2007 UTEP Miners

Posted Jan 21, 2008

2007 UTEP Miners Season Game-By-Game Recaps and More

2007 UTEP Miners

Recap: For the fourth consecutive season, the Miners got off to a fast start before crumbling down the stretch, a troubling trend that's begun to chip away at Mike Price's legacy in El Paso.  Although UTEP found a terrific replacement at quarterback for Jordan Palmer, freshman Trevor Vittatoe, and ran the ball surprisingly well, it wasn't enough to overcome one of the nation's poorest defensive units.  The surprise of the first half in Conference USA at 4-2, the Miners lost their final six games, allowing an average of 44 points a game.    

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Marcus Thomas

Defensive Player of the Year: S Quintin Demps

Biggest Surprise: At its peak, UTEP had the look of a West Division sleeper, especially after outlasting eventual division champ Tulsa, 48-47, on Oct. 6.  The Miners battled back in the final quarter, winning on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Vittatoe to WR Joe West with less than a minute remaining in the game.

Biggest Disappointment: The Miners' second-half slide began with a crushing defeat to East Carolina on Oct. 13.  On its way to a 5-2 record and a third straight pulsating victory, UTEP allowed the Pirates a game-knotting 34-yard touchdown pass on the final play of regulation before falling, 45-42, in overtime.  The program wouldn't win another game all year.

Looking Ahead: Vittatoe has three more years of eligibility and Price refused a chance to return to Washington State, so the Miner offense will be in good hands for the next few seasons.  However, if UTEP is going to be more than just half good in 2008, it has to completely revamp a defense that stopped no one last fall. 

- 2007 UTEP Preview
2006 UTEP Season

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record: 4-8

Sept. 1 New Mexico W 10-6
Sept. 8 at Texas Tech L 45-21
Sept. 15
at NMSU L 29-24
Sept. 22 Tex Southern W 52-12
Sept. 29 at SMU W 48-45 OT
Oct. 6 Tulsa W 48-47
Oct. 13
E Carolina L 45-42 OT
Oct. 27 Houston L 34-31
Nov. 3 at Rice L 56-48
Nov. 10 at Tulane L 34-19
Nov. 17 Southern Miss L 56-30
Nov. 24 at UCF L 36-20

Nov. 24
UCF 36 ... UTEP 20
UCF won the East title and will go play Tulsa for the Conference USA title as Kevin Smith, who took over as the nation's leading rusher with 2,164 yards, ran for 219 yards with a two-yard touchdown run, and Kyle Israel threw three touchdown passes. The Knights took a 16-0 lead in the second quarter highlighted by a 39-yard A.J. Guyton touchdown grab, but UTEP went on a run with 17 straight points helped by a 19-yard Fred Rouse catch and a 100-yard Quintin Demps interception return for a score. And then the UCF offense took over as Smith controlled the tempo and the clock the rest of the way. Michael Torres finished with three field goals for UCF.
Player of the game: UCF RB Kevin Smith ran 46 times for 219 yards and a touchdown, and caught three passes for 30 yards.
Stat Leaders: UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 20-37, 292 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Terrell Jackson, 5-25. Receiving: Jeff Moturi, 10-116
UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 18-26, 261 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Kevin Smith, 46-219, 1 TD. Receiving: Rocky Ross, 7-68, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... There were positives out of the six-game losing streak to close out the year. QB Trevor Vittatoe had some strong moments throwing the ball and the receivers played well at times, but the running game wasn't consistent and the defense got ripped apart by everyone's running game. After yet another November collapse, the program has to go back to the drawing board and figure out why it's dying every single year. There were too many good players on this team to not go bowling.

