SMU (1-3) at Texas-El Paso (1-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 6, 8:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sun Bowl (51,500) -- El Paso, Texas Television: Time Warner Texas. Home Record: SMU 1-2, UTEP 1-1. Away Record: SMU 0-1, UTEP 0-3. Neutral Record: SMU 0-0, UTEP 0-0. Conference Record: SMU 0-0, UTEP 0-1. Series Record: SMU leads, 11-8.
GAME NOTES: The SMU Mustangs kick off their final Conference USA slate as they travel to the Sun Bowl to take on the Texas-El Paso Miners.
SMU is off to a 1-3 start and has yet to defeat an FBS opponent. In a game that was characterized by a heavy rainfall, the Mustangs (1-3) lost, 24-16, while trying to upset the 15th-ranked TCU Horned Frogs their last time out. SMU gained a season-low 220 yards of total offense, but held TCU to 156 yards. SMU opened up the season with a loss at Baylor, a win over Stephen F. Austin, and a loss to Texas A&M. This will be the last of five straight games against opponents from the state of Texas for coach June Jones's squad.
UTEP dropped to 1-4 overall last week with a 28-18 loss to the East Carolina Pirates in Greenville. The Miners allowed ECU to rush for 217 yards, making it the fourth time in five games their opponent has amassed 200 yards or more on the ground.UTEP began the season with back-to-back losses to Oklahoma (24-7) and Ole Miss (28-10) before defeating rival New Mexico State (41-28). UTEP then lost to Wisconsin (37-26 before last week's setback in its C-USA opener. With the team's slow start, coach Mike Price's career record dropped below the .500 mark (175-178).
SMU holds an 11-8 edge over UTEP in the all-time series. The Miners have won six of the last nine meetings and six of the last seven played at the Sun Bowl.
SMU's offense had a lot of firepower in 2011, putting up 38 points or more on five different occasions, but it has not been completely in sync to start this season (23.8 ppg, 341.0 ypg).
The struggles of junior quarterback Garrett Gilbert are a big reason for the slow start. He has thrown for 884 yards, but he has also completed just 49.4 percent of his passes (91-of-184) while tossing more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (five).
Zach Line has been able to pick up some of the slack out of the backfield, racking up 343 yards and three touchdowns on 70 carries. Line is a true workhorse for the Mustangs, as no other player has more than six carries. He trails only Eric Dickerson in the school's all-time records with 17 career 100-yard games.
Six different players have accumulated over 100 receiving yards on the season for SMU. Jeremy Johnson has been the most effective, with 18 receptions for 189 yards and a score. Darius Johnson has reeled in a team-best 19 receptions.
The SMU defense was superb last week against TCU in a game played in harsh weather conditions. The Mustangs forced four fumbles and recovered two of them in the loss.
A ball-hawking secondary has been the unit's best asset in the early going. The team has seven interceptions, with Ryan Smith and Kenneth Acker picking off two apiece.
After being held to 17 points in their first two games, the Miners have scored 83 points in their last three outings. The usually steady signal caller, Nick Lamaison, had an off-day in last week's loss to ECU. Lamaison completed just one third of his passing attempts and threw his first three interceptions of the season.
UTEP's passing game relies heavily on the wideout tandem of Mike Edwards and Jordan Leslie. Edwards has team-leading totals of 455 yards, three touchdowns, and 27 receptions. Leslie is averaging 70.8 receiving yards per contest over the last four games despite finishing with just two last week.
The rushing attack of the Miners revolves around Nathan Jeffery, who led the team with 134 rushing yards last week. Jeffery has gained 320 yards this season, but he has still failed to find the end zone.
Despite having one of the most difficult schedules to this point, UTEP has been decent defensively. UTEP is great at dislodging the ball from opposing ball carriers and already has forced 11 fumbles through five games. They managed to record three interceptions in last week's loss.
A dozen different players have recorded at least 10 tackles on the year for UTEP. Josh Fely (42), DeShawn Grayson (37, and Richard Spencer have stood out as the key components. Horace Miller is a threatening pass rusher up front with a team-best four sacks.
SMU will center its offensive gameplan around the bruising running of Line against the inept UTEP rush defense. The Miners will need Lamaison to bounce back from last week's nightmarish outing and make some plays in order to pick up a much needed conference victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: SMU 31, Texas-El Paso 28
10/03 10:50:19 ET