Michael Egwuagu scored two touchdowns off UTEP turnovers in the second half as UTSA pulled away for a 25-6 victory over the Miners in the Conference USA opener for both teams on Saturday in the Sun Bowl.
The Roadrunners (1-4, 1-0 C-USA) led the Miners (2-3, 0-1 C-USA) 3-0 following a first half that featured two lightning delays, making it difficult for either team to get anything going. But it was all UTSA over the final 30 minutes as the Miners were only able to mount one scoring drive. UTEP turned it over five times, three times in the second half, as Ryan Metz was picked off four times in a game that lasted four and a half hours.
“It was an embarrassing loss,” UTEP coach Sean Kugler said. “I don’t know how to put it any other way. We’re a beat up team. We lost three more guys tonight [Kelvin Fisher, Ishmael Harrison, Alvin Jones]. We don’t have much of an identity on offense, which we need to find. If you’re looking to point fingers at anybody, point them at me. I’m to blame. I’m the head coach. I’m also the one responsible for turning this thing around.
“I just told the team in there, we’re right where we were last year, whether they want to hear it or not. We’re 2-3. We lost our first conference game in an embarrassing fashion. And they have two options. They either come together as a team and they fight, or they fracture and split up into small groups and [complain] and become losers. I will not allow that to happen. I am the head coach here, and I’m going to choose the latter. I’m going to fight and do everything I can to try to fix this thing. I apologize to the Miner fans for our performance tonight and I’m responsible.”
Unable to get the ground game going, the Miners finished with 275 yards of offense, 216 through the air. Metz was 23-for-49 for 216 yards.
“You lose your entire starting backfield and it’s tough to regroup,” Kugler said. “We’ve got a freshman quarterback in there. I told everybody, the kid has been playing outstanding. He is a freshman. I knew he was going to have a game like this. I couldn’t predict when or where it was going to be, but I knew there was going to be a game like this. Am I mad at the kid? No. He is going to fight back and he’s going to play better next week. He is going to be a heck of a quarterback.”
UTEP managed only 95 yards on its first 12 drives. On nine of the 12 drives, the Miners ran three plays or less.
By that point UTSA led 18-0. The Roadrunners received a 30-yard field goal from Daniel Portillo, a safety when Kavika Johnson was tackled in the end zone, a 25-yard scoring run from Jarveon Williams and a 40-yard interception return from Egwuagu (the extra point was no good).
The UTEP offense did come alive late in the third quarter and into the fourth. The Miners finally dented the scoreboard with 12:34 remaining when Metz connected with Jaquan White for a 25-yard score, putting the finishing touches on a 10-play, 72-yard drive. White was the team’s leading receiver with six catches for 77 yards.
For a while, it looked like the Miners could rally behind Metz for the third time in three games. Down 18-6, UTEP moved the ball all the way to the Roadrunner 18-yard line and still had over five minutes remaining. But on third and 10, Metz’s pass was intercepted in the end zone by UTSA’s Nate Gaines.
UTSA tacked on its final score when Gaines picked off Metz deep in UTEP territory in the final two minutes, and flipped it to Egwuagu for a 15-yard TD.
The Miners had their six-game winning streak in the Sun Bowl snapped, losing to a C-USA opponent in the stadium for the first time in nearly two years.
For the second straight game, Metz was the team’s leading rusher with eight carries for 26 yards.
Jimmy Musgrave led the defense with 12 tackles and Alvin Jones added 10. Jones accounted for three of the team’s five sacks.
UTSA, which gained 335 yards, was led by Blake Bogenschutz who completed 19-of-30 passes for 198 yards, and Wiliams who rushed for 133 yards.
The teams have faced one another three times as C-USA members with the visiting team winning every time.
“We didn’t play well. We didn’t generate any offense. We give up two pick sixes and a safety. That was the telling story,” Kugler said. “We have no identity right now and we’ve got to find one. Defensively, I actually thought we played pretty darned good. Their backs were against the wall and the offense gave them 16 points.”
UTEP will continue league play at FIU next Saturday (Oct. 10) at 10 a.m. MT. The game will be televised on the American Sports Network and on KDBC Channel 4 in El Paso.