Nov. 17
Southern Miss 56 ... UTEP 30
Damion Fletcher ran for 211 yards and three touchdowns including scores from three and 13 yards out as part of a 42-point second half run. Tory Harrison ran for two short scores and Jeremy Young connected on two big pass plays hitting Gerald Baptiste for a 53-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half, and Torris Magee for a 55-yard score later in the third quarter. UTEP got two Marcus Thomas touchdown runs and a 77-yard Joe West catch in a 20-point second half. USM finishes with 363 rushing yards and 568 yards of total offense, and the two teams combined for 23 penalties for 204 yards.
Player of the game: Southern Miss RB Damion Fletcher ran 34 times for 211 yards and three touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Southern Miss - Passing: Jeremy Young, 10-22, 205 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Damion Fletcher, 34-211, 3 TD. Receiving: Gerald Baptiste, 4-74, 1 TD
UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 19-42, 290 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Marcus Thomas, 22-106, 2 TD. Receiving: Joe West, 7-153, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The UTEP run defense has decided to take the rest of the season off. Southern Miss ripped apart the Miners in the second half with none of the adjustments working. The two big USM pass plays helped to open things up, and the run defense couldn't get enough safety help. The offense cranked out yards, but at this point in the season. Trevor Vittatoe has to be more accurate and more consistent.

Nov. 10
Tulane 34 ... UTEP 19
Tulane got out to a 17-0 first half lead on two Jeremy Williams touchdown catches from 43 and 23 yards out, while Matt Forte ran for two short scores to become the school's all-time leading touchdown scorer. UTEP got a 59-yard Marcus Thomas touchdown run in the second quarter, two Jose Martinez field goals and a 12-yard Jeff Moturi touchdown catch, but it wasn't enough as the Green Wave was always able to stay comfortably ahead in the second half.
Player of the game: Tulane WR Jeremy Williams caught eight passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Tulane - Passing: Anthony Scelfo, 7-11, 167 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Matt Forte, 38-171, 2 TD. Receiving: Jeremy Williams, 8-188, 2 TD
UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 28-43, 308 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Marcus Thomas, 11-124, 1 TD. Receiving: Marcus Thomas, 7-68
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... UTEP is doing its patented second half slide once again. It needed to come up with wins over Conference USA lightweights Rice and Tulane, but the defense struggled way too much, and the offense failed to show up against the Green Wave. Marcus Thomas is the team's star, but he only got 11 carries this week as the offense relied way too much on Trevor Vittatoe and the passing game to try to get back in the game. Now comes games against Southern Miss and UCF in games those two must win. UTEP has to somehow gear it back up or a once-promising season will turn into yet another tremendous disaster.

Nov. 3
Rice 56 ... UTEP 48
Rice overcame seven turnovers and a 20-point fourth quarter deficit with Chase Clement throwing three touchdown passes in the final frame, and giving the Owls the lead for good with a nine-yard touchdown run with 3:38 to play. UTEP had one final chance, but the drive stalled. Clement accounted for eight touchdowns, connecting with Jarett Dillard, Toren Dixon and Tommy Henderson for two touchdowns each, while UTEP bombed away with Trevor Vittatoe throwing five touchdown passes to five different receivers, highlighted by a 76-yard play to Fred Rouse early in the third quarter to give the Miners the lead and spark a 28-7 run. Rice outgained the Miners 558 yards to 422.
Player of the game: Rice QB Chase Clement completed 32 of 58 passes for 395 yards and six touchdowns, and ran 14 times for 103 yards and two scores.
Stat Leaders: UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 30-57, 373 yds, 5 TD
Rushing: Marcus Thomas, 19-51, 1 TD. Receiving: Lorne Sam, 9-86
Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 32-58, 395 yds, 6 TD, 3 INT
Chars Clement, 14-103, 2 TD. Receiving: Jarett Dillard, 11-168, 2 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Everything was set up perfectly to get to a bowl game with the apparent layups against Rice, and next week against Tulane, before dealing with Southern Miss and UCF, and now after an epic collapse to the Owls, and a third straight gut-wrenching loss, head coach Mike Price will have to work some magic to get his team to avoid yet another patented UTEP collapse. Getting Marcus Thomas and the running game going again, like it was working against Houston two weeks ago, will be a plus. On the positive side, Trevor Vittatoe has emerged as a quarterback to build around for the next few years.

