EL PASO, Texas - When the UTEP Miner football team takes the field Saturday afternoon in the Sun Bowl, it will be the first time in Mike Price's tenure as head coach where there is no mathematical way he can finish the season with a winning record.
It's also the first time since Price became the head coach that UTEP isn't playing for an opportunity to at least reach the .500 mark or go to a bowl game.
It's an odd circumstance to be in, but as the Miners come off a bye week, Price and the team aren't giving up on the season nor planning to just lie down for Central Florida. In fact, the UCF coaching staff, including head coach George O'Leary, have complimented the Miners on their ability to play hard in every game this season.
"They are a good football team. They play with a lot of energy and they play well at home," UCF assistant coach Brent Key said in an interview with Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel.
When Blaire Sullivan took over the quarterback position in the second half of the game in Houston, there was a change of momentum in favor of UTEP. He helped rally the team after being down 45-7 and scored four touchdowns, falling only 10 points shy of the win.
It was evident Sullivan played without fear and simply executed.
Chances are Sullivan won't be the starter Saturday and Price will probably stick with senior Nick Lamaison and junior Carson Meger early, but that doesn't mean Sullivan won't play as he has been getting time in practice this week.
"We could use all three quarterbacks, but I don't really want to give away our game plan," Price said. "Blair (Sullivan) has given us a lot of energy and there are some things that he can do that the other guys can't. Each one of them have their strengths."
The possibility of having Sullivan come in and create another comeback, however, is pretty slim and Price knows that. UTEP will have to find a way to create momentum early, not late.
"I think (momentum) is real important," Price said. "We will have a hard time if it's 21-0 in their favor at halftime and trying to come back against this team. We have to score points early, we have to move the ball early, play well early."
Perfect Game from the Defense?
While momentum is key for the offense, it's been the consistency of the UTEP defense that has helped keep the Miners competitive in many of the games this season.
Saturday will be another challenge as the red-hot Knights, riding a five-game winning steak, come to the Sun Bowl. On paper, it looks like the defense will have to play a nearly-perfect defensive game but defensive coordinator Andre Patterson breaks things down a bit more simply.
"I wouldn't say we have to play a perfect game," Patterson said. "I think the most important thing is we have to eliminate the long runs and prevent their elite receivers from getting the ball thrown to them over our head. If we can make them work for everything, then we will have a great chance to be in this football game."
UCF's run game is lead by Latavius Murray, who has carried the ball 96 times this season and has only been tackled behind the line of scrimmage six times, has amassed 693 yards and averages 7.22 yards per carry. Throwing the ball is Blake Bortle, who coincidentally leads Conference USA in passing efficiency. The top four receivers for the Knights, including former quarterback Jeff Godfrey have 10 of the 19 touchdowns among them creating a good mix of run and pass.
"As you watch them, they are the most balanced team we've played since Wisconsin," Patterson said. " If you watch their games, the teams that had the chance to beat (UCF) were the teams that eliminated their explosive plays and made them go the long, hard way to score in ling 12-13-14 play drives. They don't mind that as it keeps their defense off the field but it kept the score down. That's the biggest thing for us; we have to make sure we don't give up explosive plays."
Weather A Factor?
According to several weather reports online, winds are expected to gusts up to 45 miles an hour come game time Saturday making an interesting challenge for the passing game and for special teams.
"it can be just as bad with the wind in here no matter how hard it's blowing," Price said. "The kicking game will be important because if we are kicking into the wind and if (Quincy McDuffie) is back there, wow. We're the number one kickoff coverage team in the country and he's the number two kickoff return guy so Jeff Banks has been watching tape strategizing."
"We have a plan (offensively) where we will be good with the wind or against it," Price continued. "As the game progresses, that plan may change because one quarterback may throw a tight spiral real well and another guy doesn't. If you get a little wobble in the throw, sometimes it will hang and that's not good."