UTEP Opens C-USA Play Against League Newcomer UTSA
UTEP (1-1) and UTSA (1-2) kick off their eight-game Conference USA slates on Saturday. UTSA is one of five new C-USA teams on the Miners' schedule, along with Louisiana Tech (Oct. 5), North Texas (Nov. 9), FIU (Nov. 16) and Middle Tennessee (Nov. 30). UTSA is one of three C-USA teams that UTEP has never faced, along with FIU and Middle Tennessee. The Miners will be home for their first three league games, including battling La Tech on Oct. 5 and Tulsa on Oct. 12. The last time UTEP played its first three league games at home was in 1953, when it was a member of the Border Conference.
UTEP in C-USA
This is the Miners' ninth season as a C-USA member. The Miners are 24-40 all-time in C-USA action. UTEP is 17-15 in C-USA home games and 7-25 in C-USA road games. Since posting a .500 (4-4) league mark in 2008, the Miners have gone 3-5, 3-5, 2-6 and 2-6 respectively in conference play over the last four seasons. The Miners are 10-24 in their last 34 Conference USA games. UTEP has lost four of its last five C-USA home games dating back to the 2011 season.
UTEP in C-USA Openers
UTEP is 5-3 in C-USA openers (4-0 home, 1-3 away). The Miners haven't lost a conference opener that was played in their home stadium since 2004, when they came up on the short end of a 47-31 decision to 23rd-ranked Boise State. That was UTEP's final year in the Western Athletic Conference. The Miners have dropped their last three C-USA openers overall at Houston in 2010 (54-24), at SMU in 2011 (28-17) and at East Carolina in 2012 (28-18) after winning five straight.
50 Years of the Sun Bowl
GECU has partnered with UTEP Athletics to celebrate 50 years of Sun Bowl Stadium. On Saturday, GECU will sponsor the UTEP vs. UTSA game, exactly 50 years to the day that the Miners played their first game in the iconic venue. On Sept. 21, 1963, Larry Durham ran 54 yards for a touchdown on the game's first play from scrimmage as the Miners christened the facility with a 34-7 rout of North Texas State. Durham and a group of his 1963 teammates will be on hand for the 50th Anniversary game.
This is the first meeting between the Miners and the Roadrunners, who are in their third year with a football program and second year as an FBS member.
UTEP DL Dominic Matson (Warren HS), LB Anthony Puente (Marshall HS) and QB Blaire Sullivan (Central Catholic HS) all hail from San Antonio. UTSA LB Dalton Miller, DB Mauricio Sanchez and WR Aron Taylor also graduated from Warren High School. UTEP DL Roy Robertson-Harris, UTSA LB Tank O'Neal and UTSA OL Breyun Owens all attended South Grand Prairie [Texas] High School. UTEP DB Robert Spencer, UTSA DB Darrien Starling and UTSA DB Triston Wade all went to John Tyler High School in Tyler, Texas. In addition, UTEP DL Matthew Heard and UTSA WR Brandon Freeman both started their college careers at NM State. UTEP tight ends coach Brian Natkin is from San Antonio and played his prep ball at Churchill High School.
The Roadrunners are 1-2 with a 21-13 win at New Mexico, and losses to Oklahoma State (56-35) at home and Arizona (38-13) on the road. UTSA's all-time football record is 13-12, all under the direction of former National Coach of the Year Larry Coker. He earned the honors in 2001 after directing Miami (Fla.) to a 12-0 mark and national championship. In the 38-13 loss at Arizona last Saturday, UTSA senior QB Eric Soza completed 30-of-46 passes for 277 yards, but the Wildcats rushed for 264 yards behind Ka'Deem Carey, who racked up 128 yards on the ground, and B.J. Denker, who added 90. Soza has completed 75-of-121 passes (62 percent) for 822 yards and five touchdowns on the year. Despite averaging 294 yards passing per game, UTSA has just one receiver averaging over 50 yards per contest (sophomore Kenny Bias - 54.3 ypg). Seventeen players have made at least one catch for the Roadrunners through three games. The defense yields 434.7 yards per game (253.3 passing/181.3 rushing) with junior DB Triston Wade averaging a team-high 9.0 stops per outing.