Oct. 27
Houston 34 ... UTEP 31
Houston cranked up 520 yards of total offense, but needed a one-yard Terance Ganaway touchdown run to finally pull ahead in the fourth quarter and two defensive stops to finally get the win. UTEP took a 17-7 first half lead on a nine-yard Jamar Hunt touchdown catch and a 34-yard Joe West scoring grab, but the Cougars bounced back with two T.J. Lawrence field goals and a 20-yard Case Keenum touchdown run. Keenum gave Houston the lead in the fourth quarter on a five-yard pass to Perry McDaniel, but UTEP would fight back with Trevor Vittatoe's third touchdown pass of the game on a 35-yard throw to Jeff Moturi. That would be it for the Miner offense. UTEP started off the scoring with a 57-yard Jose Martinez field goal.
Player of the game: Houston RB Anthony Alridge ran 27 times for 204 yards, and caught six passes for 43 yards
Stat Leaders: Houston - Passing: Case Keenum, 13-20, 116 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Anthony Alridge, 27-204. Receiving: Anthony Alridge, 6-43
UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 8-23, 134 yds, 3 TD
Marcus Thomas, 28-178. Receiving: Jeff Moturi, 4-94, 2 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Two straight tough losses, thanks to defensive meltdowns against East Carolina and Houston, have all but knocked UTEP out of the Conference USA race. There were some major positives in the loss, from Marcus Thomas running wild yet again, to the decent offensive balance, but Trevor Vittatoe was too off throughout the game and wasn't able to come through late despite having two chances to come up with late scoring drives. A bowl bid is still possible, but there's little margin for error with three of the final four games on the road, and the home date with Southern Miss.

Oct. 13
East Carolina 45 ... UTEP 42 OT
UTEP got a 45--yard field goal from Jose Martinez in overtime, but ECU QB Rob Kass plunged in for a one-yard score to pull off a wild win. The Miners appeared to have the game won, as Marcus Thomas tore off a 31-yard touchdown run with 34 seconds to play, but the Pirates put it into overtime on a 34-yard Juwon Crowell touchdown catch with no time left on the clock. The two teams traded scores throughout, with Thomas starting things off with a 42-yard scoring catch, and ECU taking an early lead with a 50-yard Van Eskridge fumble recovery for a score. In the third quarter, ECU came up with a few haymakers, getting a 57-yard Dwayne Harris touchdown run and an 80-yard Jamar Bryant touchdown catch to go up ten. But UTEP would respond with the third of Martinez's four field goals and a 17-yard Jeff Moturi touchdown grab early in the fourth before the fireworks at the end. UTEP cranked out 589 yards of total offense, while ECU came up with 507.
Player of the game: In a losing cause, UTEP QB Trevor Vittatoe completed 38 of 55 passes for 409 yards and three touchdowns with an interception
Stat Leaders: East Carolina - Passing: Rob Kass, 18-32, 219 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Chris Johnson, 23-126. Receiving: Jamar Bryant, 7-133, 1 TD
UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 38-55, 409 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Marcus Thomas, 22-103, 1 TD. Receiving: Jeff Moturi, 12-113, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... UTEP won two straight close shootouts, and then it got burned in heartbreaking fashion by East Carolina. The Miners had the game in hand, and appeared to have its charmed year continue with a Marcus Thomas late touchdown run, but the secondary couldn't come up with the big play at the end of regulation. Now the team has to get over this in a hurry with Houston coming up next. They're still in the C-USA title hunt, but they can't afford a loss to the Cougars with Southern Miss and UCF still to play.

