NCAAF · Fri (12/16) @ 11:35am ET
|MIAO Miami (OH)||at||UAB UAB|
|Legion Field Stadium, Birmingham, Alabama|
The nation’s most prolific passer, so far, has not been a guy named Howell, Rattler, Corral, McCall, Daniels or Rogers.
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Gavin Hardison, a fourth-year junior from Hobbs, N.M., who landed in El Paso after a stint at New Mexico Military Institute.
The bushy-haired kid has let his hair down, in more ways than one, since those strict crew-cut days at the military compound.
For Old Dominion, unfortunately, defense is not a strength. Only 10 teams allow more points per play than the Monarchs, and they are very susceptible in defending opponents’ passing games. This could be a break-out event for Hardison.
Old Dominion Monarchs (1-3)
The ODU defense allows foes to complete two-thirds of their pass attempts, which is in the bottom quarter of the country. Enter Hardison, who leads the nation with a completion percentage of 84.6.
It could be a long evening for the Monarchs, but they do not lay down. They rectified last week’s horrible first 30 minutes in a fury in their SB Ballard Stadium against Buffalo, which the Miners have no doubt noted.
ODU trailed 35-7 at intermission against the Bulls but roared back under the strength of former Central Florida quarterback DJ Mack Jr. (6-3, 230).
The fifth-year senior had TD runs of 42 and 2 yards, and threw a 19-yard scoring strike to sophomore tight end and Penn State transfer Zack Kuntz (6-7, 245) with 19 ticks remaining to get the Monarchs within 35-34.
ODU players ran onto the field and celebrated, and were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. That pushed Nick Rice’s PAT kick attempt back 15 yards, to the 18, and he missed the subsequent 35-yarder by inches to the right.
“I know they’re glad there wasn’t a fifth quarter,” said Monarchs first-year coach Ricky Rahne of the Bulls. He blamed the exuberance on himself, that he’s experienced big comebacks before, should have anticipated emotions and guarded against them.
Mack has completed 16 passes to Kuntz for 185 yards and two TDs.
Old Dominion At UTEP Full Sportsbook Odds
UTEP Miners (3-1)
For a program that last experienced a winning campaign in 2014—that suffered through a recent 2-34 three-year run that included an 0-12 season in 2017—Hardison is a big deal.
Last week, he threw for 293 yards and turned a 13-3 halftime deficit into a 20-13 victory, the big strike being a 55-yard TD strike to Jacob Cowing in the third quarter.
Not only might the Miners win more than they lose this season, maybe, just maybe, they’ll go to a bowl and win it, something they haven’t done since 1967. Perhaps, too, it won’t be their own Sun Bowl, the only one they’ve ever won—five times.
But let’s just slow down a tad, as Hardison (6-3, 205) has done to thrive. He also averages 14.6 yards per pass attempt and owns a pass-efficiency rating of 217.1, both No. 1 in the land. For him, seven starts last season were vital.
“It’s all about the experience,” he said in August. “Now it’s time to start winning games and [elevating] my game. I want to push us over the top.”
UTEP averages 0.326 points per play, better than ODU’s 0.258. The Monarchs, however, yield 0.584 points per play, so they’re in for a challenge against Hardison and his arsenal of weapons.
What’s intriguing is that these Miners pass the ball barely more than 40% of the time. It’s about quality, not quantity, with Hardison,
Ronald Awatt, a fifth-year senior, has been the ground rudder, with 278 yards on 57 carries, two rushing touchdowns and two through the air. Willie Eldridge has a 5.3-yard average on 23 carries, and three others have run for 75 yards.
Cowing, a junior, has 20 catches for 467 yards and four TDs. Justin Garrett (15 for 259, 1 TD) and Tyrin Smith (7 for 96) are the aerial complements.
Sports Betting Recommendation
UTEP has covered its past three games against Conference USA East opponents. One model we favor has the Miners winning by eight points, the other by 15.
We’re banking on Hardison’s fortunes continuing against a meek Old Dominion secondary and on home turf in which the Miners have won their past four games.