UTSA (4-2, 1-2 in Conference USA) vs. UTEP (0-7, 0-3)
When, where: Saturday, 7 p.m., Sun Bowl, El Paso
Series history: Tied 2-2
Last meeting: UTEP 52, UTSA 49, (5 OT), Oct. 22, 2016, Alamodome
UTSA’s last game: Defeated Rice 20-7, Oct. 21, Alamodome
UTEP’s last game: Lost to Southern Miss 24-0, Oct. 14, Hattiesburg, Miss.
Notable: The road team has won each of the first four games of the series.
EL PASO - Back on track after carving out a 20-7 homecoming victory against Rice last week, UTSA finds itself in the thick of the Conference USA West Division title chase midway through the season.
The win over the Owls stopped a two-game skid for the Roadrunners, who started the season 3-0 before narrow conference losses to Southern Miss and North Texas stopped them in their tracks.
UTSA, 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the C-USA, is in a three-way tie with Louisiana Tech and Rice for fourth in the West. Southern Miss (5-2, 3-1) and North Texas (4-3, 3-1) are tied for first, and UAB (4-3, 2-2) is third. The Roadrunners host UAB in their next home game Nov. 11, and end the regular season at Louisiana Tech on Nov. 25.
The West Division winner meets the East Division champion in the C-USA title game on Dec. 2.
“I thought there was a lot of parity in our conference,” UTSA coach Frank Wilson said at his weekly session with reporters. “You see what happens around our conference. I think that any team can certainly compete and beat the other on any given weekend, and so what we have to do is control what we can, and that’s UTEP, and let the chips fall where they may at the back end.”
Although UTEP is winless, Wilson stuck a cautionary tone in his assessment of the Miners, who pulled out a 52-49 five-overtime victory against the Roadrunners last year at the Alamodome.
“Right now, our focus is on UTEP, not really paying much attention to what other teams are doing because to do that would district us from our job at hand,” Wilson said. “They deserve our undivided attention, and we’re going to give it (attention) to them because we know what happened a year ago when they came into the Alamodome with a record that was not spectacular.”
Wilson praised the Miners for the “fighting spirit” they demonstrated in the win over UTSA last year.
“We want to go to their home and try to do the same and play well,” Wilson said.
The UTSA-UTEP series is tied 2-2 and the road team has won each time. The Roadrunners beat the Miners 25-6 in their previous trip to El Paso in 2015. UTSA also defeated UTEP in their first C-USA game ever on Sept. 21, 2013 at the Sun Bowl.
The Miners’ poor start this season drove their coach to resign after they dropped to 0-5. UTEP alum Sean Kugler stepped down on Oct. 1, and former Miners coach Mike Price was named interim coach. Kugler, who was in his fifth season at UTEP, went 18-36 overall and 11-22 in conference play.
Price, 71, was the Miners’ head coach for nine seasons (2004-12) before retiring. He went 48-61 in his previous stint at UTEP. The Miners were edged by Western Kentucky 15-14 in their first game under Price, and fell to Southern Miss 24-0 two weeks ago. UTEP had a bye last week.
“Their strength is their offensive line,” Wilson said. “Sean was an offensive line guy and built his team around it. They’re still a run-oriented offensive team. Mike has come in and done a lot of the things that they were doing, and added a little flavor from what he has done for so many years.
“Personnel groupings may change a bit, but schematically they’re still doing some of the same things from a zone, power-oriented run team. Same things defensively, though, odd (front defense).”
UTSA senior end Marcus Davenport, a Stevens High School graduate, was named C-USA Defensive Player of the Week after recording 11 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one pass breakup and a fumble return for a 34-yard touchdown against Rice.
Davenport led a defense that finished with four sacks among seven tackles for loss and two interceptions, both by sophomore cornerback Clayton Johnson.
Will the Roadrunners have some extra motivation Saturday because of their loss to UTEP at home last year?
"I think the guys enjoy the taste of victory much better than the taste of defeat," Wilson said. "So, whoever the opponent is at this point, we want to play our very best. We want to prepare that way. Whether it's UTEP or whomever, I just think they want to play well."