Miners look to earn a bowl bid on the road


Michaela Roman

The Miners will look to win their fourth consecutive game since 2005 and become bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.

Juan Carlos Navarrete, Staff Reporter

UTEP will be on the road once again in search of their fourth-straight win when they visit the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. More than just raking up wins, this game will serve as the first game that the Miners can become bowl eligible.

After a resounding defensive win against Southern Mississippi this past Saturday, the Miners will once again look to improve on their 5-3 and 3-1 conference record. Western Kentucky has a completely opposite record from UTEP at 3-5 and 1-4 overall.

For a team that is almost mathematically eliminated from bowl contention, the Miners won’t be able to coast against Western Kentucky if they don’t put their best effort forward. This game will serve to be almost a last chance for a Hilltoppers team that finds itself close to a knock out, so they will more than likely come out swinging.

The Miners will have their work cut out for them defensively as they go into a hostile environment at Western Kentucky.  The Hilltoppers are ranked number two overall in the nation for passing yards this season. Western Kentucky is also ranked in the top 10 in points scored, something the Miners’ defense will have to try to neutralize as the Hilltoppers average over 40 points a game. Coach Kugler says the Hilltoppers’ offense is the best the Miners will see in conference
this season.

“This will be the most explosive offensive team that we have faced all year,” Kugler said. “They are really outstanding on offense. They average 41.1 points per game, which is second in Conference USA behind Marshall. They are averaging 522 yards per game, which puts them the number one offense in Conference USA and also highly ranked in the country. Every category offensively, they have been outstanding.”

On the bright side of things, UTEP will have an opportunity to put points on the board for themselves as well and continue the winning streak they are on. This season so far, the Hilltoppers allow more than 43 points per game, which explains the 3-5 record for a team that scores so many points a game. 

If UTEP’s defense can force the Hilltoppers to run the ball first, they should be in for a manageable game. The Miners will look to dictate the pace of the game defensively as well as try to stop their senior quarterback, who has had a great season thus far.

The Miners could find themselves in a shootout game against the Hilltoppers and could look to really cushion the season stats so far. Aaron Jones, who led the nation in rushing earlier this season, will look to take advantage of this game to regain some of those yards back.

The Miners could take advantage of a weak defense of the Hilltoppers and establish the run and the pace of the game early on. Western Kentucky has one of the worst defenses in the nation, but coach Kugler is more focused on his team executing rather than on Western Kentucky.

“We’ve got to worry about what we do,” Kugler said. “I don’t really worry about the other team. I worry about our team and our players and getting them prepared and making sure they’re in a position to be successful. I know the coaches are putting together a good plan, I know they’re focused and energized and that goes for the whole team.”  A point of emphasis on the game should be creating turnovers and limiting the Hilltoppers to short possessions and scoring off those turnovers. The Miners can avoid getting into a tough game defensively if they play much like they have in previous weeks defensively. Winning the turnover battle proved to be crucial against Southern Mississippi, as they scored off turnovers three times in their 35-14 win, and forced the Golden Eagles into
short possessions.

The Miners go into a road game with a lot of confidence behind them. If the Miners can secure the game early on, they can carry that confidence into the rest of the game and the season.

With a win on the road, the Miners can begin to talk about bowl games. There is a lot more at stake this week then just a win streak.

A win against the Hilltoppers and the Miners could be
playing in January.

Juan Carlos Navarrete can be reached at [email protected]