I recently had the chance to do a question and answer session with Anthony Salom of Miner Rush to get a Miner fan's perspective on this weeks game.
Our thanks go to Anthony for his participation.
CTTC: Two games into the season and what/who has been the biggest surprise on the team?
AS: I'd say that the biggest surprise so far this season has been senior LB Josh Fely. Now, everyone knew that this linebacking corp was experienced, and full of talent, but most of the spotlight was on returning senior Jamie Irving. After all, Irving led the linebackers in tackles back in 2010, before missing all of 2011 due to injury. So far, Irving has been out of action, and Fely has been quick to step up and answer the call. He leads the UTEP defense in tackles through the first two games with 21, and also has a pass deflection. It'll be interesting to see just how he does now that Irving will be back in action, but he should continue to be a great force for that defensive unit.
CTTC: Do you view this game as a must win and if so why?
AS: This game is absolutely a must win for the Miners, and its simply because of the way that the schedule sets up. This is easily the toughest schedule that the Miners have ever faced, and wins are going to be hard to come by the entire season. We've already had losses to Oklahoma and Ole Miss, next week we've got to go to Camp Randall to take on Wisconsin, and the week after we open up conference play with a game in the most hostile venue in Conference USA, in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, NC (ECU). If we aren't able to pick up a win this week, we may be on our way to an 0-5 start to the season, and that would likely relegate us to our 7th straight losing season. Again, this game is absolutely a must win.
CTTC: Who do you feel is the most underrated player on the team?
AS: I don't think that I can come up with one name in particular, but I do think that our defense is definitely underrated. Many people, in and out of El Paso, expected both Oklahoma and Ole Miss to just light up the scoreboard on us, and while both games did get away from us a bit, the defense did an awesome job to at least keep us within striking distance, especially against Oklahoma. We held the #4 team in the nation, with a Heisman favorite on their team, to only 10 points through about 3 and a half quarters. I'll be surprised to see that happen again to the Sooners the rest of the year. This defense may not be filled with the biggest guys, or most recognizable names, but they will be a force to be reckoned with, week in and week out.
CTTC: Where do you feel the Miners best match up against the Aggies, where do you feel the Aggies have the advantage.
AS: I think the biggest advantage for the Miners will be on the offensive line. This is veteran unit with a ton of experience and depth, who has done a fairly good job thus far against some tough opponents. I think they will be our key to success this week, in that they will be able to open some running lanes for Nathan Jeffery, as well give Nick Lamaison the time that he needs to be able to get the passing game firing on all cylinders.
For the Aggies, I think an area where you may have an advantage is with our secondary. I know that Andrew Manley has done well thus far this season, and it looks like you all have a blooming star in Austin Franklin. In our secondary, we've already got a reserve corner in Adrian James out for a couple of weeks, and another starter in Drew Thomas who is banged up, and may miss some time as well. The unit as a whole is a little banged up, and could be an area of weakness against a team like the Aggies who have some big play ability in the passing game.
CTTC: What's your final outcome prediction and any other thoughts you might want to add.
AS: I think this will be a very competitive game. As always, the two schools go at it with everything they've got, every time they face each other, no matter what sport they're playing. I know that the Aggies probably still have a bad taste in their mouth from the loss last year, and I'm sure that this year, with an improved team, they'll be looking to return the favor on our home field. However, this may be the most experienced team that Mike Price has ever fielded at UTEP, and this is just too important of a game for us to give up on our home field. I think this will be a great game for a least a half, but I also think that in the end, the Miners will be able to pull away. Final score. Miners 37, Aggies 21