NEW ORLEANS - Earlier in the week, Texas-El Paso coach Mike Price described the Mercedes-Benz Superdome during Tulane football games as “cavernous” and added “when it’s not crowded and packed you can hear yourself think. It’s just different.”
The UTEP players made Price’s words ring true with an easy victory against Tulane on Saturday.
The Miners moved up and down the field at will against defensively challenged Tulane, knocked out the Green Wave’s starting quarterback and ended three different losing streaks in a 44-7 victory in a Conference USA game played before a mostly empty stadium.
“I feel like I’ve been on a bad rollercoaster ride,” Tulane coach Bob Toledo said.
UTEP (3-3, 1-2) snapped a two-game losing streak and a 12-game conference road losing skid.
The Miners also snapped a two-game losing streak against Tulane in New Orleans. The game was their first win in the city in three attempts.
Price made his comments about the Superdome in The El Paso Times. Tulane’s Toledo didn’t take offense to the Price quote.
“It is a little cavernous,” Toledo said. “Unfortunately, this is fall break and students were off this week.”
To make matters worse, Tulane didn’t give the 16,690 in attendance much to cheer about.
Green Wave junior starting quarterback Ryan Griffin suffered a bruised hip in the second quarter and did not return. Griffin was 8 of 14 for 77 yards and threw one interception before his injury. Junior D.J. Ponder, a former Catholic High player, replaced Griffin and completed 12 of 33 passes for 126 yards and three interceptions.
“I didn’t take advantage of an opportunity I was given today,” Ponder said.
Tulane (2-5, 1-2) has lost four straight and allowed more than 30 points in those games and in six of its seven games this season. The Green Wave played its first Conference USA game since a 49-10 win over Alabama-Birmingham on Sept. 17.
UTEP, playing in its first game in 16 days since a 49-42 loss to Houston on Sept. 29, started strong with timely defense and faster skill-position offensive players that Tulane’s defenders could not match.
Texas-El Paso defensive back Travaun Nixon intercepted a pass by Griffin on the third offensive play of the game. Three plays later, Miners running back Vernon Frazier stumbled and rumbled off right end for a 15-yard touchdown run to cap a three-play, 25-yard scoring drive, making it 7-0.
But Tulane tied the score by driving 92 yards on nine plays for a touchdown on the ensuing possession. Running back Orleans Darkwa ran up the middle on a 7-yard touchdown run out of the Wildcat formation. Griffin completed 4-of-4 passes for 58 yards on the drive.
UTEP then scored 37 unanswered points, including 24 to finish the first half.
The Miners led 14-7 when running back Joe Banyard sped around left end for a 72-yard touchdown run on a sweep play on their second offensive possession of the game.
UTEP increased its lead to 21-7 when running back Leilyon Myers rushed for a 3-yard touchdown off right guard on a fourth-and-1 play with 14:56 remaining in the first half. Nixon led the Miners to another touchdown when he blocked a punt, which teammate Adrian James recovered in the end zone to make the score 28-7 with 13:18 left.
UTEP increased its lead to 31-7 when place-kicker Dakota Warren hit a 42-yard field goal with 42 seconds remaining. An interception by defensive back Darren Woodard set up the TD.
The Miners led 31-7 at halftime, and things only marginally improved for Tulane in the second half.
UTEP increased its lead to 38-7 when quarterback Nick Lamaison threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to tight end Craig Wenrick, who was running wide open through the middle of the Tulane secondary on the second offensive play of the third quarter.
UTEP led 41-7 at the end of the third quarter.
“There’s really no excuses,” defensive end Dezman Moses said. “We’ve got to do our job.”