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FIU heads to the mountains of El Paso, Texas this weekend for its first ever game against the UTEP Miners. There is no TV for this game. However, you can listen to the game on the FIU Sports Radio Network. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. and I'll have the call for you beginning at 7:55 p.m. CLICK HERE to access the FIU Sports Radio Network. As always during our interactive broadcast, feel free to tweet me @PetePelegrin during the game with your comments and I'll read some on the air.
Much like FIU, UTEP is under the direction of a first-year coach in Sean Kugler, who like FIU coach Ron Turner comes from the NFL. The Miners are 1-8 entering their final home game of the season.
FIU will be playing in high elevation for the first time since the 2004 season when the Panthers played at New Mexico State where the elevation is 3,908 feet above sea level. UTEP’s home stadium, the Sun Bowl, sits 3,910 feet above sea level. The high elevation should give both teams’ kickers and punters some extra leg on their kicks and could be a challenge for the Panthers to catch their breath.
For more on UTEP, here is El Paso Times UTEP beat writer Bret Bloomquist to answer 5 Questions on the Miners. You can follow Bret on Twitter: @bretbloomquist.
1. This is the first matchup between FIU and UTEP in football. For fans that are not too familiar with the Miners, what is the state of the UTEP football program that coach Sean Kugler inherited and what kind of program does Kugler want to turn UTEP into?
BB: The program is in the depths of rebuilding right now. Before he got here, the previous seven years under Mike Price was bouncing back and forth between 4-8 and 5-7, which actually is pretty good when you look at the program's poor history. Kugler is trying to instill a culture change. He is a disciplinarian who wants to play power football, and the change is pretty dramatic. Sort of a burn the house down so he can rebuild it mentality. It's going to take a few years as he recruits the type of players he wants.
2. What do the Miners do well on offense and who are some of their top playmakers?
BB: They were actually really good on offense before quarterback Jameill Showers got hurt against Rice but they've struggled horribly since. They just switched to a true freshman quarterback in Mack Leftwich, the son of their offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich. They were running the ball very well behind true freshman Aaron Jones, who a week ago was the national rushing leader among freshmen, but he just got hurt and is questionable at best for this game. They've also had to revamp their offensive line after an injury and were overwhelmed there by North Texas last week. Still, they will try to pound the ball against FIU.
In the passing game they look to get the ball to tight end Eric Tomlinson and wideout Jordan Leslie. They were good at avoiding turnovers the first six games, terrible the next two, then got back to a pretty decent game in that respect against a North Texas team that is among the national leaders in forcing turnovers.
3. What kind of defense does UTEP run and what is the strength of the defense?
BB: After switching to a 3-4 in the spring, they lost their defensive coordinator to Florida and now run a 4-2-5. They don't really do anything well, though they have gotten marginally better the past few weeks at stopping the run.
4. How have the Miners special teams been this season? I see Autrey Golden has 2 kickoff return TDs but kicker Jay Mattox is 4 of 10 on field goals.
BB: Golden is a weapon and they do a good job of covering punts and punting in general when they do get one off. They have had a huge breakdown that cost them points with blocked punts the past two weeks. They are mostly decent on special teams except for one goof a game that kills them. They've had kicks blocked in five straight games. Mattox is automatic inside 40 yards, but unlikely to make anything past that.
5. How do you see Saturday's game playing out?
BB: I think it will be low-scoring and the team that wins the turnover battle will win the game. UTEP will try to establish a run game and if they can do that they'll move the ball. The defense probably matches up decently for the first time this year, but expect it to have a few terrible busts. They have a few every game. The line is UTEP by a touchdown and that's probably about right. It will be close.
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