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November 2, 2013

UTEP struggling on many levels

There's multiple ways that you can sum up UTEP's 2013 football campaign so far.

You can look at them as a 1-6 team that juts lost its starting quarterback or….

You can look at them as a team that ranks 100th or worst in nine NCAA statistically categories nationally including all four major defensive categories (run defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense, and scoring defense)...

No matter which way you look at it, the Miners' season hasn't been pretty and it's going to get worse before it gets better when they face 12th ranked Texas A&M at Kyle Field Saturday night. In fact, just specifically looking at the matchup of the Aggies versus UTEP, the Miners lost to a Rice team by 38 points that lost its season opener by 21 to A&M and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel didn't even play for a half.

Using point differentials to determine the outcome of a game can be tricky because every Saturday is different in college football. Even so, every stat imaginable suggests that this won't be a close game and that A&M fans will probably looking forward to seeing how well the backups play in the second half.

The storyline coming into this game was supposed to be the return of quarterback Jameill Showers to College Station. Showers came out of the spring of 2012 as the leader for the starting quarterback role at A&M but lost out to Manziel in the pre season and transferred to UTEP for his senior season. It would at least be an opportunity for him to remind A&M fans why he won the spot in the first place. However, Showers dislocated his right shoulder against Rice and will miss the rest of the season. Showers was the team's second leading rusher and was having an efficient season throwing despite not getting a lot of protection. Sophomore Blaire Sullivan will get the start in place of Showers and was six of nine for 112 yards last week including a 50 yard touchdown pass. He's bigger than Showers, has a better
arm, and likes to go down the field.

Freshman Aaron Jones is only 175 pounds but gets it about 20 times a game and averages six yards a carry. Ian Hamilton and Jordan Leslie are a pair of big (6 foot 3 or taller) downfield threats who get the ball off of play action. However, they're not move the chains guys and UTEP has increasingly relied on Jones as the year has gone on.

The offensive line boasts four juniors but not a lot of size (three are 280 pounds). They've not bad in terms of cutting off penetration as they've given up only 14 sacks and just 34 tackles for loss. They count on mobility, getting a hat on hat, not missing assignments, and allowing Jones to pick his holes. Left tackle Brandon Craighead and left guard Jerel Watkins have nearly 60 starts between them and are the bellcows. UTEP will rely on them quite a bit in the running game.

In fact, UTEP's biggest problem offensively is that they are wearing down from trying to keep up with other teams because their defensive is so bad. They are dead last in Conference USA in rushing defense and give up 6.07 yards an attempt. Sophomore end Roy Robertson has 4.5 tackles for loss but outside of 320 pound nosetackle Marcus Bagley it's a group that not only gets pushed around but doesn't have anyone with good get off. Freshman safety Devin Cockerill has 19 solo tackles which means that four or five times a game he's literally one on one with someone in the open field because no one's held up at the first or second level. Undersized 210 pound Will linebacker Anthony Puente is active but because the linebackers get no protection they're often making first contact five yards down the field.

UTEP also ranks dead last in sacks in Conference USA with just six of them in seven games. Because they can't stop the run, they rarely get teams into favorable third and long situations to turn loose their pass rush but it's not like they have the athleticism to be an effective pass rushing team anyway. As a result, they allow opponents to go play action and hit big plays against man coverage down the field. They allow 10.7 yards a passing attempt, have forced just two interceptions, and opponents have converted 45% of their third downs this season. Junior corner Wesley Miller is a decent one but he's not very big (5 foot 10, 175 pounds) and just doesn't get any help.

First year coach Sean Kugler is a UTEP aulm has been an offensive line coach at both the pro and college level but he's only spent one year as an assistant head coach to Chris Petersen at Boise State. He has no experience even as a coordinator. This year, they've run the ball and gone play action off of that on offense and until Showers went out they more or less held up their end of the bargain on offense. Defensively, they run a 4-3 but that side of the ball has been a disaster due to their inability to stop the run. Their passing yardage allowed stats don't look too bad until you realize that no one is throwing the ball against them because it's too easy to run it. In addition, quarterbacks have all day to throw the ball; they're allowing four passes a game of 20 yards or more.

This is the time of year when subpar teams really get on a downhill slide because their motivation is disappearing as the Ls pile up, the injuries pile up, and they just start to get piled on. In addition, keep in mind that UTEP is putting up its stats against non-BCS teams that for the most part are .500 or worse and they just lost their starting quarterback; they haven't come close to facing a program the caliber of A&M or a player like Manziel. All in all, it adds up to a game where our post game write ups will probably be on the performances of younger players and backups rather than the game itself.


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