Tulane and Texas-El Paso two teams somewhat disappointed in the 2006 season, meet Saturday afternoon at 7:05 p.m. Mountain Time at Sun Belt Stadium.
Tulane, 2-3 overall and 1-2 in Conference USA, is coming off a solid win over the Rice Owls, 38-24, in the first game of the homestand last weekend.
UTEP, 3-2 overall and 1-0 in C-USA, is coming off a 24-21 come from behind win over SMU at
the Sun Bowl last weekend, that ran their home record under head coach Mike Price to 12-3.
Saturday's game will be the final game in a 3-game homestand for the Miners. The Miners stand
2-0 in this homestand, having also defeated New Mexico State 44-38 back on Sept. 30.
The Green Wave's victory last weekend was their first in the Superdome since defeating Army,
45-31, Nov. 13, 2004.
UTEP defeated Tulane 45-21 in last season's meeting, which was the first ever between the two schools. The Miners therefore lead the all-time series, 1-0. Last season's game was broadcast to a national audience by ESPN on Oct. 14 of last year. Because of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans, that game was played in Ruston, La., which was Tulane's base during the 2005 season.
UTEP is led by starting quarterback Jordan Palmer, who has made the Miner offense Conference USA's top passing offense. UTEP is ranked sixth nationally in passing offense (302.2 yards per game), and 19th nationally in passing efficiency (152.98).
Palmer was 25-of-34 passing, for 271 yards and a touchdown against SMU. Palmer also threw one
interception against the Ponies.
Overall, Palmer has thrown for 1,443 yards and 11 touchdowns on a 123-of-176 performance. The senior has has thrown nine interceptions this season.
Running back Marcus Thomas is the team's leading rusher with 258 yards on 92 carries and has scored two touchdowns.
Big Lorne Sam, a Florida State transfer, is the backup quarterback but is only 1-of-4 passing for 41 yards and a touchdown. Sam also lines up at wide receiver, and has cauht 8 passses for 114 yards. In addition, Sam is the Miners second-leading rusher with 93 yards on 13 carries and one touchdown.
Receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins leads the team with 36 catches for 555 yards and six scores. The dangerous Higgins is also one of the nation's top-punt returners, averaging 27.2 yards per punt return on 4 returns. Higgins turned in a 63 yards return for a touchdown against SMU.
Running back Thomas is also the team's second-leading receiver with 20 grabs for 95 yards.
Receivers Daniel Robinson with 16 catches for 247 yards and 2 touchdowns; Chris Marrow, with
15 catches for 114 yards; Jamar Hunt with 10 catches for 113 yards and a touchdown; and Joe West, with 9 catches for 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns are all quality targets for Palmer.
The game will match Tulane's weak running game, which nets only 81.2 yards per game and averages
only 2.8 yards per carry against a Miner defense which allows opponents 106 yards per game and
3.4 yards per carry. The Miners did hold SMU to 58 net yards and New Mexico State to 67 net yards in their last two outings.
Green Wave offensive coordinator Frank Scelfo's unit is averaging 22.4 points per game and 346.8
yards of total offense per game. Last weekend against SMU, Tulane rushed for 143 yards on
Green Wave quarterback Lester Ricard is on a hot streak, having thrown for 742 yards and seven touchdowns on a 51-of-90 passing effort in his past two games. But Ricard has been sacked 9 times for 82 yards in that two-game stretch.
Overall, Ricard is completing 57 percent of his passes for 1,236 yards and twelve touchdowns while throwing just two nterceptions for the season.
Senior receiver Damarcus Davis leads the team with 17 receptions for 248 receiving yards and
Running back Matt Forte is the team's top rusher with 410 yards on 82 carries and two touchdowns.
