UTEP Miners take to the road for the first game ever versus Louisiana Monroe

UTEP+sophomore+quarterback+Gavin+Hardison+receives+snap+as+he+looks+down+field+for+open+receivers+Sept.+19.

Courtesy of UTEP/ Ruben Ramirez

UTEP sophomore quarterback Gavin Hardison receives snap as he looks down field for open receivers Sept. 19.

Michael Cuviello, Sports Editor

Coming off its 17-13 win over Abilene Christian, the Miners take to the road in an effort to get its first win over an NCAA Division 1 team versus the  University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM)  Warhawks. 

The Miners are now 3-1 on the season, while the Warhawks have lost its first two games of the year by double digits in each matchup. Louisiana Monroe opened the season with a 37-7 defeat on the road to Army and lost 38-17 at home versus Texas State this weekend. 

ULM is coming off a 5-7 season just missing out on bowl eligibility with a  heartbreaking season-ending loss to in-state rival Ragin Cajuns of the University of Louisiana 31-30. 

The Warhawks will have to replace its second all-time leading passer and starter for the past three seasons Caleb Evans at quarterback. Evans threw for over 9500 yards in his time as a quarterback and finished as the team’s seventh all-time leading rusher with over 2000 yards on the ground. 

 Sophomore Colby Suits has taken over as the starting signal-caller for the Warhawks.  Suits is more a traditional quarterback and does not offer much in the run game. So far, on the season, Suits has completed 66% of his passes for three touchdowns and one interception. In the last game versus Texas State, Suits passed for 377 yards. 

Returning at running back is preseason all-conference running back Josh Johnson, coming off a 1,298-yard season including 11 touchdowns. After averaging over 6 yards a carry last season, Johnson has struggled through two games with a little over 3 yards per carry. Keeping the Warhawk run game in check will be a major key for the Miner defense. 

At wide receiver, the Warhawks lose its top receiver from last year but have some young talent at the position with junior Perry Carter and sophomore Jaquan Bloomfield, who has averaged 18 yards a reception so far this season. 

Senior tight end Josh Pederson is easily the most dangerous receiver on the team, leading the team with nine receptions for 94 yards on the young season. Pederson was first team all-conference last season with nine touchdowns. At 6-5 235 pounds, Pederson makes for a tough matchup for the Miner secondary. 

The offensive line returns all five starters on a very experienced offensive line with three seniors as key pieces of the line. Junior guard T.J. Fiailoa is considered ULM’s best lineman and a potential all-conference player. ULM’s experience on  the offensive line should be an area where UTEP should be able to evaluate how far the defensive line has come this season in terms of development. 

On defense, the Warhawks have seen its share of turmoil, losing its defensive coordinator Mike Collins 10 days before the season opener versus Army. Replacing Collins will be a familiar face for the Miners with former defensive coordinator Scott Stoker taking over the reins. Stoker was a coordinator from 2013 to 2015 for the Miners under former coach Sean Kugler.  

Louisiana Monroe returns eight starters on defense. While experience wise this may be a good thing, the defensive unit was ranked the third-worst in the nation in 2019. Allowing 484 yards and 38 points a game last season, the Warhawks are on a  similar path with  431 yards and 37 points a game this season. 

Stopping the run has been a huge issue thus far for the Warhawks, giving up 289 yards a game on the ground. UTEP’s depth at running back should be ripe for exploiting this weakness. The Warhawk defensive line is neither good against the run or adept at pressuring the passer. 

With its leading tackler, Cortez Cisco, now departed along with his 114 total stops, the Warhawks will be even more undersized at linebacker with 205-pound senior Traevon webster manning his old position.  Webster currently leads the team in tackles with 19. Inside, 226-pound KeyShawn Johnson will cover the middle linebacker position. 

The Warhawks, much like the Miners defensive strength, is its veteran secondary returning all five starters from last season. This remarkably busy tacking unit is led by senior Cory slaughter, who had five interceptions last season.  So far this season, the Warhawks have not recorded an interception. 

Now in his fifth season with the Warhawks, Matt Viator sits with a 19-31 record as a coach at ULM.  Previously Viator produced a consistent winner at McNeese State, compiling a 78-33 record. 

On paper, the Warhawks are a good matchup for the offense of the Miners. It should be an excellent matchup to get the UTEP running game going.  Both team’s secondaries spend an overwhelming majority of the game making tackles on runners downfield and are very experienced. 

The defense of the Warhawks should be a boon to the confidence of the young sophomore quarterback Gavin Hardison and his stable of running backs featuring Deion Hankins and Josh Fields. 

For the game, I expect a lack of defense from both teams with the experience of the UTEP offensive line being the difference for a close victory on the road. 

UTEP is 0-4 in the state of Louisiana since its last  44-7 victory over Tulane in 2014. 

Prediction; UTEP 34 ULM 31 

The game starts at 1:30, Sept. 26 at Malone Stadium in Monroe Louisiana and will be televised on ESPNU. 

Michael Cuviello may be reached at [email protected]