EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – It’s a unit ranked eighth in all of FBS college football in total defense and Saturday at the Sun Bowl, UTEP will need its defense to show up in a big way.
The Miners will welcome No. 16 UTSA to town in the biggest home game in 12 years, looking to pull off the upset and climb into the driver’s seat for the Conference USA West division championship. UTEP is currently an 11-point underdog on Saturday night.
It’s been chronicled all season how improved UTEP’s defense has been in 2021. Bradley Dale Peveto’s unit is ranked in the top 10 in the nation in a variety of categories and holds opponents under 300 yards per game. In five of UTEP’s six wins, the Miners have held their opponents under 21 points.
In order to beat UTSA, they’ll have to have their best performance of the season against arguably the best offense UTEP has faced all season. The Roadrunners average nearly 40 points per game, which ranks in the top 10 nationally in college football. They’re also at or near the top of every offensive category in Conference USA.
Veteran quarterback Frank Harris is the straw that stirs the drink; Harris has completed more than 68% of his passes for 1,793 yards and 16 touchdowns, while also rushing for 270 yards and two scores. He has an elite corps of wide receivers to choose from, including Zakhari Franklin (45 receptions, 572 yards, 6 TD), Joshua Cephus (48-531-5), and De’Corian Clark (29-431-5).
“He’s just a playmaker, he can beat you with his arms and legs, he’s intelligent, he’s a competitor, he has every attribute you want from a QB and he’s led his team to an undefeated season this year,” said UTEP head coach Dana Dimel. “When you put those things together, it’ll be a difficult test for us.”
It’s not just Harris, though. Running back Sincere McCormick is second in the conference in rushing at 890 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns. He is one of the most electric players in the league and the Miners will have to key on him in order to come away with a win.
“He’s very versatile; he can move in between the line,” said defensive back Josh Caldwell about McCormick. “We have to be fundamentally sound, tune into our gaps and just stop him.”
UTEP’s defense has stepped up to the challenge numerous times this season, including last week at FAU and in the last home game, a 19-3 win over Louisiana Tech.
The Miners are hoping to have a big home crowd behind them at the Sun Bowl, too. As of Thursday afternoon, around 24,000 tickets had already been sold, with the athletic department expecting well over 30,000 to show up.
The bigger crowd, the better chance UTEP has of pulling off the upset in front of a national television audience. UTSA and UTEP will kickoff at 8:15 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2.