A Look At The UTEP Miners Reveals A Little Bit Of The Lobos
New Mexico Lobos Football – vs. UTEP Miners
When/Where: 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30 – Branch Field/University Stadium
On The Air: 770-AM-KKOB/Lobo Radio; Mountain West Network
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
He is a coach in the early stages of building a program thinking that with a few breaks in 2014 his young team could reach a bowl game – maybe in University Stadium.
He has a veteran quarterback, a mix of experience and youth on the O-line and a nice stable of running backs and young receivers.
His offense can move the football.
His defense needs to drastically improve.
He also realizes that the season opener at University Stadium, even though it is not a league game, could be huge for momentum, confidence, and maybe even bowl eligibility.
Welcome to Albuquerque, Sean Kugler. It should be a heck of a game between your young Miners and Bob Davie’s young New Mexico Lobos.
The Lobos will be favored Saturday on Branch Field, but it’s probably safe to call this one of those 50-50 games that will go to whichever team plays the best, makes the fewest mistakes, and gets solid contribution from its defense.
“I think they are a lot like us,” said Lobo Coach Bob Davie of the 2014 Miners.
Yes, “a lot” like the Lobos, but not exactly like the Lobos. Coach Davie has a year head start on UTEP’s Kugler, who will open his second season as the Miners’ head man when UTEP battles the Lobos. The Lobos’ edge is more discernable on the offensive side where a nasty-smooth option not only moves the football, but puts points on the board.
The Miners moved the ball well in 2013, but were not as productive in the points’ department. They averaged 347.9 yards per game, but only scored 21.8 points per outing. The Lobos averaged an impressive 421.8 yards per game with 308.8 yards coming via the rush. However, UNM averaged 32.8 points.
Davie’s point was that both offenses had success in 2013, but need to make a dramatic change on the other side of the football.
UTEP’s defense last season gave up 39.3 points and 468.3 yards. UNM’s defenders allowed 42.8 points and 516.6 yards. You give up numbers like that and you don’t win too many shootouts.
The 2013 scoreboard in the Sun Bowl that leaned in UNM’s favor by a 42-35 (OT) count said there wasn’t much difference between Lobos and Miners a year ago. The outcome was decided in OT when a fourth-down measurement said UTEP missed a first down by an inch.
If UTEP had won that game, the Miners would have finished the season with three wins and UNM would have had two wins. Instead, UTEP fell to 2-10 and UNM finished 3-9.
It was an important measurement, a pivotal inch and probably a source for motivation as Miners come to Albuquerque.
Kugler’s initial season did not produce the results he wanted. In their 10 losses, the Miners gave up at least 32 points and six times give up more than 40 points.
UTEP is expected to run out of a pro set with multiple looks in 2014. The Miners will use a 4-2-5 base on defense but that look also might change based on how the Lobos line up. The Miners return 43 lettermen and 19 starters: eight on offense and seven on defense.
Obviously, the Lobos and the Miners emphasized some defensive adjustments in the off-season. Davie promoted Kevin Cosgrove into the defensive coordinator’s position and there is an emphasis on more aggression from that unit.
There also is more size, more talent and more depth. Those are good changes, but the Lobos need a big change from the points and yards allowed in 2013. And there is still a lot of youth on Cosgrove’s side of the ball.
“I see a lot of improvement,” said Cosgrove. “But let’s see what they can do in a game.”
The Miners will provide that game-day opportunity and a challenging offense. The Miners have a solid one-two punch in the backfield behind 210-pound Nathan Jeffery and 185-pound Aaron Jones, who ran for 811 yards as a freshman. Jeffery battled injury early but powered for 317 yards in his final three games of 2013. He had 897 rushing yards in 2012 (177 vs. Oklahoma). Jones had 186 yards at Rice last year. This can be a dynamic duo.
Jones, the more explosive of the two, ran for 127 yards on 11 carries against UNM last year in El Paso. Jeffery had 59 yards on 17 carries.
Jameil Showers, a talented quarterback who transferred out of Johnny Manziel’s shadow at Texas A&M, went 15-of-20 for 119 yards against the Lobos last year. He threw for five touchdowns in 2013 at Colorado State where UTEP lost 59-42. He can be very good and UTEP lost him for five games in 2013 due to a shoulder injury.
This is a UTEP trio talented enough to rock any defense. That trio’s success vs. the Lobos probably hinges on the big boys up front. The Miners – just like the Lobos – have a sprinkling of experience and youth in the O-line. The Miners will add a few things to their playbook, eliminate a few looks, and try to improve on the plays they are repeating.
"We have more formations, more personnel groups on offense as far as the passing game," said Kugler. "We've also pared down a lot of things so the playbook is about the same size."
Coach Davie said he expects the UTEP defense to “play faster” in its second year in Kugler’s defensive scheme. The Miners expect the same thing. UTEP went into the spring of 2013 with a 3-4 front, lost its defensive coordinator prior to fall camp, and moved to a 4-2 front.
It was a quick change and the transition had some holes.
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“We know the system better,” said D-tackle Maurice Chavis. “Last year we had a couple of weeks to learn it. This year we have a whole year."
For sure, the Miners need to be sharp on defense against a Lobo “Pistol” that averaged 308.8 rushing yards a game in 2013. But it’s still a young UTEP defense. Kugler said he gave his defense some extra practice time looking at UTEP’s simulation of the UNM option.
“We need more prep time. We learned that the hard way last year," Kugler said. "We can't make the same mistake twice."
Said UTEP linebacker Anthony Puente of the extra time: "It's a big plus. Seeing the trouble we had last year, this extra time will help us a lot."
If UTEP goes with two linebackers, it will be pivotal that those linebackers make quick and proper reads on the UNM option. They need to help plug the middle. They need to protect the end runs. UTEP gave up 6.2 yards per rushing attempt in 2013 – 119th in the nation out of 123 teams.
"They all understand the system so much better now,” defensive coordinator Scott Stoker said of his linebackers. “We didn't have a whole lot of production there last year so whatever we get is added on."
UTEP lost four D-linemen from 2013 and return a single starter in Roy Robertson-Harris. However, a lot of Miner linemen got experience in 2013 as the UTEP defensive staff was looking for answers – and tackles – throughout a tumultuous season.
“They are miles ahead of where we were,” said Kugler. “There's still a ways to go but I like the way they are playing. We didn't do a very good job up front last year."
Kugler said he expects junior Cole Gautsche to get the start vs. UTEP. “It will be Gautsche,” said Kugler. “That guy is a stud as far as running their system. But we’ll prepare for both. They are both excellent quarterbacks.”
The Miners did not see Gautsche last season as UNM held out its bruising quarterback due to concussion-like symptoms. Clayton Mitchem got the start – and the win – for UNM going 4-of-7 in the air while adding 51 yards on the ground. The Miners were burned by 291 yards and four TDs from Kasey Carrier.
The Lobos also expect to display an improved passing game in 2014. UTEP hopes to be ready for any aerial surprises.
“They are such a running team,” said UTEP defensive back Adrian James, who also said the Miner defensive secondary has to “be prepared for play-action passes.” James said UTEP has been keying on Lobo formations “that might give away the pass.”
Of course, the pass isn’t really the Miners’ main concern. They need to stop the UNM option – the option that ran for 395 yards a year ago in El Paso