UTEP and Rice take a break from Power 5 juggernauts to play each other out in the West Texas Town of El Paso. (See what we did there?) Both teams are 0-1, Rice just returned home this week from an extended road trip due to Hurricane Harvey. UTEP opens their home slate after a trip to Norman didn't go well.
We have a few questions:
Can you have a week two "must win" game?
David Bailiff and Sean Kugler are both firmly in the hot seat. Six wins are optimal for each to keep their current jobs. This game is one of the few winnable matchups for both. Opportunities to get the elusive six win plateau or five wins and an APR bowl bid is coveted, meaning a loss puts that one of these two teams between a rock and a hard place with a loss on Saturday night.
How do the Owls respond?
The Rice Owls have been through the ringer. Rice made an 18,000-mile road trip to start the year off in Australia, was blown out for their trouble, became stranded in Los Angeles and Fort Worth once Harvey hit, and just got home last weekend. Twelve Owl players lost everything due to the floods. Just as the team is returning to some sense of normalcy, they board a plane for El Paso. We're not sure how Bailiff has his team ready to play, but that's his task this week. External forces always play a role in on-field performance. For Rice, there may be no great challenge than focusing on UTEP this week.
Are both teams starting over?
No one expected UTEP to beat Oklahoma or Rice to beat Stanford. No one expected the games to be close, neither were. Kugler and Bailiff both stressed the importance of competing against their game one, Top 15 opponents and in spite of the scores, we think both did. It's a different standard when you face teams that are so physically bigger and better. Neither game is a great litmus test for the 2017 season, that's why Saturday's game is so critical. Now that they body bag games are out of the way, Rice and UTEP can line up against comparable opposition and test themselves. Call it week one 2.0.
Has anyone heard of either Walter Dawn or Samuel Stewart?
Even if you're a college football fan, you probably couldn't pick either Walter Dawn or Samuel Stewart out of a lineup, but both are important to their respective team's success. Both have also flashed some pretty special stuff in limited action against gargantuan opponents.
Dawn is in his first season as the feature back in UTEP's offense, and he's a dynamic player. Last season the Miners used Dawn has a slot receiver and occasionally out of the backfield. This season he's the first guy into the line. Dawn carried seven times for 56 yards and eight yards per carry average.
Stewart, when healthy, is one of the more productive backs in Rice history. Against the Cardinal, he ran for 71 yards on fifteen carries. Not many PAC 12 backs will do that against Stanford this season. Both backs will be on display Saturday night as both teams will feature a heavy dose of the run game.
Numbers and Notes:
Rice holds a 13-7 series advantage over the Miners.
Rice and UTEP have met for nineteen consecutive years, the longest active consecutive game streak for either team.
Rice's tackle Calvin Anderson has made 25 straight starts in his Rice career.
UTEP linebacker and captain Alvin Jones will miss the first half of Saturday's game due to a targeting suspension.
Almost a third of UTEP's 2017 roster, 26 players, made their Miner debut last week.
UTEP's Kenyan Foster averaged 22.3 yards on kick off returns in week one.