It’s time for Pablo Villa’s Keys to the Game. This Homecoming Saturday, UTEP football takes on Louisiana Tech at 5 p.m. at the Sun Bowl. Go check out the festivities, and go into the game informed:
— Put more of the offense on Showers: So far this young season, UTEP has been content to keep battering at defenses with the run to set up the pass. While the Miners’ offensive line has been valiant in the task, they’ve been exposed in each of the past two weeks. But UTEP is not one-dimensional. The Miners have a great quarterback who just had his best game as a Miner against Colorado State. Jameill Showers threw for 365 yards and accounted for six touchdowns in a loss that featured a furious Miner rally in the third quarter. Showers has shown what made him one of the top 30 quarterbacks coming out of high school in 2010. Let him show more. He has proven his ability to get the ball in the end zone. Showers also has an array of receiving options including Jordan Leslie (130 yards, 2 TDs last week) and can soften up defenses who are stacking up against UTEP’s running game.
— About that offensive line: At times this season, the Miner offensive line has looked impressive. But they have shown some holes in each of the past two weeks. Coming off a sub-100-yard rushing effort against UTSA, UTEP faced the most physical defensive front it has met all year at Colorado State. While the 132 yards gained on the ground in Fort Collins looks like an improvement, it came at a rate of 2.8 yards per carry. The Miners struggled to run between the tackles thanks to the play of Ram defensive tackle Calvin Tonga, a big man who disrupted the interior. UTEP meets another behemoth this week in Justin Ellis (6-2, 357) and what coach Sean Kugler calls “very active linebackers” behind him. But the Bulldogs’ rushing defense has struggled this year, most recently giving up a staggering 414 yards on the ground in a 35-16 loss to Army. The Miner o-line must find its nasty streak again. The offense is predicated on their success.
— A respite for the defense: Louisiana Tech got to nine wins in 2012 (eight in 2011) by going to the air. And behind record-breaking quarterback Colby Cameron, the Bulldog aerial assault was tough to stop. Ryan Higgins will take control of the offense for the fourth time this Saturday as a redshirt freshman. He has experienced his growing pains thus far while still throwing for 222 yards a game and three touchdowns. For UTEP, playing against such a pass-happy team will provide a break for its maligned rushing defense. Bulldog running back Kenneth Dixon is a solid rusher, but won’t be called upon much. Wide receiver Andrew Guillot is coming off a big game where he caught five balls for 123 yards and score. The Bulldogs have speed in the slot and will present matchup problems for Miner linebackers if they get isolated in coverage. If UTEP can solve that riddle, it should expect a relative semblance of defensive success. The last time the Miners played a pass-happy team (NMSU), they came away with a win.
— A happy homecoming?: The Miners’ 1-3 record won’t do much for attendance this festive weekend. Much less against a 1-4 visitor and with a 5:30 p.m. start on what will be the first brisk day of the fall (70 degrees at kickoff). The home crowd won’t be much of a factor. UTEP also has never managed to beat a team coached by Skip Holtz (The Miners fell to his East Carolina Pirates teams in 2007 and 2008). This is a matchup of two teams with their backs against the wall. UTEP is a 2.5-point underdog.