The UTSA Roadrunners will put their undefeated record on the line in El Paso on Saturday night in a rare nationally televised Conference USA showdown with the UTEP Miners.
UTSA is 8-0 overall and 4-0 in C-USA play this season, and though the College Football Playoff committee left the Roadrunners out of its initial rankings, head coach Jeff Traylor has led his squad to new heights at No. 16 in the AP Top 25. Traylor was expected to be a hot commodity in the 2021-22 coaching carousel, especially with Power 5 in-state jobs at Texas Tech and TCU now available, but he agreed to a long-term extension this week to stay in San Antonio.
UTEP enters 6-2 overall and 3-1 in C-USA play following its 28-25 loss to Florida Atlantic last week. The Miners, who should be headed to a bowl game for the first time since 2014, are still alive in the West Division race as well.
UTSA at UTEP
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 6 at 10:15 p.m. ET
Spread: UTSA -11
When UTSA Has the Ball
The Roadrunners rank second in Conference USA and among the top 10 nationally with 39.4 points per game. Quarterback Frank Harris has completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 1,793 yards and 16 touchdowns with only three interceptions while averaging 8.1 yards per pass attempt. The raw numbers aren't flashy: Harris ranks No. 7 in the conference in passing (224.1 yards per game), but he has been efficient and ranks second in completion percentage and is tied for second in touchdowns. The senior is also a capable runner with 270 rushing yards and two scores on 55 carries and even has two receptions for 26 yards and one touchdown.
Sincere McCormick has been a workhorse at running back for the Roadrunners for three seasons. After tallying more than 2,500 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns combined as a freshman and sophomore, McCormick has 891 yards and nine scores on 191 carries, both of which rank No. 2 in C-USA. He ranks No. 11 nationally with 111.4 rushing yards per contest.
McCormick doesn't put up huge stats as a receiver (9 rec., 85 yds.), but he doesn't have to. Three UTSA wideouts have at least 400 yards and five touchdowns this year, led by Zakhari Franklin's 572 receiving yards and six scores on 45 catches. Joshua Cephus leads the Roadrunners with 48 receptions on which he has gained 531 yards and five touchdowns, and De'Corian Clark has posted 29 catches for 431 yards and five scores as well. Franklin has surpassed 100 receiving yards in three games this year, including 118 yards and two TDs on five grabs against Louisiana Tech last week. Clark has two 100-yard games, including a 160-yard, three-touchdown effort against Western Kentucky on Oct. 9.
When UTEP Has the Ball
UTEP doesn't score in bunches like UTSA and ranks ninth in Conference USA and 89th in FBS in scoring offense (24.9), but the Miners have several playmakers capable of breaking out at any moment. Quarterback Gavin Hardison has a strong arm that allows him to stretch the field. Though Hardison has completed only 56.2 percent of his passes, he has averaged 9.3 yards per attempt, which is second best in the league and No. 12 in the country.
Hardison has 1,881 passing yards and 10 touchdowns (plus nine interceptions) this season split primarily among three standout wideouts. Jacob Cowing is one of the best receivers in Conference USA and likely has an NFL future. Cowing has caught 41 passes for 824 yards and four touchdowns this season while averaging 20.1 yards per reception. He ranks second in the conference with 103.0 yards per contest. Justin Garrett is an excellent second option and has 30 receptions for 428 yards and two scores, and Tyrin Smith ranks third with 15 receptions and 313 yards and has also scored twice. Smith posted a career-high 114 yards on four catches last week. Tight end Trent Thompson has only four receptions, but two were touchdowns.
UTEP also has a solid group of running backs and has shown depth at the position in the face of injuries. The only tailback to appear in every game this season, Ronald Awatt leads the Miners with 98 carries and 514 rushing yards and has scored four touchdowns. Local product Deion Hankins, one of head coach Dana Dimel's most highly rated recruits, was hurt in the season opener and missed two games. However, the 215-pound third-year player has regained his form and has gained 323 yards and scored a team-high five times on 86 attempts.
Three of Conference USA's top four leaders in sacks, and four of the top 10, will be on the field Saturday in this matchup. UTEP features edge rushers Jadrian Taylor and Praise Amaewhule, who rank No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, with 6.5 and 5.5 sacks this season. Amaewhule ranks third in the league with 11.5 tackles for loss, and he is tied for second with seven pass breakups. The talented duo headlines a defense that has posted elite numbers in a variety of defensive metrics, including No. 4 in the country in Expected Points Added per play (-0.158) in non-garbage time against FBS opponents, as well as No. 7 in yards per play (4.48) and No. 9 in points per drive (1.30) in those situations.
UTSA's Clarence Hicks (6.0 sacks) and Trumane Bell II (4.0 sacks) counter. Hicks ranks fifth in C-USA with 10.0 tackles for loss. The Roadrunners haven't been quite as impressive statistically on defense, but rank No. 17 in EPA per play (-0.028) and No. 20 in points per drive (1.63). But a major advantage UTSA could have is turnover margin. Harris has largely kept the Roadrunners out of bad situations, and as a result, UTSA has just seven turnovers on offense this season. Only 11 FBS teams have turned the ball over less. Coupled with a defense that has 17 takeaways, UTSA ranks No. 4 nationally with a plus-10 turnover margin. UTEP, which has 13 takeaways defensively but 17 turnovers on offense, ranks 101st in turnover margin.
Mistakes are often the difference in close games, and though it's difficult to predict when they will occur, UTSA has a better track record preventing them. Expect the Roadrunners to survive on the road and keep their undefeated record intact.
Prediction: UTSA 31, UTEP 23
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