The Miners (3-1) have already surpassed their combined win total in the last two seasons in just four games, and are coming off of their most impressive performance of the season with a 31-6 route of ULM. Offensively, UTEP is about where it's been the last two seasons, still averaging under 20 points per game, but the defense has taken some major strides, allowing almost two touchdowns fewer per game in 2020 compared to a year ago. That does include two FCS opponents on the schedule, but I doubt the Miners care after winning just two games in the past two seasons combined.
As for the Bulldogs (2-1), they are coming off of a blowout loss at the hands of BYU last Friday after winning their first two games of the season. The defense was lit up for five total touchdowns by quarterback Zach Wilson, while the offense was only able to muster five yards per play out in Provo, Utah.
UTEP at Louisiana Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Louisiana Tech -14
When UTEP Has the Ball
UTEP is getting strong play out of its offensive core in quarterback Gavin Hardison, running back Deion Hankins, and the wide receiver duo of Justin Garrett and Jacob Cowing. If someone is making a play on offense this season for the Miners, there's a high probability that it's one of these four players. Hardison, a first-year starter, hasn't been great, completing just 54 percent of his throws, but is playing mistake-free football with just two interceptions. All that's being asked of Hardison right now is distribute the football to his talented pass-catching duo with Garrett and Cowing combining for 41 of the team's 64 total receptions and the lone receiving touchdown.
There is no doubt, though, that this team's preference is to run the football with Hankins, a redshirt freshman who has burst onto the scene with five rushing touchdowns in just three games, along with a pair of 100-yard rushing performances. With former starter Quardraiz Wadley opting out of the season, the workload has fallen onto the shoulders of the former 3-star recruit, and Hankins is showing exactly why he had a number of Power 5 schools recruiting him out of high school.
When Louisiana Tech Has the Ball
It hasn't been flawless, but this is still a potent offensive attack that is averaging 37 points per game. Former Abilene Christian transfer Luke Anthony is tied for second in the country with 10 touchdown passes — which have really came in less than three full games as he took over the starting job from sophomore Aaron Allen in the opener against Southern Miss. There isn't a star amongst the group of receivers Anthony is throwing to, but the ball is being distributed to whoever is open with eight different players already with five or more catches on the year. While the UTEP defense has been improved in 2020, the Miners are susceptible through the air, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 66 percent of their throws, and have given up nine touchdowns.
With the amount of precipitation expected, though, on Saturday, the Bulldogs will need to find some semblance of a ground game that has struggled in the early going. Starting running back Justin Henderson, who accounted for 16 total touchdowns a year ago, has just one score in three games and is averaging just 4.1 yards per attempt. Louisiana Tech needs to get its star running back going on Saturday night if the weather is as bad as expected.
It's quite the surprise to see a 3-1 UTEP team as a double-digit underdog in this spot, especially considering the expected weather forecast on Saturday with a near 100 percent chance of rain. The Miners are strong at both running the football and limiting yardage on the ground — a recipe for success in inclement weather. Picking a youthful UTEP team to win outright on the road feels like a tough spot, but I like the Miners here to at least make this a game for four quarters.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech 23, UTEP 17
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.
(Justin Henderson photo courtesy of Louisiana Tech Athletics)