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October 20, 2012

Tulane vs. UTEP: 7 p.m. Saturday night

Tulane will look to continue its winning ways on Saturday, Oct. 20, when the Green Wave travel to El Paso, Texas, to face Conference USA foe UTEP in the Sun Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. (CDT).

Coming off a 27-26, come-from-behind victory over SMU last weekend in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Green Wave have a chance to post consecutive league victories for the first time since coming away with 34-19 and 45-31 decisions over UTEP and Rice late in the 2007 season. First-year Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson said spirits were high during the practices leading up to the game against the Miners, and expects for his team to be ready when the two teams take the field this weekend.

"Earlier in the week, I thought we were a little bit lackadaisical and a little bit lazy," Johnson said. "We didn't come out with the fire that we needed. Myself and the coaches, we got that straightened out pretty quickly and I thought the remainder of the week went pretty well. I think everybody has got a little pep in their step. The coaches have been on them a little more, so there's been no complacency. Overall, it was a good week of practice."

The Tulane/UTEP game will be broadcast on the flagship station of Green Wave athletics, WIST AM 690, and live video streaming will be available via the web at www.TulaneGreenWave.com to paid members of the All-Access Pass. Live stats will also be on-line courtesy of GameTracker, and fans will once again have a chance to insert their opinion and ask questions interactively through "Tulane Live."

The Green Wave head to West Texas 1-5 on the season, 1-1 in C-USA play and looking to build on the momentum of last week's win over the Mustangs. As a team, Tulane is averaging 219.5 yards of total offense per game (18.8 rushing, 200.7 passing) while giving up an average of 479.7 (255.2 rushing, 224.5 passing).

Senior quarterback Ryan Griffin, who returned from a shoulder injury to claim College Sports Madness C-USA Player of the Week honors last week after completing 17-of-32 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns in the win over SMU, leads the Green Wave with 616 yards and four scores on 58-of-93 passing (.624) for the year.

Junior wide receiver Ryan Grant is one of four Tulane players with 10-plus receptions over the first half of the season, and leads the squad with 25 catches for 359 yards (14.4 avg.) to go with a pair of touchdowns. Sophomore Justyn Shackleford is second on the team with 20 grabs for 277 yards (13.9 avg.) and a score while the running back tandem of sophomore Rob Kelley and junior Derrick Strozier - who has recently been moved to defense - have 18 catches for 148 yards and a team-best three touchdowns and 11 receptions for 60 yards, respectively. Kelley paces the Green Wave ground game with 149 yards on 48 carries (3.1 avg.).

Defensively, the Green Wave have 10 sacks among 31 tackles for loss, 18 pass break-ups and nine forced turnovers with five interceptions and four fumble recoveries.

Freshman safety Darion Monroe leads the way with 43 tackles (33 solo, 10 assists), followed by junior linebacker Zach Davis with 41 (28 solo, 13 assists) and the duo of senior corner Ryan Travis (18 solo, 7 assists) and senior safety Shakiel Smith (21 solo, 4 assists) with 25 stops apiece.

Senior defensive end Austen Jacks paces Tulane with 3.5 sacks among a team-best 7.5 tackles for loss. Travis, Davis, sophomore linebacker Matthew Bailey, sophomore safety Sam Scofield and freshman corner Lorenzo Doss share the team lead with one interception each. Travis headlines the secondary with five pass break-ups while sophomore defensive tackle Kenny Welcome has two of the team's six forced fumbles.

"Zach Davis is a little bit banged up and Shakiel Smith, he's banged up," Johnson said. "This time of year, everybody is a little banged up. You've just got to perceiver and get through the season.

"We've got to come out and start fast. We've got to come out with a fire. We've got to play defense the way we're capable of playing and execute on offense. We've got to win on special teams, and if we can do that, I think we'll come out with a victory."

UTEP, meanwhile, enters the weekend 1-6 on the year, 0-3 in C-USA action and looking to snap a four-game skid dating back to a 37-26 loss at Wisconsin on Sept. 22. As a team, the Miners are averaging 340.4 yards of total offense per game (112.4 rushing, 228.0 passing) while giving up an average of 445.1 (214.0 rushing, 231.1 passing).

Quarterback Nick Lamaison leads the UTEP offense with 1,204 yards and eight touchdowns on 99-of-196 passing (.505). Nathan Jeffery paces the Miners' ground game with 410 yards on 89 carries (4.3 avg.) while Josh Bell has two of the team's three rushing touchdowns.

Jordan Leslie is one of three Miners' wideouts to haul in at least 16 passes and tally at least 110 yards through the air and leads the team with 37 receptions for 587 and four touchdowns. Michael Edwards is next in all three categories with 28 grabs for 464 yards and three scores.

On defense, UTEP has 11 sacks among 31 tackles for loss, broke up 33 passes and forced 11 turnovers with six fumble recoveries and five interceptions.

Josh Foley leads the Miners with 58 tackles (23 solo, 35 assists), followed by DeShawn Grayson with 50 (25 solo, 25 assists) Aubrey Alexius with 42 (21 solo, 21 assists). Horace Miller headlines the UTEP unit with 5.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks, Shane Hunh has a team-best two interceptions, and Drew Thomas leads the way with six pass break-ups.

"They're a good football team," Johnson said of UTEP. "The one thing they are is one whale of a special teams club. They play special tams exceptionally well. The quarterback is pretty good. This running back, (Nathan) Jeffery, is something else. The defense is good, too. They've got a fine defense. They've got a defensive front that is very, very physical."

Saturday's game marks the eighth time the two teams have met on the gridiron and UTEP holds a slim 4-3 lead in the all-time series. Last season, the Miners earned a 44-7 victory on Oct. 15 in the Superdome, but prior to that Tulane had won the previous two meetings with a 45-38 overtime win on Nov. 17, 2009, in the Dome and a 34-24 victory on Oct. 23, 2010, in El Paso, Texas.

Following game at UTEP, Tulane returns to action on Saturday, Oct. 27, when the Green Wave play host to C-USA foe UAB in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It is the first of two-straight home games for Tulane, which will face Rice in a Homecoming contest on Nov. 3.

Tickets to those games as well as future Green Wave events are available through the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office. The Ticket Office is located on the first floor of the Wilson Center on Ben Weiner Drive, and tickets can be purchased in person, over the phone at 504-861-WAVE (9283) or via the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com.

HEAD COACH CURTIS JOHNSON'S COMMENTS FOLLOWING FRIDAY'S PRACTICE


On offensive coordinator Eric Price facing his father and brother on the UTEP coaching staff

"I told him this one is on him. This one is on Coach Price. It's all on him. Last week, we did it so it's all on him now."

On Tulane trying to win back-to-back conference games for the first time since 2007

"We just have to play one game at a time and we also have to just play one play at a time. We play one play at a time, and at the end look up at the scoreboard and hope we win."

On what he expects to see from his team on Saturday against the Miners

"We've got to come out and start fast. We've got to come out with a fire. We've got to play defense the way we're capable of playing and execute on offense. We've got to win on special teams, and if we can do that, I think we'll come out with a victory."


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