Miners open C-USA against Pirates
Confident bunch takes 1-3 record on the road against East Carolina
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05
The UTEP Miners will take on the East Carolina Pirates to open their Conference USA schedule as they search for their first road win of the season Sept. 29 in Greenville, N.C.
“It’s huge, it’s our very first conference game, we have to come out, we have to do a great job,” linebackers coach Robert Rodriguez said. “We need to win a lot of conference games to get to a bowl game this season.”
The Miners hold a 1-3 record after their non-conference schedule. A win can be crucial if they hope to be a championship contender in C-USA, but they know East Carolina will be no cake-walk.
“They stretch you out and they like to run the ball,” senior linebacker A.J. Ropati said. “They also take quick passes, so we have to be ready for whatever they got.”
The Pirates (2-2) opened their season with a 35-13 victory over Football Championship Subdivision, Appalachian State, followed by three consecutive road games.
They fell to both North and South Carolina while defeating C-USA foe, Southern Miss.
“I like a lot of things about them. The four-hour flight isn’t one of them,” UTEP head coach Mike Price said jokingly. “They’re really well coached. Ruffin McNeill is a real good (head) coach, a great person and recruiter. He is (also) an excellent defensive coach, they run the 3-4 stacked defense. That’s a hard defense to attack. You don’t know where guys are coming from.”
Junior quarterback Rio Johnson was the starter for the Pirates the first two games, before the sophomore Shane Carden took over in the second half against the South Carolina Gamecoks on Sept. 8.
He will be the starting quarterback against the Miners. Both Johnson and Carden have 435 yards passing and two touchdowns, the difference is the four interceptions that Johnson has so far against two for Carden.
McNeill, in his third year with the Pirates, is confident about his team’s chances against the Miners.
“UTEP has an explosive offense that returns most of the starters from last year’s team. They are going to try to spread the football. (Senior) Nick Lamaison is their veteran starting quarterback. UTEP uses a committee of running backs in (sophomore) Nathan Jeffery, (freshmen) Autrey Golden and Xay Williams,” McNeill said. “On defense, they have an attacking front seven that emphasizes movement and blitzing. We have to make sure we are ready to face pressure similar to what we felt last week against North Carolina.”
The Miners are coming off a 37-26 loss at Wisconsin, where they managed to get within three points of the Badgers in the fourth quarter, but penalties and a fumble trumped UTEP in the end.
Aside from losing the game, senior safety Richard Spencer suffered a knee injury and will be out for the remainder of the season. Price said they will try and redshirt Spencer and bring him back for a fifth season in 2013.
This will be the fourth meeting between the two schools, with the Pirates holding a 2-1 advantage over the Miners.
UTEP’s only trip to Greenville was in 2008, when the Pirates defeated the Miners 53-21. Last season, the Miners defeated East Carolina 22-17 for their very first victory in the series.
The Miners will try to improve on their C-USA road record of 6-22.
“I’m really excited about this game. We haven’t mentioned it to you guys, but there’s no question in the back of our minds that this game is going to be crucial,” Price said. “Everything to this point was preseason football. The conference season is what it’s all about. This game is what it’s all about.”
Edwin Delgado may be reached at email@example.com.