Five key matchups out of the Texas-UTEP game to keep your eye on Saturday night:
Sam Ehlinger vs. UTEP’s pass defense
Ehlinger, entering his fourth season as a starter, passed for 3,663 yards last year. That ranked 11th nationally. But he actually topped 300 yards only four times; his season high was a 401-yard night in that shootout with LSU and Joe Burrow. His season-low? A 200-yard day against Baylor. In its opener, UTEP started five upperclassmen in the secondary. The Miners ranked 70th in the country last year against the pass. UTEP did hold one 2019 opponent to only 46 passing yards. But the Miners also gave up 332 yards and seven touchdown passes to North Texas’ Mason Fine.
Joseph Ossai vs. UTEP running back Deion Hankins
When we last saw Ossai, the Texas linebacker was moved to play off the line in the Alamo Bowl against Utah and he earned defensive MVP honors after registering three sacks. Texas hopes he’ll do more of the same playing out of the Jack, its new hybrid defensive end/linebacker position. Hankins, meanwhile, carried the ball 17 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns last week for UTEP. The El Paso product was stopped for a loss only twice. In the Alamo Bowl, Ossai had two tackles for loss on Utah’s Zack Moss.
Texas center Derek Kerstetter vs. UTEP’s Kelton Moss
This week, Texas left tackle Samuel Cosmi called Kerstetter a “jack-of-all-trades type of guy.” Over the past three years, the versatile Kerstetter has started 23 times at right tackle and five times at right guard. With Zach Shackelford gone, Kerstetter will slide over to the center. He’ll be challenged by Moss. Both UTEP starting defensive tackles are JUCO signees; Moss, a Kilgore College standout, was an honorable mention selection on last year’s NJCAA All-American team.
Texas cornerbacks vs. UTEP’s Jacob Cowing
Cowing led UTEP as a freshman last year with 550 receiving yards. Now a sophomore, he opened the season with a seven-catch, 116-yard performance last week against Stephen F. Austin. But he’ll face stiffer competition this week in the Texas secondary. At cornerback the Longhorns will start D’Shawn Jamison — an all-Big 12 preseason pick — and Josh Thompson, a converted nickel back who missed much of last season with a foot injury. And if Jamison and Thompson are having an off night, UT has Jalen Green listed as a reserve. Green started seven times in 2019.
Texas’ Mike Yurcich vs. Texas’ Chris Ash
Texas will debut its two new coordinators. Who’ll have a more impressive opener for the Longhorns? Yurcich, who was directing the Ohio State passing attack in 2019, takes over a Longhorns offense that ranked 17th in scoring (35.2) nationally and 14th in total yardage (465.8) last year. Ash has more work to do with the defense; Texas allowed 27.5 points and 431.5 yards per game last season. Ash was fired as Rutgers’ head coach last year, but he won a national title as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator in 2014. Last year, UTEP ranked 119th nationally in both points scored and points allowed.