Oct. 6
UTEP 48 ... Tulsa 47
In a wild games with 1,218 yards of total offense, UTEP came through with a 14-yard Joe West touchdown catch with 58 seconds to play to tie it, and then Jose Martinez hit the extra point to take the lead. It wasn't over. Tulsa got a big kickoff return from Trae Johnson, who later caught a 14-yard pass on fourth and one, to set up a 53-yard field goal attempt, but Jarod Tracy missed wide left to give UTEP the win. Marcus Thomas ran for three touchdowns for the Miners, scoring from three, 11 and 38 yards out, while Tulsa got a huge day from Paul Smith, who threw two touchdown passes to Johnson, and ran for two more.
Player of the game: UTEP RB Marcus Thomas ran 27 times for 134 yards and three touchdowns.
Stat Leaders: Tulsa - Passing: Paul Smith, 26-43, 383 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Charles Clay, 11-112, 1 TD. Receiving: Trae Johnson, 8-127, 2 TD
UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 21-27, 319 yds, 3 TD
Marcus Thomas, 27-134, 3 TD. Receiving:
Jeff Moturi, 7-174, 2 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... With one offensive explosion against Tulsa, coming on the heels of a thriller against SMU, UTEP has found itself in the lead in the Conference USA race, but there aren't many league breathers coming up with East Carolina and Houston next. The defense might not even be close, but all the parts are working on offense, with Marcus Thomas finally running like the star he was supposed to be a few years ago, and Trevor Vittatoe maturing as a passer in each game. It's not a stretch to call this the biggest win in the Mike Price era, and now the momentum has to continue against the Pirates

Sept. 29
UTEP 48 ... SMU 45 OT
UTEP answered SMU's overtime field goal with the third Marcus Thomas touchdown run of the day barreling in from ten yards out to complete the comeback. Down 42-28 in the fourth, the Miners got two Trevor Vittatoe touchdown passes, the second coming on a nine-yard strike to Jake Sears with seven seconds to play to force overtime. This was the second major Miner comeback of the game, with Lorne Sam running for two third quarter touchdowns, and Thomas running it in from 11 yards out, as part of a 21-point run to overcome an early 28-7 deficit. SMU got two James Mapps touchdown runs, a 50-yard Cedrick Dorsey dash, and a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown from Wilton McCray, but the defense couldn't hold down the UTEP running game. The two teams combined for 1,074 yards of total offense, with UTEP running for 308.
Player of the game: UTEP RB Marcus Thomas rushed for 207 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries.
Stat Leaders: UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 17-33, 255 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing: Marcus Thomas, 35-207, 3 TDs. Receiving: Lorne Sam, 5-88
SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 15-28, 259 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
James Mapps, 26-149, 2 TDs. Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders, 6-95
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... While the defense had a nightmare of a time against the SMU offense, the offense started to hum better than it had all season long. Marcus Thomas is starting to run like the star everyone was hoping he'd be, while Trevor Vittatoe had just enough good moments to provide a little bit of balance. Getting Lorne Sam involved in the offense is a must, and he came through with some key runs in the comeback. With big home showdowns against Tulsa, East Carolina and Houston up next, this was a vital, confidence-boosting road win.

Sept. 22
UTEP 52 ... Texas Southern 12
UTEP forced five turnovers, were helped by ten Texas Southern penalties, and rolled easily to a 38-0 first half lead highlighted by Marcus Thomas runs from 15 and 27 yards out, and two Trevor Vittatoe touchdown passes to Jeff Moturi. Texas Southern broke the run with a 21-yard William Osborne touchdown grab in the third quarter, but the Miner bench had been emptied.
Player of the game: UTEP RB Marcus Thomas ran 11 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns, and ran once for 18 yards
Stat Leaders: Texas Southern - Passing: Tino Edgecomb, 16-28, 158 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Brent Wilson, 11-76. Receiving: William Osborne, 6-56, 2 TD
UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 10-16, 199 yds, 2 TD
James Thomas, 11-105, 2 TD. Receiving: Joe West, 4-88

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
After the losses to New Mexico State and Texas Tech, and the close call against New Mexico to start the year, UTEP needed a laugher of a blowout win, and Texas Southern was happy to provide it. Marcus Thomas showed off the running pop everyone's been waiting for, mainly because he finally had holes to run through. Trevor Vittatoe threw well, but backup Kyle Wright struggled. If nothing else, this game cemented Vittatoe that much more in the starting job.

