FACTS & STATS: Site: Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium (22,113) —
Bowling Green, Kentucky. Television: WKUSports.tv. Home Record: UTEP 3-1,
Western Kentucky 2-1. Away Record: UTEP 2-2, Western Kentucky 1-4. Neutral
Record: UTEP 0-0, Western Kentucky 0-0. Conference Record: UTEP 3-1, Western
Kentucky 1-4. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: Trying to extend a three-game win streak, the Texas-El Paso Miners
will hit the road to take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, their newest
Conference USA foe, in a league matchup at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith
UTEP had struggled through a two-game skid and three-out-of-four defeats
before the team picked it up and started winning. Now the Miners are on a
three-game win streak and will be looking for their fourth against the high-
flying offense of Western Kentucky.
The Hilltoppers, despite having one of the league’s best offenses and a
quarterback ranked in the top five in the nation in passing yards, has been on
a bit of a decline, having lost three of their last four games. WKU will try
to forget about a disastrous 59-10 loss at Louisiana Tech last weekend.
This contest will mark the first time these two programs will meet on the
football field. Western Kentucky is one of the newest members to Conference
USA, having joined from the Sun Belt Conference in the latest offseason.
The Miners didn’t need a whole lot of offense in their last outing against
Southern Miss in order to pick up the win. UTEP registered fewer first down
(17-15) and total offensive yards (4-2,234) than the Golden Eagles, but still
pulled out a 35-14 blowout victory thanks in large part to defensive and
special teams prowess.
Quarterback Jameill Showers has been extremely efficient in his last few
contests, and was no different last weekend. He passed for 127 yards and a
touchdown, and also ran in a score in the win for the Miners. In eight games
played, he has passed for 1,172 yards and 11 touchdowns against just four
interceptions. His dual-threat ability can’t be ignored either.
Star tailback Aaron Jones has taken control of the team’s backfield this
season after having a very solid campaign in 2013. Jones has rushed for 886
yards and eight touchdowns on 165 carries, yielding some of the backfield
workload to Nathan Jeffery and Showers. Josh Bell also has three rushing
scores on the season for an offense averaging 30.1 ppg and 207.8 rushing ypg.
When it comes to the defensive side of the ball, UTEP has shown significant
improvement in the last few weeks alone. After surrendering 58 and 55 points
in the team’s last two losses, respectively, the Miners have held the
opposition to zero and 14 points, respectively, in their most recent two
contests. Because of the early season trouble, UTEP’s defense is still
averaging 30 ppg to opponents.
Wesley Miller and Anthony Puente are the co-leaders atop the UTEP tackles
board, though Miller hasn’t shown up in many other areas on the stat sheet
this season. Roy Robertson-Harris has posted a team-best seven tackles for
loss, and will be counted on to disrupt WKU star quarterback Brandon Doughty
this weekend. He and Alvin Jones should have quite the time against an
offensive line that has given up 14 sacks through eight games this season.
The definition of inconsistency is Western Kentucky’s offense. The team opened
the season by laying a beating to Mid-American Conference favorite Bowling
Green (59-31), then put up some gaudy numbers in a handful of losses. But
after a 66-51 offensive showcase victory over Old Dominion on Oct. 25, the
Hilltoppers slowed way down in the 59-10 demolition at the hands of Louisiana
Tech last Saturday. For an offense that starts a quarterback ranked third in
the FBS in passing yards (3,005), WKU was exceptionally quiet.
Doughty had easily one of his worst games of the season, passing for 134
yards, a touchdown and four interceptions. He completed less than half of his
35 throws in the defeat, and took three sacks. Even though the team managed a
meager 10 points last weekend, WKU is still averaging 41.1 ppg through eight
contests. Doughty, who is tied for fourth in the nation with 25 passing
scores, will look to shake it off and get back to form against UTEP at home.
The run game was relatively ineffective (like the rest of the offense) against
the Bulldogs. Leon Allen carried a team-high 14 times for 76 yards, and is
still the pace setter with 792 yards and seven touchdowns. Anthony Wales has
four rushing scores of his own.
The only thing that has been worse lately than the WKU offense is its defense.
Allowing 43.4 ppg to opponents, the Hilltoppers have surrendered at least 42
points in each of the last four games, which includes a minimum of 51 in each
of the last two. With opponents churning out 544.1 offensive ypg, it’s a
wonder the Hilltoppers’ offense can even keep pace.
Nick Holt leads the way on defense, registering 71 tackles, with five tackles
for loss, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. Against a mobile quarterback like
Showers that has no issue with working outside the pocket, linemen Bryan
Shorter (5.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) and Ge’Monee Brown (five tackles for
loss) will have to be alert the whole time. It doesn’t bode well for the
Hilltoppers, a team that has only recorded six interceptions this season, that
Showers doesn’t turn the ball over often.
Western Kentucky gets a boost from being on its home turf, but things have
been so wildly inconsistent in Bowling Green that UTEP shouldn’t feel
threatened by the hostile crowd. If the real Doughty shows up and passes for
his typical numbers, the Miners could be in trouble. But against a porous
defense, UTEP’s win streak should continue.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UTEP 32, Western Kentucky 23