Aaron Jones rushed for 97 yards and fellow true freshman Darrin Laufasa added 74 as UTEP punished NM State on the ground in the second half en route to a 42-21 win over the Aggies on Sept. 14 in Las Cruces. Limited to 49 yards rushing on 22 carries in the first two periods, the Miners erupted for 244 over the final 30 minutes. UTEP won its fifth straight game over NMSU while securing its third consecutive victory in Las Cruces. The teams combined for four touchdowns in the first five and a half minutes of the game. The defenses fared much better in the second quarter, with Jones' eight-yard run with 17 seconds remaining accounting for the only touchdown of the period. The Miners took a 21-14 lead into halftime. After the Aggies knotted the game at 21 midway through the third quarter, the Miners scored the game's final 21 points, the last 14 coming on long touchdown runs (17 yards, 45 yards) by Laufasa in the fourth quarter. Earlier, LaQuintus Dowell's 54-yard touchdown run put UTEP in the lead for good, 28-21, with 6:21 remaining in the third period. The Miners simply wore down the Aggie defense in the second half, running for 116 yards in the third quarter and 128 in the fourth. Jameill Showers completed 18-of-28 passes for 253 yards for UTEP, and Jordan Leslie had seven catches for 103 yards. Ian Hamilton also had a big night in the passing game with six receptions for 81 yards. A week after yielding 395 yards rushing to New Mexico, the Miners held NMSU under the century mark. The Aggies finished with 99 yards on 19 carries. Andrew McDonald and King Davis III combined to complete 14-of-26 passes for 299 yards for NMSU. The Aggies turned over the ball four times on the night.
Players Turned Coach
Sean Kugler is the second UTEP head coach who played for the Miners at one time. The other is Walter Milner, a three-year letterman from 1931-33 who served as head coach in 1942. Kugler is one of 12 active Division I head coaches who played at the school where they are currently coaching.
School Head Coach Years Played at School
Air Force Troy Calhoun 1985-88
East Carolina Ruffin McNeill 1976-80
Kent State Paul Haynes 1987-91
Miami (Ohio) Don Treadwell 1978-81
Northwestern Pat Fitzgerald 1993-96
Oklahoma State Mike Gundy 1986-89
Stanford David Shaw 1991-94
Texas Tech Kliff Kingsbury 1999-02
Tulsa Bill Blankenship 1975-79
Utah State Matt Wells 1994-96
UTEP Sean Kugler 1985-88
Virginia Tech Frank Beamer 1966-68
Breaking Down the Coaching Staff
Of UTEP's nine full-time assistant coaches, six were not on the staff in 2012. They are offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Patrick Higgins, defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Scott Stoker, defensive line coach Andrew Browning, running backs coach Cornell Jackson, assistant head coach/offensive line Spencer Leftwich and wide receivers coach Todd Whitten. Holdovers from the 2012 staff are defensive backs coach Gabe Franklin, tight ends coach Brian Natkin and nickelbacks/safeties coach Robert Rodriguez. This group, combined with head coach Sean Kugler, has coached in 33 bowl games. Natkin and Rodriguez are former Miner players, while Higgins (1998-2003) and Whitten (1994-95) have both coached at UTEP previously.
The Miners' 98-man roster includes 17 seniors, 29 juniors, 17 sophomores and 35 freshmen (21 true/14 redshirt). UTEP has 41 returning lettermen (23 offense/17 defense/one special team) and 12 returning starters (seven offense/four defense/one special team). Senior DL Germard Reed leads the Miners with 29 starts, followed by senior OL Brander Craighead (25 starts), junior OL Jerel Watkins (23 starts), senior DL Marcus Bagley (21 starts) and senior LB Horace Miller (20 starts).
Miners Piling Up the Rushing Yards
Two games into the season, UTEP ranks 12th nationally in rushing average (286.5 ypg) behind Navy, BYU, Georgia Tech, Oregon, Wisconson, Arizona, Army, Baylor, Arkansas State, Houston and Arkansas. With 280 yards versus New Mexico and 293 at NM State, the Miners have rushed for 280 or more in back-to-back games for the first time since the final two contests of the 1994 season (Fresno State 298, New Mexico 309). UTEP's 573 rushing yards are its most in two games to open a season in the modern era (since 1965), narrowly eclipsing the 571 achieved in 1974 against Pacific (251) and Utah (320). The last time UTEP rushed for 573 yards or more in consecutive games was in October of 2011 (606/266 at Tulane & 340 versus Colorado State).