Sept. 15
New Mexico
State 29 ... UTEP 24
New Mexico State got two fourth quarter touchdown catches from Chris Williams, striking from 82 and 59 yards out, and the defense held on late in the tight win. UTEP got its first points on a 100-yard Quintin Demps interception return for a touchdown, increased the lead on a 12-yard Marcus Thomas run, and after a big kickoff return from Fred Rouse, following the Williams 82-yard touchdown, needed one play to take the lead on a 25-yard Jeff Moturi touchdown catch.
Player of the game: New Mexico State WR Chris Williams caught nine passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns
Stat Leaders: New Mexico State - Passing: Chase Holbrook, 36-48, 434 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Justine Buries, 15-77, 1 TD. Receiving: Chris Williams, 9-221, 2 TD
UTEP- Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 15-27, 261 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Marcus Thomas, 21-74, 1 TD. Receiving: Jeff Moturi, 6-105, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
How could UTEP not run the ball on New Mexico State? Yeah, the Aggie run defense is better, but the Miners were only able to average 2.7 yards per carry with Marcus Thomas getting stuffed, or at least slowed down, for most of the game. Trevor Vittotoe wasn't perfect, but he did a nice job of pushing the ball deep, but he's still not quite there yet when it comes to shootouts. He still needs Thomas and the ground attack to help out.

Sept. 8
Texas Tech 45 ... UTEP 31
UTEP got up early with a 21-point first quarter run on two Trevor Vittatoe touchdown passes, including a 41-yarder to Joe West, and a two-yard Marcus Thomas touchdown run, and held a 28-17 lead after a three-yard Thomas score.  And then the Red Raider offense took over, outscoring UTEP 28-3 in the second half on three of Graham Harrell's four touchdown passes. Michael Crabtree made two scoring grabs and Shannon Woods ran for a two-yard score to finally put the game away.
Player of the game ... Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell completed 48 of 64 passes for 484 yards and four touchdowns with an interception
Stat Leaders: Texas Tech - Passing: Graham Harrell, 48-64, 484 yds, 4 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Shannon Woods, 7-46, 1 TD  Receiving: Michael Crabtree, 15-188, 2 TD
UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 12-26, 202 yds, 2 TD
Marcus Thomas, 22-85, 2 TD   Receiving:
Joe West, 5-101, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... UTEP might not have had the firepower to keep up with Texas Tech in the second half, but it was a decent stepping-stone game in the emergence of Trevor Vittatoe as a passer. He struggled way too much with his accuracy, but he connected on a few nice passes in the first quarter before the Red Raiders woke up. To beat New Mexico State, he'll need to bomb away even more, and RB Marcus Thomas will have to build on this nice performance. Defensively, Braxton Amy had a tremendous game with 16 tackles, 13 of them solo.

Sept. 1
UTEP 10 ... New Mexico 6
New Mexico outgained UTEP 379 yards to 195, but the Miners got the one big play it had to have with a 36-yard Terrell Jackson touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. The Miner defense held, as hit had all game long allowing  John Sullivan field goals from 20 and 40 yards out. UTEP scored first on the game's opening drive on a 51-yard Jose Martinez field goal.
Player of the game: UTEP S Quintin Demps made 17 tackles with two tackles for loss and broke up a pass
Stat Leaders: New Mexico - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 6-21, 59 yds
Rushing: Terrell Jackson, 11-70, 1 TD. Receiving: Jeff Moturi, 3-22
UTEP - Passing: Donovan Porterie, 25-39, 190 yds
Rodney Ferguson, 32-128. Receiving: Marcus Smith, 11-77
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... UTEP might have come away with a win over New Mexico, but it was as ugly as it gets. Basically, the Miners got one good offensive play, the Terrell Jackson touchdown run for the winning points, and did nothing else. It's a long way from the Jordan Palmer days as Trevor Vittatoe struggled mightily to complete the most basic passes. He'd better get in tune with his targets in a hurry, or the Texas Tech game next week will be a nightmare.

