Middle Tennessee (6-5) at Texas-El Paso (6-5) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sun Bowl Stadium (51,500) -- El Paso, Texas. Television: ASN, CSN-CA. Home Record: MT 5-1, UTEP 4-3. Away Record: MT 1-4, UTEP 2-4. Neutral Record: MT 0-0, UTEP 0-0. Conference Record: MT 5-2, UTEP 4-3. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: A couple of Conference USA teams trying to bolster their claims for a bowl bid get together at Sun Bowl Stadium, as the Texas-El Paso Miners entertain the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee.
The Miners, who with a win would assure themselves a winning record for the first time since 2005, have alternated outcomes the last four games. On Nov. 21 the squad was taken down by Rice on the road in a 31-13 decision. UTEP may be 4-1 at home this season, but on the road the squad was just 2-4.
As for the Blue Raiders, who have only one road win in five tries to their credit, they managed to snap a two-game slide last weekend with a narrow 35-34 decision over Florida Atlantic at home in Tennessee. Like UTEP, Middle Tennessee is also 6-5 heading into the final game of the regular season.
Middle Tennessee won the only previous meeting between these conference foes, a 48-17 outing in Murfreesboro around this same time last season.
A 12-yard TD pass from Austin Grammer to Marcus Henry with only 19 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winning play, along with the PAT, as the Blue Raiders took down FAU at home by a single point. Grammer converted 20-of-27 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns, while Henry turned six catches into a team-high 92 yards.
While Henry may have been regaled as the hero in the final seconds, running back Reggie Whatley was the one keeping MT in contention with his 190 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. The rushing attack for the Blue Raiders accounted for 310 net yards.
Because of the efforts of Whatley, who now has 756 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 107 attempts, the Blue Raiders rank 28th in the FBS in ground gains with 209.7 ypg. Add that to a passing offense (228.3 ypg) that is 63rd nationally and you come up with a Middle Tennessee group that is producing 438.0 ypg.
Unfortunately, the defense for MT has not been as stout, outside of the season opener when the group allowed a mere seven points to Savannah State. The unit ranks 97th in points allowed (32.2 ppg) and is really being abused by opposing passers who have generated 284.5 ypg, ranking the Blue Raiders 120th in the country this week.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Miners fell behind Rice and never fully recovered last week, en route to the double-digit loss on the road in Houston. Quarterback Jameill Showers converted 17-of-30 passes for 209 yards and was sacked twice, unable to get a pass into the end zone, although he did run for a TD in the meeting. As a unit, the Miners generated a mere 53 rushing yards on 25 attempts.
Ian Hamilton did what he could to keep the Miners competitive as he caught four passes and stretched them into 130 yards in a futile effort.
Defensively, Wesley Miller made a game-high 10 tackles, while Nick Gathrite was credited with 1.5 sacks on just five total stops. For the season, Miller leads the team in tackles with 63. Because of the efforts from players like Miller and Gathrite, the Miners rank 20th in the nation this week in third- down conversion defense, allowing foes to earn a first down just 34.5 percent of the time.
Over on the offensive side of the ball, Showers has converted 55.8 percent of his attempts, but for only 147.8 ypg which ranks UTEP 117th in the country. He has tossed 11 TDs, against five INTs.
The production of running back Aaron Jones has been impressive though, with him averaging close to six yards per carry, en route to 1,086 yards and 10 touchdowns, an effort that has pushed the unit to 209.3 ypg and a ranking of 29th in the country this week.
Based on the fact that both of these teams desperately needs to win in order to make itself more appealing for a potential postseason suitor, each needs to pull out all the tricks in order to come out on top. Being at home should bolster the Miners, but unless Showers is able to do something over the top, the locals shouldn't hold their breaths.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 27, Texas-El Paso 21Game Date and Time
Saturday, November 29, 7 p.m. (ET).