UTEP, Colorado State attempt to bounce back

We’re still turning up the orange around here, so once again, it’s time for Pablo Villa’s Four Keys to the Game: Colorado State. The UTEP Miners will take on the Rams at 1:30 p.m. El Paso time on Saturday in Fort Collins, Colo.

In the trenches: The game’s biggest battle involves UTEP’s offensive line against Colorado State’s defensive line. The Miners have shown they can run-block with the best of them. UTEP has the nation’s No. 32 rushing offense. That’s better than Alabama (90), Texas (43), Notre Dame (99) and plenty of other big names. But Colorado State’s defensive line is stout. They aren’t exceptionally large, save for 6-foot-3, 330-pound plugger Calvin Tonga. But they are excellent at holding up blockers and letting linebackers run free. The Rams held the nation’s top-ranked team to 66 rushing yards in a 31-6 loss last weekend. If you subtract a 38-yard run by T.J. Yeldon, Alabama averaged 1.4 yards per carry. But offensive line play is coach Sean Kugler’s forte. We’re about to find out how tough the Miners are. If they can soften up the interior of the Rams’ defense, UTEP may be able to utilize the speed of Aaron Jones and Co. on the edge. And success in the run game means …

Success through the air: UTEP quarterback Jameill Showers played well his first two games as a Miner before putting up dismal numbers against UTSA in the Sun Bowl last week. It’s time for him to break out. For all the success Colorado State has experienced against the run, the Rams rank No. 91 in the country against the pass. Showers needs to come through if UTEP expects to keep the Rams honest on defense. He is also too talented of an athlete to leave in the pocket. Kugler alluded to giving his quarterback more leeway to run during his news conference this week. It might be a necessity against Colorado State.

On the flip side: Two hapless units will fight it out when the teams switch sides. Colorado State features the No. 99-ranked offense in the country. UTEP has the No. 86-ranked defense. The Rams’ woeful statistics were bolstered during their lone win of the season so far against Cal Poly. Running backs Chris Nwoke and Kapri Bibbs have combined for 476 yards so far this season. If UTEP stands any chance, it must come up with stops against the run, something it has failed to do in each of its first three games. Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson isn’t stellar and hasn’t managed to find the end zone much this season (4 touchdowns in 136 throws), but he could start looking like a star if the Miners commit seven or eight players to the run.

Bouncing back from the hangover: UTEP is coming off a soul-crushing 32-13 loss at home to UTSA in which it failed to score an offensive touchdown and nothing on the defensive side of the ball seemed to work. Colorado State is trying to bounce back after doing nothing to dispel the notion that Alabama is the best team in the country during a visit to Tuscaloosa. Both teams are in need of a jolt to set their seasons back on the right path. Colorado State is a 14-point favorite and leads the series 24-10.

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