Sept. 1 - New Mexico
Offense: The offense is scrapping the Bob Toledo attack and going back to a more basic style that'll pound the ball more with a big line, but won't forget about balancing things out through the air. With one of the Mountain West's best receiving tandems in Travis Brown and Marcus Smith, and a rising superstar in quarterback Donovan Porterie, the passing game should shine, while Rodney Ferguson will be a 1,000-yard back. If injuries are a problem, there will be big troubles with no developed depth among the skills positions and even less to count on up front.
Defense: The 3-3-5 scheme will stay in place, but the Lobo position will be fifth defensive back more than a linebacker. As always, there are plenty of great athletes who can run and fly to the ball. Now there has to be more production against the pass and more big plays in the backfield. The linebacking corps with Cody Kase moving from the outside in, should be stellar, while the cornerback tandem of DeAndre Wright and Glover Quin should be among the best in the league. There's a ton of talent to get excited about, but, unlike last year, will it all come together to form one of the league's better defenses? It's possible.

Sept. 8 – at Texas Tech
Offense: On the surface, there might appear to be a world of problems. The quarterback situation is allegedly up for grabs, the star running back practiced like he was too secure and got booted to third string, almost all the top receivers are gone, and four starters have to be replaced on the line. Don't shed too many tears. Graham Harrell had a great spring and will be the staring quarterback once again, Shannon Woods will get back in everyone's good graces this fall and be a top back, and Michael Crabtree might be the best receiver the program has had in several years. Of course, it all goes kaput if the line doesn't come together quickly, but Mike Leach and his coaching staff have dealt with worse. There might be question marks, but there's also a whole bunch of talented prospects. This will be one of the nation's five best passing offenses once again, but it might not be consistent.
Defense: This D will be a major part in several shootouts, and not in a good way. The secondary will be the strength, and it's not even close, with a pair of all-star safeties in Darcel McBath and Joe Garcia, along with star corner Chris Parker. The front seven is a major problem, especially the defensive line, with no depth and only one starter returning. The linebacking corps isn't all that big, but it's fast and should be good in time. Expect good running teams to be able to rumble at will.

Sept. 15 – at New Mexico State
So that's how it's supposed to work? With Chase Holbrook at the helm, the Aggies finished third in the nation in total offense averaging 475 yards a game, 15th in scoring averaging 31 points a game, and second in passing averaging 399 yards per game. Those numbers might seem pedestrian this year if everyone stays healthy. Nine starters return including the top seven pass catchers, starting running back Jeremiah Williams, four linemen, and of course, Holbrook, who'll be one of the nation's statistical leaders all year long if the line, which found the right combination late last year, gives him just a little more time.
Defense: Big plays, big plays, big plays. The call has gone out from defensive coordinator Woody Widenhofer for the defense to use all its experience, with eight returning starters (with safety Gerald Gurrier moving to receiver) to find a way to force more turnovers, come up with more stops on third downs, and most importantly, generate a pass rush. The Aggies came up with a mere 15 sacks and 55 tackles for loss last year, and those numbers need to double to give the beleaguered secondary any shot of being better. There isn't a whole bunch of talent from top to bottom, so everyone will have to be ultra-aggressive and more consistent.

Sept. 22 – Texas Southern

Sept. 29 – at SMU
Offense: In sophomore Justin Willis, SMU has a legitimate franchise quarterback with the physical tools to move an offense and the intangibles to lead a program to victories and eventually bowl games.  He'll be growing alongside classmate Emmanuel Sanders, who ignited a mediocre receiving corps last year with 46 catches and nine touchdown receptions.  Junior back DeMyron Martin is eyeing the kind of rebound year that'll refocus his career while giving more balance to the offense.  He'll have the luxury of running behind a seasoned line that returns four starters.  If, as expected, the Mustangs are playing in shootouts this year, they've now got the offensive weapons to keep pace.
Defense: The Mustangs will spend the better part of the year trying to replace three starters from the 2006 defensive line, including standouts Justin Rogers and Adrian Haywood.  If they can solve that complex riddle, look out.  The back seven, led by Butkus Award candidate Reggie Carrington, is very fast and very capable of spurring an improvement from last year's middling results.  The more likely scenario has the line struggling to create a consistent push and the secondary getting burned by opposing hurlers with way too much time to find their targets.

