FACTS & STATS: Site: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (72,000) -- New Orleans, Louisiana. Television: None. Home Record: UTEP 1-4, Tulane 4-1. Away Record: UTEP 1-4, Tulane 2-2. Neutral Record: UTEP 0-0, Tulane 0-0. Conference Record: UTEP 1-5, Tulane 4-2. Series Record: Texas-El Paso leads, 5-3.
GAME NOTES: The Tulane Green Wave will play their final home game of the season and say farewell to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as they host the Texas- El Paso Miners for a Conference USA matchup.
With the exception of the 2005 season when the facility was damaged by Hurricane Katrina, Tulane has played all of its home games at the Mercedes- Benz Superdome since 1975. This will be the final time the Green Wave call the venue home as they will move back to campus to the newly constructed Yulman Stadium in 2014.
Coach Sean Kugler will be looking to secure the first winning streak of his career as he leads the visiting Miners to New Orleans after last week's 33-10 rout of FIU. The decision snapped UTEP's seven-game losing streak during which it was outscored by an average of 26.4 points per game. The win also gave Kugler the first conference win of his career and improved the team to a 2-9 overall standing. Kugler is in his rookie year at the helm of the program since he was hired to replace Mike Price. UTEP will conclude its 2013 season next week with a road game versus Middle Tennessee.
Tulane had a bye last week after being downed, 10-7, by Texas-San Antonio on Nov. 9 for its second consecutive loss. The Green Wave became bowl eligible prior to the start of the losing slide and still has a slight chance of winning the West Division, although it would need a lot of help for that to happen. Coach Curtis Johnson's team is still one of the biggest surprises in the conference in 2013 as it finished 2-10 overall a season ago. It had not been bowl eligible since 2002. The Green Wave will travel to Texas to take on Rice to close out their regular season slate.
This will be the ninth meeting between UTEP and Tulane in history. The Miners are 5-3 versus the Green Wave after earning a 24-20 victory in the Sun Bowl in 2012.
The Miners earned their first win since Sept. 14 last week as they racked up 327 rushing yards with two players surpassing the 100-yard mark on the ground. The team's dominance of FIU's defense came without running back Aaron Jones, who is the third leading rusher among FBS freshmen. Junior tailback Nathan Jeffery stepped up with the star rookie sidelined to compile 130 yards and two touchdown on 25 carries while sophomore signal caller Blaire Sullivan tallied 104 yards on his eight rushing attempts. Autrey Golden also made his mark as he tallied 56 yards and a score on eight touches.
UTEP is still carrying a scoring average of 24.1 points per game, which is tied for ninth among C-USA schools. Kugler's attack is also netting just 364.1 ypg to rank 10th in the league in total offense. The offense has been engineered by true freshman quarterback Mark Leftwich for the past two games. The rookie went 14-of-20 for 128 yards with one touchdown and an interception in his collegiate debut, but due to the team's success on the ground last week, he threw only seven times and completed three of his attempts for 80 yards including a 64-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Leslie, which gave the senior wideout his 15th career catch for a score.
Defensively, UTEP is near the bottom of the C-USA in points allowed per game (37.9) and total defense (450.9). However, the Miners had little difficulty stifling the Panthers' offense their last time out. FIU was limited to 200 total yards, which was the fewest an opponent had gained against UTEP since Oct. 7, 2006. The defense also registered a fumble recovery along with a safety. Freshman defensive back Devin Cockrell led the way with 10 tackles. Cockrell finished the contest with 65 stops on the year, which is the most by any rookie in the league.
The Green Wave's turnaround has not been the product of strong offensive play. They are ranked 12th among the 14 C-USA members in total offense with an average of just 304.5 total yards. However, they are eighth in points per game (24.3) thanks to the defensive unit's 28 takeaways that have been converted into 85 points.
Junior quarterback Nick Montana has struggled over his past two starts, completing only 25-of-55 attempts for 270 yards with no touchdowns and five interceptions. Devin Powell saw some action during that span and hit on just four of his 11 throws for 34 yards with a pick. Montana began his career at Tulane this season with six consecutive games with at least one TD pass and has connected on 53.4 percent of his attempts for 1,386 yards.
The Green Wave have a pair of talented senior skill position players in tailback Orleans Darkwa and wide receiver Ryan Grant. Darkwa has compiled 617 yards and eight scores on 141 carries while Grant is among the C-USA's leading receivers with 60 catches, 777 yards and seven TDs.
Tulane's defense held UTSA to just 309 total yards before the Roadrunners won on a field goal to go ahead by three points with only 14 seconds remaining. The Green Wave finished with eight TFL at UTSA to mark the sixth time this season they have racked up at least eight stops behind the line or scrimmage. The red zone defense has been tremendous as the opposition has scored TDs on only 18-of-40 trips inside the Tulane 20-yard line. Sophomore Lorenzo Doss has picked off six passes and broken up seven passes.
The Green Wave's bye was desperately needed. They should be able to recover against UTEP after having some time to regroup. The Miners looked like a powerhouse last week, but they were playing one of the weakest FBS programs in the country. Their impressive offensive output will be impossible to match against Tulane's top notch defense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tulane 35, Texas-El Paso 17
Saturday, November 23, 3:30 p.m. (et)