Eye-Popping Offensive Numbers in General
In its first two games, UTEP's offense ranks 41st in the nation (472.5 yards per game), while the running attack is ranked 12th in the nation (286.5 yards per game). UTEP has scored 77 points in its first two games of the season, most since 78 in the first two games of the 2005 season (34 at NMSU, 44 versus Houston). It is the sixth-most points scored in the first two games of the season since 1965 (96 in 1965, 85 in 1986 & 1988, 82 in 1967, 78 in 2005). The Miners have compiled 945 yards in 2013, their most in two games to open a season since 1986 (1,055/684 versus Northern Michigan and 371 against Air Force). The last time UTEP had more than 945 yards in back-to-back games was in the final two contests of the 2009 season (984/395 at Rice and 589 versus Marshall). Against NM State last week, UTEP compiled 546 yards of offense, its most versus the I-10 rival Aggies in the modern era and most in a game since the aforementioned 2009 season finale versus Marshall (589).
Defense Takes Dramatic Strides
They say you improve the most from your first game to your second. There was nowhere to go but up for the Miner defense after yielding 483 yards, including 395 rushing, to New Mexico in the season opener on Sept. 7. However, the UTEP stop troops not only improved, but improved tremendously in week two at NM State. The improvement came over the final three and a half quarters. In the first five and a half minutes, the Miners surrendered 163 yards on only six plays to the Aggies, who knotted the score at 14 on their second touchdown with 9:28 remaining in the first period. After that, UTEP settled down to yield 235 yards over NMSU's final 39 plays. On their last 11 offensive possessions, the Aggies scored one touchdown, punted five times and had three drives end on turnovers. NMSU finished with 99 rushing yards, as the Miners held their opponent under the century mark for just the second time in their last 19 contests dating back to the 2011 season.
A Special Freshman
El Paso native Aaron Jones ranks second nationally among FBS freshmen, averaging 112 rushing yards per game, behind Arkansas' Alex Collins (139.3 ypg). Jones and Collins are both true freshmen. Overall Jones is tied for 25th nationally in rushing average and ranks second in Conference USA behind Rice senior Charles Ross (132.0 ypg). In the season opener against New Mexico, Jones compiled the first 100-yard rushing game by a UTEP freshman since another El Pasoan, Matt Austin, ran for 112 yards at Kentucky on Sept. 7, 2002. His 127 yards versus UNM were the most-ever by a UTEP freshman in an opener and the fifth-most in an opener overall since 1950. It also marked the top rushing performance by a Miner freshman since Elzie Johnson compiled 203 yards against Tulsa on Nov. 16, 1996.
Jones is First Frosh to Score in First Two Games in 39 Years
Aaron Jones is the first freshman to score a touchdown in UTEP's first two games of the season since Mike Belew had a rushing score versus Pacific and Utah to christen the 1974 campaign. He is the first freshman to lead UTEP in rushing in two games to open a season since Kevin Bogan in 1990. Bogan was also the Miners' leading rusher in the third game of the 1990 campaign. Jones' carries doubled from 11 in the opener to 22 at NM State in week two. He ran for 97 yards versus the Aggies.
Other Rookies Making an Impact
Fellow true freshman Darrin Laufasa joined Aaron Jones in putting together a big rushing night at NM State. The fullback gained 74 yards on nine carries, including long scoring runs of 17 and 45 yards in the fourth quarter. The Miners ate up 10:47 of possession time in the third and fourth periods, largely due to Laufasa's contributions. All of his carries and yards came over the final 30 minutes. He also made two tackles on Aggie kickoff returns. UTEP also received a pair of second-half interceptions from redshirt freshman DB Dashone Smith at NMSU, including one in the end zone in the third quarter. Smith is the first UTEP freshman with two picks in a game since D.J. Walker also had two at Hawaii in 1999. The Miners' leading tackler is true freshman Devin Cockrell, who has been credited with 15 stops in two games. Freshmen are also handling the kicking and punting chores, with Jay Mattox a perfect 11-for-11 on PATs and wide receiver Brandon Moss being pulled from redshirt status to punt twice for 104 yards (52.0 avg.) at NMSU. All in all, 12 freshmen have seen action for UTEP already in 2013 -- Cockrell, OL Jerome Daniels, DL Silas Firstley, LB Cooper Foster, DB Leon Hayes, Jones, Laufasa, Mattox, Moss, P Mike Ruggles, Smith and DL Nick Usher.