Oct. 6 - Tulsa
Offense: Can Gus Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense really work at this level … take two.  All the buzz about Malzahn's fancy playbook fizzled in Fayetteville last year, but unlike at Arkansas, Tulsa coach Tood Graham is on board and prepared to see all of the offense's bell and whistles.  The system aims to control the tempo, physically and mentally wear out opponents, and sort of run a two-minute offense for four quarters.  Senior quarterback Paul Smith is liable to go berserk running this offense, but a makeshift offensive line and a whole new set of receivers will be two major stumbling blocks.  When the Hurricane runs the ball, it'll turn to senior Courtney Tennial and junior Tarrion Adams, arguably the best running duo in Conference USA.   
Defense: Head coach Todd Graham brings the 3-3-5 and a very aggressive style back to Tulsa, where he led the defense from 2003-2005.  The fact that he coached and recruited many of this year's players should make for a smoother-than-expected transition.  Graham will showcase a swarming unit that brings turnovers back to Tulsa.  In his final season as the defensive coordinator, the Hurricane had 36 takeaways.  Without him last year? 14.  The strength is at linebacker, which features three senior starters and Nelson Coleman, one of the nation's best middle linebackers you've never seen play.  With so much over pursuing going on in 2007, a retooled secondary could give up as many big plays this year as it has in the last two combined.

Oct. 13 - East Carolina
Offense: Skip Holtz likes to spread the field out and turn his quarterback loose, but with the battery of James Pinkney and Aundrae Allison gone, the Pirates will put more emphasis on the ground game.  That means extra carries this year for versatile senior Chris Johnson and his young understudies, Dominique Lindsay and Norman Whitley.  While strong-armed sophomore Rob Kass will replace Pinkney behind center, an adequate replacement for Allison will be much tougher to find.  Look for the quarterback to utilize a group of tight ends that has the potential to be as good as any in Conference USA.  For ECU to improve on last season's weak offensive output, the veteran line needs to give Kass an extra second or two in the pocket and create more daylight for the backs.        
Defense: If the Pirate defensive line doesn't outright dominate at times this season, heads will roll at the end of the year.  There's way too much talent and depth on this unit for it not to make a quantum leap from 2006.  Junior end Marcus Hands, in particular, has the size and quickness to be special after underachieving last fall.  Penetration up front figures to help a secondary that's easily the weak link of this defense.  Three starters, including both corners, need to be replaced from a group that was one of the underrated team strengths for the past two seasons.

Oct. 27 - Houston

Offense: The graduation of four-year starting quarterback Kevin Kolb signals a new era in Houston, but it doesn't mean the Cougars will be inept on offense in 2007.  There's too much explosiveness and veteran leadership for that to happen.  Last year's backup, sophomore Blake Joseph, is expected to get the nod at quarterback.  He's got a huge arm and about as much fear as he does experience.  Surrounding Joseph will be a half-dozen players that earned all-league honors last year, headed by senior running back Anthony Alridge, one of the nation's fastest players.
Defense: Defensive coordinator Alan Weddell's goal is to bring pressure from every angle and invent ways to get as much speed as possible on the field.  With that in mind, he'll be installing some elements of a 4-2-5 package in 2007 to periodically get an athletic rover into the mix.  The personnel is deep and reliable, especially with a front seven that includes dynamic junior end Phillip Hunt and a couple of all-league linebackers in junior Cody Lubojasky and senior Trent Allen.  If senior safety Rocky Schwartz is all the way back from knee surgery and the corners hold up, the pieces are in place for this to be Conference USA's stingiest defense.a

