This weekend's UTEP-Utah football game is hardly the stuff sports dreams are made of. The game matches the two worst teams in the Western Athletic Conference against each other in a mid-season duel for last-place dishonors.
For the record, Utah is 2-4 overall, 0-3 in WAC play and riding a four-game losing streak. UTEP is 3-4 and 1-3. The Utes have lost seven of their last eight WAC games, dating back to last season. The Miners have lost eight of their last nine WAC games, dating back to last season. The Utes rank last in the WAC in scoring offense. The Miners rank next to last. The Utes' leading rusher, passer and tackler have all been nursing injuries. The Miners' leading rusher, passer and receiver have all been nursing injuries.Utah meets UTEP Saturday at noon in Rice Stadium.
Get your tickets while they last.
At the outset of the year, it was widely believed the Miners had only two things going for them on offense: quarterback Howard Gasser and wide receiver Reggie Barrett. Because of injuries, Gasser has missed most of the season, and Barrett hasmissed the last three games. The Miners also have been forced to play the last five games without their starting tailback (Larry Sims, out for the season). This trio has been replaced by two freshmen and a Prop. 48 sophomore.
In all, only 10 players - five on offense, five on defense - have been healthy enough to start every game for the Miners this season.
Things could improve this weekend. Coach David Lee thinks Gasser and Barrett will be ready to play Saturday against Utah. Certainly, the Miners could use their help. UTEP averages a meager 16.3 points per game - only Utah is worse - and 288 yards per game - last in the WAC.
Still, the Miners managed to upset Hawaii last week 12-10, thanks to a defense that allowed the Rainbows past midfield only twice in the second half, and to Jason Gillespie, who kicked four field goals. It was the same Hawaii team that beat Utah 19-7 in Salt Lake City earlier this season.
"It's not as if we beat Sam Houston or somebody," said Lee. "This (Hawaii) is a team that played in a bowl game last year. We can gain a lot of confidence by beating someone that is good."
The Miners, whose only other wins this season came against Sam Houston State and New Mexico State, had beaten the Utes three consecutive times before losing 50-45 to them last season.
Notwithstanding its showing against Hawaii, UTEP's defense continues to struggle this season. The Miners rank eighth in the WAC in scoring defense and total defense. Utah's defense, on the other hand, has been solid (the Utes rank second in the WAC in scoring defense), and that could be the difference in Saturday's game.