Leslie's Back on Track
Following an uncharacteristic performance in the season opener where he totaled five catches for 12 yards, Jordan Leslie looked a lot more like himself in last week's win at NM State. He picked up seven catches for 103 yards, with five good for first down yardage. Leslie is now tied for 11th place in school history with five 100-yard games. He has 1,518 yards in a Miner uniform, leaving him 416 shy of cracking UTEP's all-time top 10 receiving list.
Look at What Hamilton Has Done
After the Miners lost Michael Edwards (51-820-8 in 2012) from last season's squad, the question was who would compliment Jordan Leslie as a playmaker in the 2013 passing game. Junior Ian Hamilton has provided the answer, supplying 10 catches for a team-leading 123 yards (61.5 avg.) through two games. He entered the season with a career-high 23 yards at Tulsa in 2011. He nearly doubled that output in the opener against New Mexico (42 yards), then added 81 yards -- all in the first half -- at NM State.
For the second time in two games, Texas A&M transfer Jameill Showers established career-highs for pass attempts (28), completions (18) and yardage (253) at NM State. In the season opener, he rushed for a personal best 44 yards. He has directed the Miners on 11 touchdown drives in the first two games. Showers threw for 200 yards in the first half of the NMSU victory before the Miners opted for a run-heavy attack (244 yards) over the final 30 minutes. Showers has completed 68.8 percent of his passes (33-of-48) in the first two games, and while it's early, that figure would rank first in school history. Jordan Palmer owns the current standard with a .657 completion percentage in 2006. Showers also has two rushing touchdowns this season, which already ties the most by a UTEP quarterback in a season since 2009. Blaire Sullivan also scampered to the end zone twice in 2012 and James Thomas did so as well in 2009.
Smash Mouth Football
Sean Kugler's overall philosophy of bringing toughness and physicality to the game has certainly been in evidence early this season. The Miners have racked up 30 rushing first downs in two games. Last year it took them five games to reach that number. UTEP had 16 rushing first downs at NM State last Saturday, its most in a game since Sept. 29, 2011 versus Houston (16). The last time the Miners had more than 16 rushing first downs in a game was on Sept. 29, 2007 at SMU (19), a game that went to overtime. For the season, the Miners have 30 rushing first downs and 18 passing first downs. They haven't had more rushing first downs than passing in a season since 2003.
About That Epic Drive ...
The Miners put the exclamation point on last week's 42-21 win at NM State with a 14-play, 88-yard touchdown drive consuming 8:12 in the fourth quarter. Thirteen of the 14 plays were of the rushing variety, with Autrey Golden and Darrin Laufasa carrying the ball four times each, Aaron Jones three times, and Josh Bell and Jameill Showers once apiece. The Miners rushed for 78 yards on their 13 carries (6.0 avg.). The last time UTEP had a scoring drive longer than eight minutes and 12 seconds was versus Boise State in the Humanitarian Bowl on Dec. 28, 2000 (18 plays, 54 yards, 8:24 in the third quarter, capped by Ricky Bishop's 43-yard field goal).
Miners Rule the Time of Possession Line
UTEP compiled an astounding 41:53 of possession time in last week's win at NM State. That's a school record and it marks only the third time that the Miners have had more than 40 minutes of possession in a game. They controlled the clock for 41:23 versus Valdosta State in 1995 and 41:03 at BYU in 1984. UTEP entered the week rated 10th nationally in possession time (34:58 avg.) behind Florida, Bowling Green, Virginia, Texas State, Arkansas, Rice, Mississippi State, Iowa and Navy.
Defense Getting it Done on Third Down
Miner opponents have converted just 4-of-16 third down opportunities this season. That 25 percent success rate ranks sixth in the country behind Florida, Michigan State, Kentucky, Colorado and Louisville. Last week, NMSU finished 1-for-6 on third down. The last UTEP opponent that converted one third down opportunity or fewer in a game was SMU on Nov. 14, 2009 (1-for-6). On the flip side, UTEP is 20th in the FBS in third down conversion offense with a .536 (15-for-28) percentage.
