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Miners look to keep Owls grounded

Published: Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05

golddiggers

The Marching Miners and the UTEP Golddiggers perform during opening ceremonies Sept. 25.

Bob Corral

evandavis

Bob Corral

Wide receiver Evan Davis avoids tacklers after making a catch.

UTEP Miners aim to make it their fourth win in a row and start the season 5-1 for the first time since the 2005 season as they welcome Rice for their homecoming game.

The Miners (4-1, 1-1 Conference USA) have been led this year by their defense who has not let an opponent earn over 300-yards in four of their five games this year.

At the Sun Bowl this year, the UTEP defense is giving up an average of 287 yards a game and allowing the opponent to score an average of 11 points. The Miners defense has been stifling and has improved in tackling since last season.

"It's not very often that we don't give up a play of 15 yards or more," head coach Mike Price said. "If you are playing good you're giving up maybe a dozen tackles, to only give up nine means we're really wrapping up."

Senior quarterback Trevor Vittatoe is leading the way on the offensive side of the ball, as senior running back Donald Buckram continues to battle through his knee injury. Vittatoe has completed 56 percent of his passes for 1,250 yards with 11 touchdowns and has only thrown two interceptions. Both of his interceptions have been thrown at home, one against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and the other against Memphis.

Of his 11 touchdown passes on the year, Vittatoe has only thrown five of them in the Sun Bowl, all coming against NMSU.

The emergence of senior wide receiver Kris Adams after a disappointing 2009 season has helped UTEP spread out the defense on the field, as Adams is a big play threat. He has caught 18 balls for 419 yards with five touchdowns and is averaging 23 yards per catch. His longest catch this year is a 68-yard touchdown against NMSU Sept. 18.

"Kris Adams sucked it up the week before against Memphis. He hurt his back but came up with the big catch in the final drive," Price said. "The (Lobos) couldn't cover him. Trevor had great protection so we were able to hold the ball until (Adams) got open."

Rice (1-4, 0-1 C-USA) is coming off their first conference loss against SMU, where they fell 42-31. But the Owls have shown resiliency this season playing their opponents tough.

"Rice hasn't been blown out by anybody," Price said. "They scared me against Texas. I turned to that game at the beginning of the year and said, ‘Oh my god they look great' but Texas wasn't looking so good."

Sophomore Michigan transfer and YouTube sensation Sam McGuffie leads the Owls with 68 carries for 255 yards and two touchdowns. He has also caught 24 balls for 210 yards and a touchdown.

"Two of (Rice's) best players are transfers. Their running back, McGuffie, transferred from Michigan," Price said. "We knew about them, everybody in Texas tried to recruit them. They came to Rice and they are doing a great job."

At Michigan, McGuffie had a break out game against Norte Dame where he rushed for 131 yards and had 47 yards receiving with one touchdown. During the year, he suffered three concussions playing for the Wolverines.

In last year's meeting, the Owls squeaked by the Miners 30-29 in Houston. Buckram had two costly fumbles in the fourth quarter, once at the goal line and the other soon after.

UTEP has struggled against Rice, last year, the Owls were 1-9 entering the game and came back from huge deficits to win. The Owls have reeled off four consecutive wins against the Miners. UTEP has not beaten Rice since the 2005 season when they won 38-31.

"They run pretty much the same offense they've been running the last four years," Price said. "They seem to be pretty good against us. We're 0-4 against them, no one has to remind me that. I would personally like to change that. They won two games last year and we were one of them."

Alex Morales may be reached at prospector@utep.edu.

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