For all the emotion that will go into Mike Price's 360th and final game as a head coach, for all the feelings that go into Senior Night, when UTEP and Rice get on the field today at the Sun Bowl, business has to take over.

Rice's stakes are huge: Win and the Owls go to their first bowl since 2008, their third in the last 50 years. For UTEP, the goal is to send Price, and all the seniors, out with a victory.

The road to doing that begins with blocking out what's on the line.

"We're not going to be too emotional," Price said. "We'll be energized, but we won't be emotional. We can laugh and cry afterward in the locker room."

Bret Bloomquist

"It will be a really emotional night, but we have to put that to the side and not worry about that," end Greg Watkins said. "This wasn't the season we wanted, but if we go out with a win, it would be a last memory. It would be awesome."

Properly channeling motivation is always a challenge, but that takes on an extra urgency for UTEP against Rice. All the normal positive stereotypes associated with the Owls -- they are smart, they play hard, they don't beat themselves -- apply, but a young team that has won four of its last five has better athletes than it had the past few years.

Not only do they force every opponent to play assignment football, they put them under pressure with players like quarterback Taylor McHargue, who leads the team in rushing and has thrown for 1,971 yards.


"This is the best Rice team we've played in a long time," Price said. "Their offensive linemen look like Conference USA offensive linemen. Their defensive linemen look like Conference USA defensive linemen. They look like they belong. In the past, they've done it with mirrors. Coach (David) Bailiff has done a nice job with recruiting. They are very talented athletically."

In a way, though, the UTEP defense is more prepared for Rice's option game since it faces the UTEP offense in practice every day, which over the past few weeks has morphed into an option attack behind Blaire Sullivan.

"It definitely makes it easier for us to prepare for option teams," linebacker Josh Fely said. "We've got to stay disciplined; if one guy lets up, misses his responsibility, it's a big play. We've got to do our jobs and stay disciplined.

"Their quarterback is very dynamic. He can run the ball, throw the ball. Tackling in the open field will be a big key."

Cornerback Drew Thomas echoed that.

"They are smart, disciplined, they have a good quarterback who gets the offense going and makes a lot of plays," he said. "It's tough to play a quarterback who makes plays."

Said Price: "It's getting kids to do the right thing constantly. Coaches can draw it up on the board how to take it away, how to defend it, then the kids have to execute in a high-tempo, quick environment. We have to tackle that quarterback. He's the guy we've got to contain, wrap him up, don't allow him to pass."

UTEP's biggest defensive problem this season, and one that has grown worse in the past few weeks, is giving up big plays. That was the path Southern Miss took to 33 points in last week's UTEP victory and it is an area where the Miners need to improve.

"We have to have good eyes, we preach that every week," end Greg Watkins said. "We have to do our own job, not worry about what everybody else is doing. If we each do our own job we'll be OK."

The task is similar on offense. Rice's defense statistically hasn't been good (94th in total defense), but UTEP has plenty of respect for it.

"We have to do everything right," offensive tackle James Nelson said. "They have a very disciplined defense, so we have to finish everything."

Since inserting Sullivan, the offense has improved its productivity. After scoring four offensive touchdowns in the 17 quarters before switching to the freshman, the Miners have scored 10 offensive touchdowns in the nine quarters since and have mostly done it on the ground.

"Blaire loves to run. He runs his butt off," center Eloy Atkinson said. "It's exciting to see him run around like a little kid.

"We have to play our game, play like we've been playing the last couple of weeks. Rice plays hard, we play hard. It's about who plays harder. We're excited to try to send Coach Price out with a win."

UTEP will actually start senior Nick Lamaison at quarterback because it's Senior Night, but Sullivan could enter quickly.

The biggest thing UTEP has to do is block out all the distractions that come with Mike Price Appreciation Day and Senior Night.

"It will definitely be emotional," Fely said. "I knew the day would come and it's finally here. We want to send a message to the younger guys that regardless of the score, regardless of the record, we fight every play."

"We have to come out and play the game of football the way it is supposed to be played and keep the right focus," tackle Germard Reed said. "We'd love to play a perfect game for Coach Price, send him out with a win."

That's the task in front of UTEP today.

Bret Bloomquist may be reached at; 546-6359. Follow him on Twitter @bretbloomquist.

Final game
  • What: UTEP"vs. Rice in a Conference USA football game and the Miners final game of the season.
  • When: 5 p.m. today.
  • Where: Sun Bowl.
  • TV: FOX College Sports Network (check with your TV"provider).
  • Radio: KOFX 92.3-FM; Maria 1650-AM (Spanish).
  • Tickets: $10 general admission; $15 bronze reserved. Buy one adult ticket, get a youth ticket free.
  • Information: 747-5234;