recent, Texas Tech 30 UTEP 26, September 4, 2014)
When UTEP Has the Ball
The Miners offense is built around the ground game. And Aaron Jones, an El Paso native, is undoubtedly the bell cow of that offense. Keep Jones in check, and you’ve got a pretty good handle on UTEP’s offense.
But knowing what to expect from the Miners will hardly prevent them from trying to do it. For example, UTEP opened their season in Arkansas against the Arkansas Razorbacks. The SEC, Arkansas’ conference, is not only widely considered the premiere football conference in college football, it is also thought to possess the best run defenses in America, and the Hogs are among the SEC’s best in that category.
But did that fact deter the Conference USA’s Miners from running the football? Not a bit of it. UTEP had 53 offensive snaps and 34 of those were runs. Jones, a preseason All Conference USA selection, had 15 of those carries for 70 yards, not a bad outing considering the competition.
So, UTEP goes from facing a stingy Arkansas defense to seeing a Texas Tech defense that gave up 317 rushing yards to FCS offense Sam Houston State. Nobody has to spell it out. The Red Raider defense knows what is coming over the horizon.
“They’re definitely going to run the ball,” says defensive end Talor Nunez. “Their coach is a very old-school scheme, mindset. They’re going to have a few play actions, so we have to stay very honest with the pass, but also hold our gaps, and like I said, all we need is for the other guys to do their jobs and we’ll be okay.”
And according to Kliff Kingsbury, the UTEP offense will be a true gut-check for Tech’s defensive front seven.
“They understand that last week wasn’t good enough, and they’ve got a team coming in that likes to try to impose their will on defenses. So it’s gonna be a man’s game and they’ve gotta step up,” Kingsbury states.
Complicating matters, Tech must prepare for not one, not two, but three quarterbacks. UTEP started Mack Leftwich at Arkansas, but dual-threat signal-caller Kavika Johnson got a plethora of snaps (and ran the ball nine times), with Ryan Metz also seeing action and completing all three of his passing attempts. Quarterback depth will not be an issue for the visitors.
When Texas Tech Has the Ball
While UTEP’s offense may present Tech with the bigger schematic challenge, the Minors’ defense may actually be the better overall unit.
UTEP, facing perhaps the best offensive line in football, and one of the better running backs in the SEC (Alex Collins), held the Razorbacks to a respectable 490 total yards of offense last Saturday. It should be noted, however, that Collins did average 10.6 yards per carry, and that Arkansas QB Brandon Allen completed 14 of 18 passes for 308 yards and four touchdowns without an interception.
At times against Sam Houston, the Red Raider offense looked like the Air Raid in its heyday. Patrick Mahomes was extremely accurate with his throws, the offensive line formed an impenetrable barrier, and Tech’s quick tempo presented severe difficulties to the Bearkats.
UTEP will have its hands full trying to rein in all of the weapons at Kliff Kingsbury’s disposal. And if the Red Raider receivers do not drop passes—they muffed approximately eight in week one—UTEP’s defense could go down for the count in the first half.
Safety Dashone Smith was UTEP’s busiest defender against Arkansas, recording 5.5 tackles and one tackle for loss. Linebacker Jimmy Musgrave chipped in 3.5 tackles and a tackle for loss. Imposing defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris, who is reputed to have an NFL future, was a non-factor in Fayetteville.
The Pick: Texas Tech 53, UTEP 21