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Much like when FIU went to Southern Miss earlier this season, the Panthers encounter an opponent that is struggling Saturday night in El Paso, Texas. The UTEP Miners (1-8) host FIU from the Sun Bowl in the two programs first meeting.
Kickoff is at 8 p.m. There is no TV for the game, but I will have the call of the game on the FIU Sports Radio Network 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 of those comments on the air.
UTEP is hurting in its offensive backfield. Starting quarterback Jameill Showers got hurt against Rice on Oct. 26 and the Miners have scored just 14 total points in two games since then against Texas A&M and North Texas.
True freshman quarterback Mack Leftwich is at the controls now. Leftwich made his first start against the Mean Green last week and was 14 of 20 for 128 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Leftwich took over after Blaire Sullivan was ineffective against the Aggies.
True freshman running back Aaron Jones (811 yards, 4 TDs) was the national rushing leader among freshmen, but he is banged up and will likely miss Saturday’s game. Jones did his nifty running behind an injury-plagued offensive line. The UTEP O-line has given up 24 sacks this season and could be ripe for more sacks by Isame Faciane, Greg Hickman and the rest of the Panthers defense. The Miners like to run the ball and with an inexperienced quarterback they may go ultra conservative Saturday.
Jake Medlock is back as the starting quarterback for FIU after E.J. Hilliard started the past two games. Medlock could be helped by the FIU running game, which can exploit the Miners run defense. UTEP is allowing 255 rushing yards per game. Lamarq Caldwell, Silas Spearman, De’Andre Jasper and Talir Satterfield-Rowe could get plenty of carries.
The UTEP defense has just two interceptions this season and just 10 sacks. Medlock and the Panthers receivers could also have a big day, especially if FIU can establish the run and work play-action off of that.
The geography of El Paso could play a factor in the game. The Sun Bowl is 3,910 feet above sea level and the thin air -- as you may have seen in Denver Broncos games or Colorado Rockies baseball games – helps footballs and baseballs travel farther. FIU kicker Austin Taylor, who hit a 52-yard field goal at FIU Stadium earlier this season, should enjoy kicking in El Paso as should Medlock, who is still the punter even though he is back as the starting quarterback.
Of course, that thin air can also be a factor for the Panthers if the UTEP offense gets going because the Panthers defenders are not used to playing in the above sea level conditions.
FIU kickers have to be wary of UTEP kick returner Autrey Golden who has 2 kickoff return touchdowns this season.
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