The University of Texas-El Paso has yet to win a game seven weeks into the football season, has yet to score more than 21 points in any game and went back to the future for an interim head coach after their former one resigned on Oct. 1.
But USM coach Jay Hopson said his Golden Eagles cannot afford to take any Conference USA opponent lightly, including the Miners, who come to town for a 6 p.m. Saturday kickoff at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
“It’s conference play and it’s Conference USA and one of the things I’ve learned over the years is you have to be ready to play every week,” Hopson said. “We understand we have another tough, Conference USA game and we have to (be) ready.”
USM (3-2, 1-1 C-USA) bounced back last week after opening conference play with a home loss to North Texas University by handing University of Texas-San Antonio its first loss. The Golden Eagles went into the Alamodome and emerged with a 31-29 road victory.
Quarterback Keon Howard, who had not started since the season-opening game with the University of Kentucky, stepped in for injured starter Kwadra Griggs and threw for 212 yards and three touchdowns.
Running back Ito Smith ran for 178 yards, including a record-setting 89-yard touchdown run and defensive backs Curtis Mikell (end zone interception) and Cornell Armstrong (denied potential two-point conversion pass) came up with big defensive stops that help thwart UTSA.
“It was a good game, good win,” Hopson said. “We played hard, and offensively, we did a good job, hit some explosive plays. Ito played his normal, great game, and out wide at receiver, we had some great plays. Keon did a good job direction the offense.
“Guys like Curtis Mikell with that pick and Cornell’s play were just huge difference makers for us. For the most part, we played hard and gave ourselves a chance to win and found a way at the end to win the ballgame.”
With Griggs still banged up (hand), Howard is expected to make a second, consecutive start Saturday.
The Miners, who had been outscored 45.2 to 14.5 on average over its first five games, dropped a one-point decision last week with Coach Mike Price back on the sidelines.
Price, who had coached the Miners from 2004 to 2012, was named interim head coach a day after the man who replaced him, Sean Kugler, resigned on Oct. 1 after a 35-21 loss to the United States Military Academy the previous day.
“They played Western Kentucky 15-14, and if that doesn’t get your attention, nothing will,” Hopson said. “We know we have a good football team coming to town and we have to be prepared … They have our outmost respect.”
Ryan Metz and Zack Greenlee have exchanged starts at quarterback.
Metz, who has completed 36 of 74 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions, started the first two weeks against University of Oklahoma and Rice University, as well as road games at New Mexico State University and USMC.
Greenlee, who has completed 35 of 60 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, started against University of Arizona and WKU.
Quardraiz Wadley has taken over the UTEP rushing lead despite playing only in the Miners’ last three, including starts in the last two. Wadley has run for 271 yards and a touchdown on 54 carries.
“They run the ball well and their quarterback does a good job running their offense,” Hopson said. “They give you a lot of personnel groups. They’re very multiple on offense. They make you work.
“Defensively, they play hard. If you watch the Western Kentucky game from last week, they did a good job playing good, sound football. They made Western Kentucky work for everything. They have our utmost respect. We know we have to be ready.”