UTEP Winning the Turnover Battle
The Miners are tied for 11th in the nation in turnover margin (1.5). UTEP has five takeaways and two giveaways on the year and has won the turnover battle in both games. The Miners didn't commit their first turnover of the 2013 campaign until early in the third quarter of game two, when Jameill Showers threw a ball that was picked off by NM State's Kawe Johnson. UTEP forced four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles) versus the Aggies, its top game total since Sept. 29, 2012 at East Carolina (four). UTEP has converted its five takeaways into four touchdowns this season.
Learning on the Fly
Not only did new defensive coordinator Scott Stoker have a month to install his 4-2-5 scheme -- he was hired after spring ball -- but he is working with personnel who by and large are seeing their first action in the Orange and Blue. In the first two games, 10 players have made their first starts for the Miners on the defensive side of the ball. That includes cornerback Nick Gathrite, weak safety Demarcus Kizzie and end Roy Robertson-Harris, who were all inserted into the lineup for the first time last week at NM State.
The End Zone is His Home
With a couple more touchdowns in the season opener -- one of the rushing and one of the receiving variety -- Nathan Jeffery has now reached the end zone nine times in his last six games dating back to the 2012 season. During that span he has accounted for eight rushing touchdowns. He now has rushed for 1,137 yards and nine TDs in a UTEP uniform.
Autrey Golden ranked 11th nationally in kickoff returns last season (28.3 avg.) and is averaging 24.3 yards per attempt this season. He has compiled 18 kickoff returns of 25 yards or more in 14 college games. He has 968 kickoff return yards in a Miner uniform and is just 44 away from tying Ricki Lopez (1989-90) for 10th place on the UTEP career list.
The biggest feel-good story on the team this season is the return of free safety Traun Roberson, who has undergone three knee surgeries since coming to UTEP. He injured his wrist two weeks prior to the season opener but played with a brace against New Mexico and flourished. He was credited with a game-high 13 tackles and forced the Lobo fumble that led to UTEP's first touchdown late in the first quarter. He added two stops at NM State last week. Roberson was limited to three games total (two in 2010, one in 2012) in his first three years in El Paso.
Seventeen Division I schools have at least one Canadian on their 2013 roster, including UTEP in starting left tackle Brander Craighead. The other programs, with a combined 31 Canadian products, are Michigan State (4), Iowa (3), UNLV (3), Virginia (3), Boston College (2), Buffalo (2), Connecticut (2), Eastern Michigan (2), Rice (2), Arizona State (1), Mississippi State (1), North Carolina (1), Northern Illinois (1), Penn State (1), Utah State (1) and Virginia Tech (1). Craighead is in his third year as a starter. He was selected by the Calgary Stampeders with the seventh pick in the first round of the 2013 CFL Draft. Under CFL rules, the Stampeders can redshirt Craighead this season while he completes his college eligiblity.
Two years after completing an eight-year run with the U.S. Army, Michael Kelly is a 27-year old linebacker hoping to make the most of his senior year with the Miners. He is expected to be utilized on special teams this fall. Kelly's service dates were from October, 2003 to June, 2011. He was stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C. (2004-05), Darmstadt Germany (2005-07) and Fort Bliss, Texas (2007-11). He worked in communications including as a switching system operator. His highest title was platoon sergeant (2009-11). He and his wife, Denise, have two sons, Kenneth (six years old) and Michael Jr., who will turn two years old on Oct. 14.
Defense Runs Through Miller
After accumulating 11 sacks in his first two years with the Miners after transferring from Louisville, senior Horace Miller was moved from defensive end to Mike linebacker. Last season Miller picked up six sacks, most by a UTEP player in seven years, while adding 7.5 tackles for losses. Two of his sacks came versus Big Ten power Wisconsin. He is one sack away from tying four players (Joe Terry, Ross Puritty, Ricky Massey, Barron Wortham) for 10th place on the all-time UTEP list.
Up Next: at Colorado State
UTEP will play its first game in Fort Collins since 1995 next Saturday (Sept. 28). The Miners and the Rams matched up in El Paso two years ago, with UTEP scoring a 31-17 triumph on Homecoming.
Source: UTEP Athletics