UTEP head coach Sean Kugler prides himself on physicality, but that wasn’t the case on Saturday night as the Miners fell to the Rice Owls 31-14 in front of 19,136 at the Sun Bowl.
“I don’t have a lot to say other than we got beat soundly in all phases of the game,” Kugler said following the game, “Hats off to Rice. They were more physical and better running the ball than we were.”
That dominance up front by Rice was on full display from the very first drive, as the Owls started the game with a 10-play, 56-yard drive that ended with a 36-yard field goal by Will Harrison about four minutes into the game.
The Miners got the ball and drove 12 plays for 39 yards, taking more than seven minutes on the clock but were unable to come away with points on their first drive. It quickly turned into a crawl after that.
Rice would become the first team to find the end zone in the second quarter, thanks to a five yard run by Sam Glaesmann to put the Owls up 10. After fumbles on consecutive drives by UTEP’s Kevin Dove and Rice’s Glaesmann, there was maybe a glimmer of hope that the Miners could find a way to get moving. On this night, that wasn’t the case as Rice kept pounding the ball and UTEP stayed stuck in neutral. At halftime, the Miners had just 51 yards on 23 offensive plays.
“We just really struggled tonight,” said UTEP receiver Kavika Johnson, “The things that we execute every day in practice we didn’t do in this game. The energy and effort picked up in the second half but it was already too late by then.”
The start of the second half saw more of the same struggles for the Miners on offense, going just four plays before kicking the ball away. The Owls didn’t need much time. After running the ball with their unconventional option attack, Glaessman took a shot down the field and found Aaron Cephus for a 52-yard touchdown that made it 17-0 early in the third.
Feeling desperation, quarterback Ryan Metz and the UTEP offense started opening up the playbook and it paid off on fourth down inside Rice territory when Metz used a play-action fake to find a wide-open Warren Redix for a 44-yard touchdown to break the shutout. For the first time all night, the Miners offense showed life.
That’s when the Owls went back to what had been working for them all night: running the football thanks to a good dose of Samuel Stewart, Nahshon Ellerbe and a host of other runners. Their persistence was rewarded midway in the fourth quarter with a three-yard touchdown run by Jordan Myers to make it 24-7.
After the Miners took the ball down the field and scored, the Owls would add one more score thanks to Ellerbee who ran it in from three yards out to put the game away. Rice outgained the Miners 306-26 on the ground.
“They ran the ball real well on us,” linebacker Dante Lovilotte said, “Our main goal was to slow them down but they ended up being really successful with their rushing attack.”
It was also a rough game on the injury front for UTEP. Starting offensive linemen Greg Long and Derron Gatewood were both injured in the game and both injuries looked to be serious. As for Metz, he was shaken up late with a possible head injury and was replaced by Mark Torrez. Kugler said he didn’t know the status of Metz or the other players following the game.
The Miners have just a few days to forget this loss as the Arizona Wildcats come to El Paso next Friday night. On a tough night for the Miners, Kugler knows his team has to bounce back quickly.
“We just have to go back to work and find out about the character of our players and coaches, Kugler said, “We don’t have much time to think about it since we have Arizona coming to town. We can’t dwell on what happened tonight.”
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