The UTEP Miners (2-0) will travel up to the blue turf to take on the Boise State Broncos (0-1) at Albertson’s Stadium on Friday night. Boise State leads the all-time series 5-0, but this will be the first time since 2004 these teams have faced each other. The Broncos won that game 47-31 in El Paso.
The Miners picked up their second win in as many weeks on Saturday night, outlasting FCS Bethune-Cookman 38-28 in their home opener at Sun Bowl Stadium. Gavin Hardison threw for 183 yards and a career-high three touchdown passes to complement a punishing running attack that racked up 290 yards on 50 carries. Ronald Awatt and Willie Eldridge combined for 244 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries to lead the way on the ground. Turnovers (two) and third-down defense (25 percent conversion rate) were crucial keys to victory for UTEP. The ability to stay consistent each week in those two areas will help the Miners a great deal this season on defense.
It was a long, arduous journey to Orlando for Boise State last week, and the Broncos then had to endure a nearly three-hour weather delay before losing a 36-31 heartbreaker to UCF on Thursday night. Boise State sprinted out to a 21-0 lead in head coach Andy Avalos' debut with the first touchdown coming on Tyric LeBeauf’s 100-yard interception return. Unfortunately, the Broncos would not be able to maintain it, as the Knights ended up gashing them for 573 total yards. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel accounted for much of the damage, throwing for 318 passing yards, and Isaiah Bowser went for 170 on the ground. That type of lackluster performance by Boise State's defense is uncharacteristic and may have been a byproduct of the Broncos wearing down in the heat and humidity of Orlando.
UTEP at Boise State
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 10 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Boise State -27
When UTEP Has the Ball
Playing keep away is going to be important this week for the Miners, as they will have to find a way to limit possessions in this game. Feeding Awatt and Eldridge is a sound strategy considering the issues that Boise State had last week against the run vs. UCF. If the offensive line can hold its own and keep the offense ahead of the sticks, then it will set up the play-action passing part of the UTEP's attack.
Hardison will need to get rid of the ball quickly to counter what will be an aggressive pass rush. Tyrin Smith, Justin Garrett, and Jacob Cowing combined for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 11 catches last week. It will be a tremendous boost to the offense if these receivers or the running backs can generate explosive plays this week.
Boise State will aim for better results on defense following. JL Skinner (13 tackles, 9 solo) and Riley Whimpey (11 tackles, 6 solo) had strong performances against UCF last week all over the field. The Broncos will try and put pressure on Hardison to make him uncomfortable in the pocket and in hopes of creating a couple of turnovers.
When Boise State Has the Ball
Hank Bachmeier shouldn’t have to deal with sitting in on a Zoom class lecture like he did last week during the weather delay. Bachmeier completed 25 of 39 passes for 263 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception in the loss to UCF. The Broncos will probably focus on getting the running game going after being limited to 20 yards against the Knights. Andrew Van Buren and Cyrus Habibi-Likio should each get plenty of carries, as Boise State should have a distinct advantage at the line of scrimmage.
UTEP has done a decent job on defense thus far, limiting its two opponents to 15.5 points, 109.5 rushing yards, and 261.5 total yards per game. But the level of competition is going to take a big jump this week. Limiting the damage Broncos wide receiver Khalil Shakir does is going to be crucial. Shakir had five receptions for 92 yards and two touchdowns last week.
The Broncos are usually tough to deal with on the blue turf thanks to their rabid fan base that creates an electric environment. Thus, it will be critical for UTEP to do everything it can to keep the game close heading into the second half. That will be easier said than done for the Miners, who will be at a personnel disadvantage on both sides of the ball. Boise State picks up its first win of 2021 thanks to more balance on offense as the Broncos wear down the Miners in the second half.
Prediction: Boise State 41, UTEP 20
Podcast: Week 2 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread