After dropping conference foe Vanderbilt last week 56-24 at Kyle Field, Texas A&M will close out its non-conference schedule with in-state opponent University of Texas-El Paso in a home battle. The Aggies hope to continue their winning traditions after falling to Auburn two weeks ago in an upset, especially with three SEC matchups against Mississippi State, LSU and Missouri to close the season.
Starting UTEP quarterback Jameill Showers will be welcomed back to Kyle Field after transferring from A&M last spring, but a shoulder injury suffered last week against Rice will sideline him for the game. Meanwhile, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel looks to continue working through the throwing shoulder injury he sustained against Auburn.
For all the need to know info about the matchup, check out the following:
Time: 9:00 p.m. ET, Saturday Nov. 2, 2013
Location: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas
Radio: Texas A&M Sports Network
Spread: Texas A&M is currently a 45.5 point favorite over UTEP, per vegasinsider.com
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand
Utilize Home Field
Following last week's victory over Vanderbilt, A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said he was pleased with how his unit finally gelled with the 12th Man, drawing off the energy of the crowd. Against UTEP, the Aggies won't be challenged quite like they were with Vanderbilt, Auburn or Alabama, but a quick start and continuous pressure from the 12th Man will serve as a jumping off point for the team going forward.
Due to UTEP starter Jameill Showers' injury, sophomore backup Blaire Sullivan will be taking snaps from under center for the Miners. The Aggies generated seven sacks last week, essentially doubling their season sack total, and similar pressure on UTEP will help A&M build up an early cushion on the scoreboard.
After facing the likes of Vanderbilt, Auburn, Ole Miss and Arkansas in its past four matchups, it would be easy for A&M to see UTEP as a bye week, more or less, compared to its SEC brethren. The key to an easy victory over the Miners, though, will be remaining humble in the face of what should be a "gimme" win.
Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M love to score early, and score often. If Alabama and its defense failed to stop the air raid machine, it's unlikely UTEP will be able to, meaning the key to any kind of victory will be matching pace score for score from the get-go. At least in that case, the Miners will have a shot down the stretch.
Shock and Awe
For UTEP, this matchup is its Super Bowl. Playing on national television against a Top 15 BCS-ranked squad will bring out the best in any group, and recently-hired head coach Sean Kugler needs to utilize that energy with every play in his playbook. If you throw the kitchen sink at A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies, you might have a chance to force the upset.
After Vanderbilt's 316 total yard performance, Manziel and the A&M offense are feeling comfortable with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner's shoulder injury. Attacking the quarterback with blitzes and pressures will serve to make him uncomfortable in the pocket, and that may generate turnovers for the Miners throughout the game.
QB Johnny Manziel
Even after Manziel's strong performance against Vanderbilt, the shoulder and its status remains in question. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner will start, but any sign of trouble and he could find himself on the bench. The results of his play against UTEP will easily have an effect on A&M's final three games of the season.
WR Mike Evans
After Evans' big-time performances against top-ranked Alabama and No. 11 Auburn—18 catches for 566 yards and five touchdowns combined—the sophomore wide receiver has generated enough buzz to catch attention from Heisman voters. Furthermore, Evans sits just eight receptions, 107 yards and two touchdowns short of breaking every career A&M receiving record, another factor that will only add to the growing excitement around the wideout.
The big question in everyone's mind—was last week's dominant performance against Vanderbilt a fluke, or can they do it again? UTEP is an ideal testing ground for A&M defense's growth because, while the Miners aren't exactly a powerful offense, they can create plays.
QB Blaire Sullivan
Sullivan will be stepping in for Showers after taking over for the injured starter last week, hoping to make a huge impact on the Miners' program with a win over the Aggies. While no one is expecting much out of the sophomore, a strong performance will serve as a positive heading into the season's closing schedule.
RB Aaron Jones
Throughout the course of the season, Jones has been a consistent threat out of the backfield for the Miners, and due to the A&M's trouble with the run, should provide problems for the Aggies.
DE Roy Robertson
The sophomore defensive end leads UTEP in sacks and tackles for loss, making him a valuable asset heading into Kyle Field. Pressuring Manziel will be a key factor in the matchup, and with some energy at his position, Robertson could force turnovers and three-and-outs from the potent A&M offense.
A&M senior linebacker Nate Askew discussed how he hopes the defense's strong performance last Saturday will help generate confidence from the group heading into UTEP.
"We’re just trying to get better every week and play the football we know we can play," Askew said. "We’ve got a great group of guys out there, especially defensive-wise, and we want to get to the top. I know we rank pretty low [in defensive statistics], but hopefully this past game builds some confidence."
Meanwhile, junior wide receiver Malcome Kennedy expects the Aggies' offensive trouble with turnovers last week (5) to be a fluke and not a repeatable mistake by the usually secure unit.
"[The turnovers] was just a weird, unfortunate string of events," Kennedy said. "It was odd, cause we don’t normally do that. I think the last time we had as close to that many turnovers was Ole Miss last year, and we know we can improve. We know we’re a better team. Stuff just happened, and that’s the game of football. We’re still a great offense and we know what we need to do to correct that."
As for Mike Evans and his growing Heisman campaign, offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney believes the sophomore wideout has a legitimate argument for jumping into the conversation.
"When you look at the numbers, you can’t argue the season [Evans] is having. He’s having one of the best seasons a wide receiver can have. He’s definitely one of the best players in the country and those players should be in the Heisman Trophy conversation."
Prediction: Texas A&M 49 UTEP 21
The Aggies will dominate, similar to last week, with its usual offensive attack and defensive prowess. Manziel will generate a load of points and yards in the first half before being removed by Sumlin and the coaching staff. Meanwhile, the defense will show up once again, shutting down Sullivan and the UTEP offense consistently throughout the game.