The UTEP football team put the finishing touches on 2014 spring ball with a 90-minute scrimmage on Friday night in the Sun Bowl.

The Miners worked through various situations, including goal line, red zone, two-minute drill, third and fourth down and one-on-ones.

The defense continued its spring resurgence by totaling six sacks over the course of the night, with two being credited to sophomore end Nick Usher. Other highlights for the stop troops included junior corner Nick Gathrite's 92-yard interception and junior corner Adrian James' 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Both came in the red zone portion of the scrimmage.

"It was a good day," second-year UTEP head coach Sean Kugler said. "The offense did a good job in short yardage and goal line. We had a couple of red zone scores, but all in all I kind of liked the entire spring [for the defense]. They have really taken a big step forward. They're making plays and they're playing with energy, but the thing I get excited about is they're causing turnovers and turning them into points. They have been consistent throughout the spring, so my hat goes off to the entire defense, coach [Scott] Stoker and the staff."

UTEP's offensive stars - senior quarterback Jameill Showers and sophomore running back Aaron Jones - saw very limited action early in the scrimmage. Showers was effective, completing 4-of-7 passes for 44 yards, while Jones lost yardage on his only carry of the night.  

Showers exited, with sophomores Mack Leftwich and Garrett Simpson getting the bulk of the reps the remainder of the evening. Simpson finished 7-for-13 passing for 104 yards, including a couple of 18-yard passes to redshirt freshman tight end Cole Rogers, who was the leading receiver with 36 yards.
Junior running back Jeremiah Laufasa was the top rusher with six carries for 33 yards, including a couple of two-yard scores - one in a red zone scenario and another in goal line. The Miners racked up six touchdowns in all during the goal line section of the scrimmage - two rushing TDs by junior Autrey Golden, one each by Laufasa and senior Josh Bell, and passes from Simpson to senior Ian Hamilton and Leftwich to junior tight end Nick Jones.

Other highlights included Aaron Jones getting the upper hand of brother and freshman linebacker Alvin Jones in a one-on-one situation, and the offense scoring twice on plays where it needed 15 yards or more with one second left. The first time, Leftwich completed a 15-yard pass to sophomore Brandon Moss with 0.9 seconds on the clock. The second time, Simpson found Rogers for 18 yards with 1.1 seconds remaining.

Kugler noted that there were heroes all-around.

"Alvin Jones made some nice plays on defense," he said. "Nick Gathrite had the nice return. [Senior tight end] Eric Tomlinson comes to work every day and brings the same attitude. I thought Jameill started off moving the ball down the field, but we had a quick exit for him today. That was by plan. It looked like Garrett had some nice balls in there too. I really enjoyed the effort tonight. Guys went out there and had fun and we had a very productive spring."

As for the defense, the formula for the turnaround has been simple.

"Tackling first, and they have been doing an outstanding job of that," Kugler said. "Assignment and alignment [have been better], and I knew that would improve by having a full spring under their belt. But mainly, they're playing with passion and energy. They have been doing that on a daily basis, and that's what defense is all about."

The offense and defense have both been bolstered by stellar play from newcomers.

"[Junior linebacker] Jimmy Musgrave has been making plays all spring. He'll be right there in the mix for the starting linebacker spot," Kugler said. "Nick Jones had the one nice touchdown catch down here but he dropped one. He's got to be a little more consistent there. And [tight end] Sterling Napier, the freshman, he did some nice things for us throughout the spring. [Junior defensive tackle] Alex Villarreal, the other newcomer that we signed, is out this spring with a pectoral injury but we're expecting him to be an impact player in the fall."

The Miners will be back at it on Aug. 4 as they prepare for the season opener at New Mexico on Aug. 30.