UTEP and Texas Tech, two long-time programs out in west Texas, actually have only met 23 times in their collective histories, with the Red Raiders winning 16 of those contests. And both teams come out of opening weekend sporting broad smiles as the Miners downed Houston Baptist 36-34 and the Red Raiders routed Montana State 45-10. Both teams got exemplary quarterback play and a running back that went over the century mark in their victories against FCS foes.
But that might be about where the similarities end between the two. From that point, it’s easy to say that Tech looks like the better team. Make that the MUCH better team. But worry not Miner fans, anything can happen in the early stages of the college football season.
UTEP at Texas Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas Tech -35
When UTEP Has the Ball
Even though it was *only* against Houston Baptist last week, the Miners had to grow a little bit of confidence after seeing their quarterback, Brandon Jones, in action. Also watch for a QB shuffle as last year Tai Locksley started eight games at QB for the Miners but did not see any action in last week’s opener. If Jones should struggle, look for Locksley, a former Texas wide receiver, to get some snaps and try to energize the offense. He had a team-high 937 passing yards in 2018.
After last year’s team was ravaged by injuries (28 players were out at the end of the season), one of the areas where the Miners will be much improved will be along the offensive line. A full 88 combined starts return this season and are a big reason why they ran for 240 yards and three touchdowns against HBU. Look for Treyvon Hughes (144 yards, 2 TDs last week) to continue to get the bulk of the carries as the Miners will try to eat up some clock and keep Texas Tech's high-powered offense on the sidelines.
For the Red Raiders, defense is no longer just a by-the-way deal. New coordinator Keith Patterson insists they’ll emphasize the D with a goal of six three-and-outs per game. Last week they got nine. Keep an eye on defensive tackle Broderick Washington, a senior leader on the line who could be the best down lineman in the Big 12, and linebacker Jordyn Brooks, a real heat-seeker. Also, the secondary returns seven guys with starting experience and should be the strength of the defense.
When Texas Tech Has the Ball
Unlike the Air-Raid years with Mike Leach and Kliff Kingsbury, new head coach Matt Wells (from Utah State) is trying to incorporate a more balanced attack. So don’t overlook the fact that Armand Shyne ran for 125 yards a week ago and Ta’Zhawn Henry added 55 yards as part of a 255-yard day on the ground vs. Montana State. With only two returning starters in UTEP's front seven; I’m thinking the Red Raider ball carriers corps will find plenty of lanes to run roughshod through.
Despite that desired balance let me alert you on something, Houston Baptist quarterback Bailey Zappe threw for 300 yards against this UTEP defense. Keep in mind HBU was a 1-10 team last season in the FCS ranks. So with that as a backdrop, how many yards do you think Texas Tech’s Alan Bowman will throw for this Saturday against the Miners? Though it is mostly a dink-and-dunk passing game, the Red Raiders do maintain a manic pace as they pile up the yardage.
While the entire offense is dangerous, watch for Tech to try to establish the inside slot receivers. In the first two drives of last week’s win, Bowman went 13-for-14 for 125 yards. Of those 13 completions, eight of them went to inside slot guys Dalton Rigdon and Erik Ezukanma.
The fact remains that the last time UTEP beat Texas Tech was back in 1957. The last time these two squared off in Lubbock was 2015 when the Raiders scored 69 points and piled up 674 yards. On top of that, in their last 35 games vs. Power 5 conference teams, the Miners are 0-for-35 and have lost by an average of 30 points. So if history means anything, this is an ominous sign.
Although the Miners should be an improved team that finishes with four or five wins, the Red Raiders should prevail in this contest with ease. Mercifully, games are only 60 minutes long so the Miners' misery won’t last.
Prediction: Texas Tech 56, UTEP 17
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.