Forte is also the Wave's second leading receiver with 15 catches for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Redshirt freshman receiver Jeremy Williams has emerged as a mainstay in the first half of the season and has grabbed 14 catches for 214 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Preston Brown with 13 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown; Ken Guidroz with 8 catches for
135 yards and a pair of touchdowns; Michael Batiste with 6 catches for 43 yards; and Brian King with 5 receptions for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns are the other top receivers for the Greenies. Altogether, 10 Tulane receivers have caught at least 5 passes this season.
Tulane's defense is in definite need of improvement, as it has yielded 36 points and and 420 yards per game. Coordinator Eric Schuman's unit is allowing 148 rushing yards and 272 passing yards per game and has recorded but six turnovers and nine sacks.
In the last two games however, the defense allowed Rice and SMU a combined total of 227 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The defense has an opportunity against the struggling Miner rushing offense to post a third consecutive solid rushing defense performance.
The Green Wave regained the services of middle linebacker Jordan Ellis, who led the defense against Houston in the opener with 11 tackles before an injury caused him to miss the following two games and limited his effectiveness against SMU and Rice. James McMurchy, who started the SMU game at middle linebacker, did not play against Rice because of injury and his availability Saturday is doubtful.
The Green Wave did manage to record three sacks versus the Mustangs, and scored a touchdown
on a 30-yard interception return by David Skehan. Joe Goosby, who has moved from strong safety
to a nickle safety position as a result of an injury to Sam Linebacker Terrence Peterson, has led the Tulane defense with 16 tackles in the last two ball games.
Outstanding freshman linebacker Cody Sparks had established himself in the game rotation but was lost for the season with a broken ankle suffere in practice prior to the SMU game.
Goosby and free safety Louis Thomas lead the team with 2 sacks each.
On the season Goosby has 40 tackles, Thomas has 30, strong safety Skehan adds 28 tackles and
2 interceptions. Aggressive cornerback Izzy Route adds 27 tackles. James Dillard, who has been the only linebacker to start every game, leads that group with 23 tackles.
Avery Williams leads the defensive line with 16 tackles. Captain Antonio Harris adds 12 tackles,
and freshman Troy Wilson, who has played both middle linebacker and defensive end, has 11.
Return man Fred Smith has come back from a knee injury that caused him to miss the entire 2005 season to
average more than 12 yards per punt return. This weekend the speedy Smith confronts the nation's second-best punt cover unit, as UTEP's cover unit allows only 2.5 yards per return.
The confrntation between Smith and Tulane's punt return unit and the UTEP punt cover unit has
major implications for field position.
Tulane punter Chris Beckman averages 43.5 yards per punt. With Higgins returning punts for the Miners, the Green Wave punt cover unit will do well to keep returns close to their season average of 9.1 yards per return.
As with the confrontation between Smith and UTEP's cover unit, controlling Higgins on punt returns has serious implications for the Tulane defense. The longer the field that Palmer and the Miner offense have to traverse, the better chance the Green Wave defense has of making a stop.
Tulane's freshman kicker, Ross Thevenot, broke his personal field goal schneid last weekend against Rice when he connected on a 45-yarder. Thevenot had missed his first four attempts, with two of those misses being blocked.
Thevenot has done a better job with kickoffs, with his average carrying down to the 9, although several kickoffs have been squibbed because of Tulane's struggles in kick coverage, especially in the Mississippi State game, when they allowed State's Derek Pegues to return two kickoffs for 112 yards. The kick off cover unit also allowed SMU's Jesse Henderson to score on a 100-yard return.
On the season, the Wave's cover unit has allowed opponents more than 25 yards per return
on 18 returns.
UTEP's Quintin Demps scored against New Mexico State on a 91-yard kick off return, so Saturday will not be a Swiss picnic for the Tulane kick off cover squad.
Following Saturday's clash, the Green Wave will continue their road trip with a visit to the plains of Auburn. Ala., for an afternoon game against the Auburn Tigers. Tulane has not played Auburn at Auburn since 1950, when the Green Wave crushed the War Eagles, 28-0.