Most of you will look at a college football featuring two teams with a combined 1-16 record a quickly move on to a more name brand, less abysmal pairing. Not us. We’ll be tuning in to see the festivities, and there will be festivities. So come my UTEP and Rice fans, we’re here to give you a little hope heading into this week's instant classic.
Meet Wiley Green
Rice’s third-string quarterback might have some promise. The true freshman made his first start last week at North Texas and for most of the afternoon held things well in check. He was assertive, smooth, clean, and up to the task. If you’ve seen Rice in recent years you know, those traits aren’t typically associated with Owl quarterbacks.
Green isn’t the next Joe Montana, but given the correct balance of rope and restraint, he’s serviceable. The rope comes in the form of receivers Austin Trammell, Aaron Cephus, and running back Austin Walter, the restraint comes from a commitment to a running game and a passing game with quick triggers and protection. The Owls won’t be flashy with Green under center, but they can more than make up for it with efficiency.
The Orange Crush
UTEP’s defense is quietly becoming a solid CUSA unit. The Miners offer three levels of difficulty. Up front, Chris Richardson, Denzel Chukwukelu, CJ Reese, Mike Sota, and Trace Mascorro are grinders and collectively greater than the sum of their parts.
At linebacker, a CUSA Newcomer of the year candidate mans the field in A.J. Hotchkins, and he’s joined by the surprisingly productive Jamar Smith, a pint-sized tackling machine. The secondary is solid with Nik Needham, Kahani Smith, and Kalon Beverly. They are long and physical in the defensive backfield.
UTEP is third in CUSA in pass defense. They’ve improved from thirteenth in CUSA in total defense to eighth. The real improvements are in the little things. This UTEP defense is better coached, you can see it in the way their interior fights through double teams, the way they protect their linebackers, and generally, the way the defense, more and more each week, makes you work for it.
The Trammell Effect
Austin Trammell looks like the kind of slot receiver that will somehow play ten seasons in NFL. Last season the Owls’ leading receiver (Aaron Cephus) caught 25 passes. Trammell’s nearly doubled that number with four games to play. He’s averaging five catches a game and last week he went off for ten catches, quickly becoming Wiley Green’s new best friend.
A.J. From Oregon
A.J. Hotchkins started at Wyoming, went to Brenham, Riverside, California, played in Eugene, but found a home in El Paso. The well-traveled grad transfer currently sits third in tackling in CUSA with 84, more than filling the void left by the graduation of Alvin Jones. He’s second on the team in sacks with 3.5 and tackles for loss with 6.
American Hero Jack Fox
In a world that generally despises punters, you have to love Jack Fox. Fox averages 47.5 yards per punt. Of his 55 punts, he’s placed 22 inside the opponent’s ten. Nineteen of his 55 punts have traveled 50 plus yards. Fox drilled a 76 yarder last week at North Texas and recovered a fumble on a kickoff. He’s the first punting Swiss Army knife.