Nov. 3 – at Rice
Offense: Todd Graham and his staff are gone, but the spread attack is alive and well at Rice, good news for an offense that returns its starting quarterback and All-American wide receiver.  Although Chase Clement to Jarett Dillard will be a familiar phrase this fall, the Owls are also developing a bunch of good-looking, young pass-catchers that are ready to contribute.  The quest for offensive balance, however, won't be so easy now that underappreciated running back Quinton Smith has exhausted his eligibility.  Last year was a painful transition for the offensive line, but with four starters back and a full year in the system, there are no excuses for not being much better in pass protection.   
Defense: In an attempt to bolster a run defense that allowed more than 300 yards to five straight opponents in 2006, Rice is shifting from the 3-3-5 to the 4-2-5.  The move puts another big body in the box, but also puts an enormous burden on a line that lost three of last year's best linemen to graduation.  The new scheme encourages constant pressure from a back seven that boasts the young athletes, such as junior linebacker Brian Raines and sophomore safety Andrew Sendejo, to create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.  Lost in last year's statistically awful season was the fact that the opportunistic Owls paced Conference USA in turnovers and sacks.

Nov. 10 – at Tulane
Offense: New head coach Bob Toledo would like to get vertical get the passing game moving, but it's not going to happen at the expense of the ground attack. With a good back in Matt Forte to work with, the Green Wave will try to run the ball to create some semblance of balance, but the offensive line might not be in place to do it. Scott Elliott is the odds-on favorite to win the starting quarterback job in a four-man race, and he has some decent young receivers to work with.
Defense: Tulane hasn't played consistent defense in a few years, and it needs to count on experience, especially up front, to change things around. Eight starters return led by senior tackles Frank Morton and Avery Williams. The secondary needs to be far better after allowing over 250 passing yards a game, but that could be a bit of an issue with two new starting corners being broken in. The new coaching staff will use a variety of formations and schemes to try to get more production, and while the overall defense should be better, there will still be times when it'll get bombed on.

Nov. 17 - Southern Miss
Offense: While it's become fashionable for programs across the country to switch to some fancy derivative of the spread offense, Southern Miss is content to pound the ball on the ground, control the clock and let its defense win games.  Sure, the Eagles prefer balance, but in Hattiesburg, the run continues to set up the pass.  Last year's league-leading rusher, sophomore Damion Fletcher, is back for an encore, and this time, he brought friends.  Southern Miss is deep in the backfield, which will take pressure off versatile, yet erratic, senior quarterback Jeremy Young.  His favorite target will again be tight end Shawn Nelson, a future pro with All-America potential.  For a change, there are restless moments about an offensive line that's replacing three starters, two of which were First Team All-Conference USA in 2006.
Defense: The "Nasty Bunch" defense that's become the trademark of Southern Miss football under Jeff Bower should be one of the nation's top ranked units in 2007.  It's fast and experienced, and if Bower gets his way, about to become as physical as his vintage teams of the late 1990s.  The Eagles return nine starters, including the entire front seven and five players that earned all-Conference USA recognition in 2006.  Good luck moving the ball on this veteran group.  If there's a weak link on defense it's in the secondary, where two new starting corners will be broken in.  One way to help rookies Eddie Willingham and Michael McGee will be to get more pressure on the quarterback than last year, when USM was No. 81 in the country in sacks.

Nov. 24 – at UCF
Offense: Quarterback Steven Moffett and premier receiver Mike Walker have graduated, so logic dictates the Knights will lean on junior Kevin Smith for a while.  He's as good as any back in the league when he's healthy, and has the luxury of four starting linemen returning.  Don't expect any drop-off from Moffett to senior Kyle Israel.  In fact, the veteran of 16 games and five starts was so sharp down the stretch in 2006, some around the program feel he could be even better running the pro-style offense if a couple of the young receivers emerge.
Defense: Nothing typified UCF's collapse in 2006 more than the shoddy play of the defense, which finished 106th nationally and allowed almost 30 points a game.  The secondary was a particular mess, prompting George O'Leary to open up the competition at every spot, despite the return of four starters.  The coach had a chance to take the wrappers off some of his young kids late last year, which will benefit players, such as tackles Torrell Johnson and Travis Timmons and end Jared Kirksey, this season.  More than anything else, the Knights are looking to improve their team speed after looking a step slow throughout the 2006 season.



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