By Craig Sanders
Arizona Daily Wildcat August 30, 1996
If the undermanned and overmatched University of Texas-El Paso Miners hope to beat UA in the season opener tomorrow night, they know they can't do one thing - dig themselves into an early hole.
In eight of UTEP's (0-0 overall, 0-0 in the Western Athletic Conference) ten losses last season, they trailed at the half. For a young team coming off a 2-10 season, staying in the game early will be absolutely necessary for their confidence.
"We need to get off to a good start, especially in a game like this," UTEP head coach Charlie Bailey said. "We don't have the talent to match Arizona."
The Wildcats (0-0 overall, 0-0 in the Pacific 10 Conference), on the other hand, would like nothing better than to put this game away early. With a win, Arizona head coach Dick Tomey will overtake J.F. "Pop" McKale as the all-time winningest coach in Arizona history. Tomey currently has compiled a 60-31-6 record with the Wildcats.
Game time tomorrow is set for 7:07 p.m. at Arizona Stadium.
Arizona is also debuting a new starting quarterback and a new offensive scheme and an early lead would give them a chance to evaluate some of their talent.
"This is just a good chance for our guys to get started," Arizona head coach Dick Tomey said. "We've got a lot of guys who haven't played before, and I'm anxious to see them."
The Miners offense will also be hosting an array of new players. Gone is quarterback John Rayborn who threw for 1,913 yards, 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season. His backup, Leonard Lilja, will be this season's starter. He played in limited action last season, passing for 496 yards in seven games.
In the backfield, a junior-college transfer will get the start. Patrick Norris, an El Paso native, takes over for tailback Toraino Singleton. Singelton and Tayborn combined for 3527 of UTEP's 4352 total yards. Texas-El Paso needs to get their offense moving early or they may be in trouble.
"We've got to go into the game and establish a running game because if we don't our quarterback may get killed," Bailey said. "They do such great things with their pass rush."
Last season, UTEP's own defense was like a sieve, and doesn't look to be much better now. They allowed 34 points or more in 10 of their 12 games, giving up an average of 40.5 points per game last season. Their only wins came against New Mexico and Valdosta State - a Division II second. They do, however, have a new defensive coordinator Philip Clay who will be running a 3-4 scheme with three down lineman and four linebackers.
UTEP's one bright spot on defense is preseason WAC Defensive Player of the Year Micheal Comer. Comer, a senior linebacker, led the team with 152 tackles last season and David Terrell added 108 tackles from the safety position.
On paper, the Miners don't appear to be in the same class as Arizona. They were 1-7 in the WAC last season and have a nine-game lossing streak against the Wildcats. Arizona won 24-6 in 1993 and has outscored UTEP 334-110 in the eight games since 1972.
"The Miners really don't need to be going over there playing Arizona, but we're doing it." UTEP head coach Charlie Bailey said. "We'll show up and will be trying to do the best we can, but really we're out-classed as a football team."
While the Miners seem reserved, the Wildcats seem very anxious to play. After a month of practicing and football camps, it is time to see if all of the Wildcats' preparations have come together.
The offensive scheme designed by new coordinator Homer Smith will be on display for the first time and the Wildcats will be returning ten offensive starters from a year ago to run it. Only the quarterback position, in which Dan White graduated, will be different. Junior Brady Batten will start for the Wildcats with redshirt freshman Keith Smith prepared to see some action. Smith may be put in to run the option offense in goal-line situations.
The Wildcats's also return receivers Richard Dice, Rodney Williams and Ron Holmes along with running backs Gary Taylor and Kevin Schmidtke. The offensive line is intact as well and will be the foundation for the new offense.
"The offensive line is unbelievable right now, they've really made strides to be the best they can be," Taylor said. "They're playing the best football I've seen them play in a long time."
Arizona's defense has lost some impact players. All-American Tedy Bruschi, defensive lineman Chuck Osborne and safety Brandon Sanders have all been replaced. Defensive lineman Joe Salave'a leads the current charge along with linebacker Armon Williams.
"We're ready to go out and play hard, aggressive physical defense," Williams said. "It is a matter of focus and intensity."
That intensity seems to have UTEP scared.
"When we come over don't turn those Wildcats loose on us okay," Bailey said as he signed off of his press conference. "We're Miners just trying to make a living."