UTEP and FIU enter Saturday's high noon game at FIU Stadium with the same record and each team dealing with injuries. It's similar to the situation each team found itself in two years ago in El Paso when they played for the first time. UTEP won that game 33-10 in which FIU got a halfback touchdown pass from Lamarq Caldwell and a 70-yard punt from Jake Medlock -- second longest in FIU history to Chris Cook's 71-yard punt against Troy in 2007 in the Orange Bowl.
The difference in 2015 is that in 2013 each team was 1-9 and just finishing out the season. Presently, the Miners and Panthers are each 2-3 and 0-1 in Conference USA play with plenty left to play for, including a possible bowl game if each team can reach the six-win mark.
FIU does come into Saturday's game in better shape than UTEP, who lost its top running back Aaron Jones for the season earlier this year. The Panthers offense has struggled the last two games against UMass and Louisiana Tech but should be able to get on track against a generous Miners defense that yields nearly 500 total yards per game (490.8). Even better news for an FIU run game that has had trouble recently is that UTEP allows 184 yards per game on the ground.
One reason for FIU's offensive issues the last few weeks has been that the Panthers haven't been able to run the ball. If FIU can get Alex Gardner and Anthon Samuel going against UTEP then you will see more points on the board that the 17 and 14 points FIU scored, respectively, the last two weeks.
UTEP's secondary can be thrown on. If FIU quarterback Alex McGough gets the time to operate because UTEP has to respect the FIU run game then it could be a big statistical day for the sophomore quarterback. The Panthers haven't taken many shots downfield the last two weeks. Getting the running game established will allow for those deep passes to Thomas Owens (above) or Anthony Jones. Look for tight end Jonnu Smith to get more involved as well.
UTEP freshman quarterback Ryan Metz operates an offense that would like to run the ball but without Jones has struggled to do so. Taking away Jones, who played in just two games before getting injured, 250-pound fullback Darrin Laufasa is the Miners leading rusher with 13 carries for 104 yards (8.0 yards per carry). Metz (photo below) is second on the team with 98 rushing yards.
Metz appears to be the best of the three quarterbacks UTEP has played this season. Metz has a good arm and makes good decisions but can play like the freshman that he is according to El Paso Times UTEP beat writer Bret Bloomquist. Receivers Jaquan White (21 rec., 209 yds, 2 TDs), tight end Hayden Plinke (17 rec., 231 yds) and Autrey Golden (15 rec., 138 yds, 2 TDs) have been Metz's top targets.
One stat to keep an eye on Saturday is third quarter scoring. The third period this season has been FIU's best and UTEP's worst. The Panthers have outscored their opponents 33-6 in the third quarter through five games. The Miners have been outscored 70-17 in the third quarter. One team is making adjustments in the locker room at halftime and it's not the one near the U.S./Mexico border.
Weather should not be a factor for either team considering each team plays their home games in the heat. A temperature of 87 degrees and a 15 percent chance of rain is the forecast at kickoff.