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August 23, 2012EL PASO, Texas - There aren't many games that will have the same kind of importance as the game in October so a matchup on the road against a very potent Tulsa team might mean a long Saturday for the Miners.
No. 1: With the graduation of quarterback G.J. Kinne, who is next in line to run the Golden Hurricane offense?
Filling Kinne's shoes will obviously be a challenge, but it seems as if junior transfer Cody Green has begun to fit into the offense quite nicely. While it doesn't appear as if he has a ton of game experience (made 17 appearances while at Nebraska), he was named the starter at the conclusion of the spring drills and he will have a number of weapons at his disposal, including running back Trey Watts, Jr.
No. 2: How much an impact can we expect to see from Watts?
Watts finished second with 157 carries and 913 yards last season. He is expected to be the lead back in the Tulsa offense and has shown he has the wherewithal to shoulder most of the running load, but it will be a committee job as Watts will have to share time with last year's leading rusher Ja'Terian Douglas, who lit the Miners up for 92 yards and a touchdown last year in the Sun Bowl.
Where UTEP fans should be concerned is when Watts is in the special teams formation. While only returning two kickoffs, he burned the Miners with a huge 94-yard return that set up a Tulsa score. The Miner special team unit will have to keep a very close eye on him if he gets the ball.
We've said it over and over when it comes to the UTEP offensive line that the battle starts in the trenches and the same rule applies for the Golden Hurricane. The difference between the Miners and the Golden Hurricane comes in the kind of rebuilding they are undergoing.
According to our Rivals partners at InsideTulsaSports.com, Tulsa has been working in the fall to replace a number of starters, specifically the left side of the line and a right tackle. After losing first team C-USA lineman Clint Anderson, Tyler Holmes and Matt Romnie, they will have Stetson Burness come back to the rotation after suffering an injury last season. Jake Alexander and Jared Grigg should fill in and give Tulsa a very respectable, but untested, offensive line.
In their final scrimmage before classes began, Blankenship said he was happy with the progression of the line and was pleased to be dealing with less issues than he expected. It's difficult to interpret what exactly is going on, but it's safe to say their first opponent, Iowa State, will challenge the line.
No 4: Will UTEP be able to stop the Tulsa offense?
No matter how many times you play this game on NCAA College Football, you'll never be able to replicate what could be the reality of the situation. Tulsa doesn't look to be skipping a beat with all the changes in the offense and quite honestly looks to have a very potent offense this year.
With a thin number of players at the safety position and recent developments with injuries at the linebacker position, you can't help but worry that Tulsa is going to find a way to light up the scoreboard. If the Miners expect to slow down the Golden Hurricane offense, it's going to have to happen because of some great play from Germard Reed and his colleagues on the defensive line. They will have to pressure Green into either releasing the ball early or forcing him to look for other passing lanes.
No. 5: How important of a game will this matchup be?
There's no question that the month of October will be a very critical time of the season for the Miners. This is the second conference road game and it could prove to be one that leaves the Miners hanging in the balance. This will be the first game of the second half of the season and if things haven't gone UTEP's way to this point, a loss in Tulsa might signal a very long October.
Chris Avila can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter at @chrisavila_01. Make sure to follow Miner Illustrated on Twitter at @minermaniac for more up-to-date news and information about UTEP.