Florida International U

UTEP is struggling but will present challenges for FIU

FIU's Ron Cooper, Interim Head Coach, on the field with players as Florida International University hosts Florida Atlantic University at Ocean Bank Field on Saturday, October 1, 2016.
FIU's Ron Cooper, Interim Head Coach, on the field with players as Florida International University hosts Florida Atlantic University at Ocean Bank Field on Saturday, October 1, 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

When a pair of 1-4 Conference USA teams meet on Saturday night at 8, FIU will be the “hot” one, relatively speaking.

That’s because the Panthers are coming off a 33-31 win over rival Florida Atlantic while the host Texas-El Paso Miners have lost four games in a row.

And while the Miners are 0-2 in the league, FIU is 1-0, tied for third in the East Division, trailing only Old Dominion and Middle Tennessee, who are each 2-0.

UTEP was blown out by Texas and Army and was beaten 34-7 and 28-7 by two Conference USA opponents, Southern Mississippi and Louisiana Tech, respectively.

FIU beat UTEP 52-12 last year in Miami, and Sean Kugler, who is in his fourth year as the Miners coach, is wary of the Panthers.

“They handled us last year,” Kugler told a media luncheon on Monday. “Their four losses are to Maryland, who’s undefeated; Indiana, who beat Michigan State; UMass, who took an SEC team down to the wire; and Central Florida.”

Kugler, though, noted that a lot has changed “schematically” since last year’s UTEP-FIU game. UTEP brought in new coordinators on offense and defense, and FIU fired coach Ron Turner after an 0-4 start, replacing him with interim coach Ron Cooper.

Although the Miners are struggling, they present some challenges for FIU:

▪ FIU could face a hostile crowd. The Miners are second in the 14-team league with an average attendance of 29,810, and FIU is 0-1 on the road.

▪ In El Paso, FIU will play at high altitude, something not normal for the Panthers. In their only previous game in El Paso, FIU lost 33-10 in 2013.

▪ The UTEP offensive line is likely the biggest in the league, averaging 320 pounds per starter. And Kugler spent eight years tutoring NFL offensive linemen, coming to UTEP after serving as the offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

▪ UTEP throws to its tight ends a lot, getting 10 catches from the position last week. Tight end Hayden Plinke had a season-high eight catches for 66 yards last week against Louisiana Tech and has all-league potential.

▪ Freshman wide receiver Eddie Sinegal had six catches for 102 yards last week. He became UTEP’s first 100-yard receiver since Oct. 24, 2015.

Still, despite some positives, there are reasons why the Miners have lost four games in a row, including a porous defense, a penalty-plagued offense and a minus-six turnover ratio.

The Miners are also battling injuries.

Sophomore quarterback Ryan Metz, who completed 20 of 28 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown last week, is in the concussion protocol and might not play.

Even if he does play, there could be opportunities for FIU since he had an interception last week on a pass that Kugler said “sailed,” and Metz also lost a fumble on a snap exchange.

Senior running back Aaron Jones, who has over 3,000 career yards and is third on UTEP’s all-time list, is playing on an injured ankle. He had 20 carries for 94 yards last week, but Kugler said he didn’t have his usual “explosion.”

Meanwhile, FIU is pleased with the production it is getting from linebackers Anthony Wint and Treyvon Williams.

Wint is the reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week. He tied a season high with 12 tackles, forced a fumble and had one tackle for a loss last week.

Williams had a career-high 15 tackles last week and has a league-high 57 stops this year. Williams ranks seventh nationally in tackles. Wint ranks eighth.

The Panthers are coming off a game in which they rushed for 270 yards, their biggest output since 2010 and the fifth-highest rushing game in program history.

“To win, you can’t be one-dimensional,” Cooper said. “We have to be able to run the ball.”

Saturday: FIU @ UTEP

Kickoff: 8 p.m.; Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas.

TV/radio: No TV; WRAZ 106.3 FM.

Favorite: UTEP by 6.

Records: FIU 1-4 (1-0 C-USA); UTEP 1-4 (0-2 C-USA).

Series: Series tied 1-1.

FIU injuries: Out — WR Shug Oyegunle (ankle); RB Napoleon Maxwell (knee).

UTEP injuries: Questionable — FB Darrin Laufasa (undisclosed); OL Derron Gatewood (undisclosed); DL Gene Hopkins (ankle); DB Kalon Beverly (hamstring). Out — OL Jerome Daniels (back); QB Ryan Metz (concussion); RB Treyvon Hughes (knee).

PROBABLE FIU STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

QB

12

Alex McGough

Jr.

DE

7

Fermin Silva

So.

RB

1

Alex Gardner

Jr.

DT

93

Imarjaye Albury

Sr.

FB

34

Jacob Kraut

So.

DT

98

L. Washington

Sr.

WR

15

Austin Maloney

Fr.

DE

97

Newton Salisbury

Jr.

WR

81

Thomas Owens

Jr.

LB

52

Treyvon Williams

Jr.

TE

87

Jonnu Smith

Sr.

LB

53

Anthony Wint

Jr.

LT

78

Dieugot Joseph

Sr.

LB

35

Davison Colimon

Sr.

LG

79

Kai Absheer

So.

CB

20

Emmanuel Lubin

So.

C

64

Michael Montero

Sr.

CB

28

Deonte Wilson

Sr.

RG

73

Trenton Saunders

Sr.

S

27

Xavier Hines

Jr.

RT

65

Daquane Wilkie

So.

S

33

Niko Gonzalez

Jr.

PK

43

Austin Taylor

Sr.

P

6

Stone Wilson

So.

PROBABLE UTEP STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

POS.

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

QB

8

Zack Greenlee

Jr.

DE

55

Mike Sota

So.

TB

29

Aaron Jones

Jr.

NG

63

Gino Bresolin

Jr.

FB

15

Darrin Laufasa

Sr.

DE

97

B. Madunezim

Sr.

WR

11

Cole Freytag

Sr.

LB

36

Nick Usher

Sr.

WR

10

Warren Redix

So.

LB

16

Alvin Jones

Jr.

TE

85

Hayden Plinke

Sr.

LB

45

Dante Lovilette

Jr.

LT

77

Chris Thomas

Sr.

LB

54

Silas Firstly

Sr.

LG

76

Will Hernandez

Jr.

CB

20

Nik Needham

So.

C

65

Derron Gatewood

So.

CB

1

Kalon Beverly

So.

RG

59

Greg Long

Fr.

SS

27

Devin Cockrell

Jr.

RT

72

Jerrod Brooks

So.

FS

21

Dashone Smith

Sr.

PK

47

Jay Mattox

Sr.

P

46

Alan Luna

Jr.

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