Arizona heads to UTEP for final non-conference game
EL PASO, Texas -- Brandon Dawkins is expected to start at quarterback when Arizona visits UTEP a week after he was replaced in a loss to Houston with an explanation that seemed to fall somewhere between injury and ineffectiveness.
Coach Rich Rodriguez figured the question was coming heading into a Friday night renewal of a long-ago rivalry in the Wildcats' first regular-season trip to El Paso since they were in the WAC with the Miners 40 years ago.
"Before anybody asks about a controversy and all that, we try to get everybody ready to play, and whoever I feel gives us the best chance to win or succeed on that particular drive or series or half or game, that's what I go with," Rodriguez said. "It's not really controversial. It's just having a feel for getting guys in the game."
Sophomore Khalil Tate replaced the redshirt junior early in the fourth quarter against the Cougars but threw an interception to end a promising drive. Dawkins returned for Arizona's final series, which ended on downs. Rodriguez said Dawkins was healthy and would remain the starter.
"We did not lose the game because of something our quarterback did," Rodriguez said. "There are a lot of reasons as to why we lost."
The Wildcats (1-1) are favored by three touchdowns in their final tuneup for Pac-12 play in part because the Miners (0-2) are in disarray. UTEP players described scenes of teammates arguing in the huddle during a 31-14 home loss to Rice. Athletic director Bob Stull just retired, and fifth-year coach Sean Kugler's future is in doubt.
UTEP is expected to be without quarterback Ryan Metz after he was injured against the Owls. Zack Greenlee should start, and Mark Torrez could play.
"We have to generate yardage," Kugler said. "Whoever gives us the best chance to do that will be the guy that's in there."
Story lines with Arizona going for a 13th straight victory in the series against UTEP, including five meetings since the Wildcats left the WAC:
HOLD THAT LINE
The Arizona defense was better against Houston, holding a traditionally high-scoring team to 19 points and less than 400 yards and giving the Wildcats one more chance to tie or win in the final minutes with a stop after Tate's interception. In a 62-24 win in the opener, the Wildcats gave up 562 yards to Northern Arizona of the FCS.
"I thought we were much more aggressive mentally,'" Rodriguez said. "We missed a few tackles, but overall it was a much better performance against some pretty talented guys."
BEHIND THE QB
Arizona running back Nick Wilson is questionable after missing the Houston game with an ankle injury. J.J. Taylor had 87 yards rushing against the Cougars, and Zach Green is a short-yardage option. The Wildcats fell 5 yards short of the school record with 506 yards rushing in the opener. They set the mark in the 2016 finale against Arizona State.
RETURN TO SUN BOWL
Although the Wildcats haven't played the Miners in El Paso since 1977, they've played in the Sun Bowl twice. Arizona tied Georgia 13-13 in 1985 and lost to Baylor 20-15 in 1992.
UTEP is playing its 100th football season. The school's first season was in 1914. It was known as the State School of Mines and Metallurgy when football was skipped in 1918 for World War I. The name was College of Mines and Metallurgy when World War II interrupted football from 1943-45.
The Miners last defeated the Wildcats on Nov. 14, 1970, a 33-17 victory in El Paso. ... Arizona is 4-0 in true non-conference road games under Rodriguez. ... Arizona junior safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles matched his career total of three interceptions in the first two games.