ConferenceUSA play kicks off with a Texas showdown as UT San Antonio visits the UTEP Miners for homecoming at 6 p.m. on Oct. 4 at the Sun Bowl.
The Miners enter the game riding a two-game winning streak, while the Roardrunners are still searching for their first victory, something UTEP is not taking lightly.
“Well they’ve played some pretty tough teams,” running back Treyvon Hughes said. “I’m going to say they’re the best in our conference right now, just because I like to have a chip on my shoulder.”
The Roadrunners’ first four opponents were Arizona (then ranked 22 in the AP poll,) Kansas State, Oklahoma State (then ranked no. 25) and Colorado State.
UTSA’s Head Coach Larry Coker is no stranger to playing ranked opponents. Before being hired to head the Roadrunners’ program, Coker spent 11 seasons in Miami as both an assistant and head coach, leading the Hurricanes to a BCS National Championship in 2001.
Despite UTSA ranking 120th in scoring defense and 101st in total defense, UTEP Quarterback Ryan Metz believes the Roadrunners present a challenge for the UTEP offense.
“They’re a good defense, they run that 4-2-5, they got a solid front,” Metz said. “I just think they’re solid all around, but every defense has a weakness, we just have to exploit that and find the certain zones that are open. If we just do our job and do what we’re suppose to, I think we’ll be fine.”
The Miners enter the game with a depleted backfield as Aaron Jones is out for the season and backup Jeremiah Laufausa suffered an injury that kept him out for most of the game against Incarnate Word.
“Darren’s [Laufausa] got a hip pointer, we’re going to be very careful with him this week to get him ready for the game,” UTEP Head Coach Sean Kugler said. “We can’t afford anymore injuries, the team is battling through adversity and they’re going to fight their way through the whole season.”
Laufausa will play against the Roadrunners despite the injury and is ready to take on a full work load.
“There’s no pressure, Coach Jackson [UTEP’s Running Back Coach] prepares us to do everything, run, block, catch,” Laufausa said. “He tells us every week to prepare like we’re going to be the guy, there’s no added pressure, I’m practicing the same way I did…I’m prepared to carry 20, 30 times if need be.”
The Miners will have to spread the wealth on offense, using a committee of players to create productivity and make up for the lack of depth at the running back position.
“We’re very thin now, we’ve lost Aaron Jones for the year, David Ham during the off-season,” Kugler said. “We don’t have good depth there right now, but what we do have is a group of guys that are going to carry that load by committee and we have to be creative in how to get the ball in hands in guys like Autrey Golden and Kavika Johnson and Metz.”
UTEP’s offense has been most efficient when the ball is in Metz’s hands, while the offensive line has done a good job at protecting the quarterback; only giving up two sacks in four games. Metz has completed 73 percent of his pass attempts and has gained Kugler’s trust.
“I guess my play on the field did. I’m just trying to go out there and do what’s best for the team,” Metz said. “If it’s me having to make plays, I’m all for it, if it’s me handing off the ball or doing play action I’m all for it too. Whatever this coach wants me to do, I’m doing it for the team and that’s really what it’s for, it’s for the team. In this case, I just have to thank God for the opportunity he’s allowed me to have.”
This marks the third meeting in the series with both teams winning as the visitor. UTEP dropped the first at the Sun Bowl 32 to 13 in 2013, but then avenged the loss by shutting out the Roadrunners 34 to 0 last season in the Alamodome.