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September 20, 2012EL PASO, Texas - The UTEP football team is riding high from its 41-28 victory over New Mexico State, but this week the Miners face a new set of challenges in the Wisconsin Badgers.
Wisconsin (2-1) will be the third BCS conference team the Miners (1-2) face this season-the toughest schedule in the head coach Mike Price era.
This will not be an easy opponent for UTEP, the Badgers has won the last 25 games at home against non-conference opponents. But after shuffling some players around after last year's senior class graduated and the pushover opponents that have given Wisconsin a game the last three weeks, the Miners are hoping to ride to steal a win from the Badgers this week.
Here are a few things to watch for during this game:
Who will win the battle upfront?
This is the most interesting battle right off the back. Wisconsin is a run-first unit that will stop at nothing until it puts 200 yards plus on an opponent. Senior running Montee Ball, a Heisman trophy contender, has amassed 320 yards on 82 careers this season and this trend will not let up against UTEP. The Miners have a stout defensive front with Marcus Bagley, Germard Reed and Horace Miller, but that unit has also given up a large amount of yards rushing to major opponents. Against Oklahoma the defense gave up 205 yards and against Ole Miss it gave up 332 yards.
On the other end of the ball, the Miners running game is what has set this UTEP team apart from the offensive units of the last two seasons. The Miners rushed for 207 yards against Oklahoma and 177 against NMSU. Against Ole Miss it racked up a dismal 37 yards. With starting running back Nathan Jeffery set to make a return this weekend, the Miners will have to set the tempo of the game through him.
The only problem: Wisconsin has held two out of the last three opponents under 80 yards. Only Utah State was able to put up 127 yards on the Badgers.
Which Nick Lamaison will show up to play in Madison, Wisc.?
He has been hot and cold all year. To no fault of his own, Lamaison has faced some tough opponents that have pushed him as a quarterback, something he did not see last season. Against the two biggest opponents this season Lamaison has thrown for 39 yards (Oklahoma) and 219 yards (Ole Miss). If the Miners hope to stay competitive, it will need to start with the running game and finish with Lamaison. Lucky for the senior quarterback the Badger passing offense has let some other quarterback sling it against them. Northern Iowa (265 yards), Oregon State (276 yards) and Utah State (181 yards) have all had stellar games against Wisconsin.
History does not lie
History repeats itself and so will the Miners if they do not play an almost perfect game against the Badgers. UTEP is 0-16 on the road against BCS opponents and 6-10 overall against non-conference road opponents in the Price era. The Miners will have to play mistake-free football if they want to squeeze a win out from the Badgers. Since taking over the Wisconsin football team in 2006, Bret Bielema is 41-3 at home. The three losses under his belt were all to Big 10 opponents.
Sal Guerrero may be reached at reached at email@example.com or follow him via Twitter at @SalDGuerrero for all things UTEP sports. Make sure to follow Miner Illustrated on Twitter at @minermaniac for more up-to-date news and information about UTEP.