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After Suspensions, UTEP Provides Little Suspense : College football: Winless Miners will be missing three starters today against SDSU.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Having dispensed with the meaty part of its schedule by the end of September, San Diego State now is being served fluffy popcorn.

The Aztecs get to play a team tonight that might be even worse than New Mexico, a 49-21 victim two weeks ago.

Texas El Paso.

Or as the Miners are affectionately known in some circles, the University of Texas El Wobbly Paso.

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It will be homecoming in the real sense of the word for the Aztecs (2-1-1, 2-0 in the Western Athletic Conference) at 6:05 tonight, when they return to San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium for the first time since their dramatic 31-31 tie with USC in the season opener.

It will also be SDSU’s first game in two weeks because of last Saturday’s bye.

Not that UTEP (0-5, 0-3) is nervous, but at the end of a conference call Tuesday, Miner Coach David Lee turned the tables on reporters when he quizzed them on Marshall Faulk’s health.

Does he really have the flu, Lee wondered. How bad is it?

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You could almost see his smile fade through the phone lines when told that Faulk would indeed play.

The Miners are a team in trouble. They are tied with Eastern Michigan for the second-longest losing streak in Division I football (seven) and they have lost 11 of their past 12 games.

To make matters worse, six Miners--including All-WAC defensive end Ricky Massey--have been suspended after being caught sneaking out to a party Oct. 9, the night before a 42-24 loss at Colorado State.

That was not exactly what a team ranked 106th nationally in pass efficiency defense and 95th in scoring defense needed.

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Which brings up the question . . .

After SDSU’s bashing of New Mexico, will this UTEP team be even worse than the Lobos?

“Definitely not,” Aztec quarterback David Lowery said. “They’re a lot better. They have better athletes, I believe. They’ve just given up the big play. If they stop that. . . .”

What about it, Larry Maxey? Will the Aztecs be able to dispose of UTEP as handily as they did New Mexico?

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“It’s hard to judge off of film,” Maxey said. “They do things differently. New Mexico left guys uncovered quite a bit. This team doesn’t leave guys uncovered.”

But the Miners have left the victory column uncovered. They started the season with a respectable performance at home in a 38-28 loss to Brigham Young but then suffered the indignities of losing to Nevada Las Vegas (19-17) and New Mexico State (30-24).

After that, it was back to the WAC for losses to Air Force (28-22) and Colorado State.

“We had high expectations,” Lee said. “We thought we could put together a season to be proud of. Right now, the players are down, the coaches are down and the head coach is down. . . .

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“We’re doing a lot of soul-searching right now. I just want to see us play hard. We’ve played hard this year except in the fourth quarter against Colorado State. We just collapsed.”

Then came the suspensions.

“One of two things is going to happen,” SDSU Coach Al Luginbill said. “They’re either going to rally around each other, or they just won’t play.

“But (folding) is just not in David’s personality or in his staff’s personality.”

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UTEP has a new quarterback this season, sophomore Shawn Gray, and only one experienced offensive lineman from 1991--left tackle Rick Canales.

The Miners returned seven starters on defense but lost one key ingredient--defensive coordinator Charlie Bailey, who left for Orlando in the World League of American Football. What was expected to be a strength has turned into a weakness as players have not adapted well to new defensive coordinator Mike Tolleson’s 3-4 package.

“It’s disappointing our players haven’t adjusted faster,” Lee said.

Although the Aztecs say they will continue to use their passing game, even if it means not giving Faulk as many turns as usual, Faulk is still the one to watch when the offense takes over.

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“We’ve got to try and contain him and not let him loose on a runaway train to the Heisman Trophy, because he can really embarrass you,” said Lee, who compared Faulk to Barry Foster and Walter Payton. “He likes to hit you before the collision takes place. He’s special. He’s the best.”

After UTEP, the Aztecs play host to an inconsistent Air Force team next week, followed by road games at weak Colorado State and declining Wyoming.

They are not looking ahead, however. After sitting out last Saturday, SDSU is happy simply to be playing somebody.

“I think we’re excited about playing a football game no matter who the opponent is,” Luginbill said. “As much as the public may, I don’t look at this team as any different than USC or UCLA. A loss here would take the luster off of our New Mexico and BYU wins and put our backs really against the wall.

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“We’re playing for something. UTEP isn’t. I would think that would be enough. Gosh, if we can’t get ready with what we have at stake, I’ve totally misevaluated this football team.”

Lowery also said the Aztecs will not be looking beyond UTEP.

“I’ve been here when we were worse than the team we were playing and we beat them,” Lowery said. “I just want to get out there and play some football.”

Aztec Notes

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The Aztecs are expecting a crowd of about 42,000. . . . Injury report: For UTEP, linebacker Dennis Austin (neck) and tight end Kirk Martin (leg) are out. For SDSU, defensive end Tyrone Morrison (knee), H-back Will Tate (hamstring), receiver Jake Nyberg (hip) and center Mike Alexander (foot) are out. . . . In addition to Ricky Massey, the other UTEP players who have been suspended are starting fullback Patrick Bailey, starting defensive back Greg Shead, defensive backs Craig Pringle and Dwight Conley and fullback Darryl Phillips. . . . The Aztecs are 34-19-2 in homecoming games and have won four of their last five. . . . SDSU leads the series with UTEP, 14-3. . . . Marshall Faulk missed last year’s UTEP game with fractured ribs and a punctured lung. In his place, Wayne Pittman ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns.


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