New Mexico Lobos Football --- at UTEP Miners
When/Where: 6 p.m., Saturday – Sun Bowl, El Paso
On The Air: Fox College Sports (TV); 770-AM KKOB / Lobo Radio Network
GoLobos.com: Game Story, Statistics
Up Next: 6 p.m., Saturday (Sept. 7) – New Mexico at UTEP – El Paso, Texas
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
In the UTEP football film rooms, there is a good chance that the pick of the week is a documentary on the study of Lobos from New Mexico.
In the film rooms at New Mexico, the Lobos might be studying the same film because the era of Sean Kugler football at UTEP has no documented history. It doesn’t begin until the Lobos and the Miners kick off in the Sun Bowl at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
In a way, this gives the Miners an edge. Sure, they haven’t had a game to figure out the good and the bad in their team and iron out some wrinkles. However, they can take a hard look at the Lobos they plan to beat in Kugler’s debut.
And thanks to the Roadrunners from San Antonio they have some solid data from which to work.
They can zoom in on what UTSA did to stuff the Lobos’ inside running game. They have a short series to give them a bit on insight on what to do with Clayton Mitchem, who should replace sophomore Cole Gautsche in the huddle. Gautsche is expected to sit out this game while recovering from concussion symptoms.
But what do the Lobos know about Kugler’s Miners? Has he changed the UTEP attack since leaving the NFL and dropping down to Miner ball?
There are players and statistics from 2012 that are strong indicators of what to expect from the Miners.
They will try to run the ball behind Nathan Jeffery, who ran for a respectable 897 yards in 2012. He had four 100-yard games in 2012 including a monster game (177 yards) vs. Oklahoma.
“We are going to try to be a physical offense,” said Kugler at his weekly media luncheon. “That’s why we changed our scheme. We practice that way (physical). We just don’t talk about it.”
The change in scheme has been to add physicality/power to the UTEP attack. They will try to win the line of scrimmage by using tight ends and fullbacks. The Miners have three tight ends that combine for 21 starts, 50 catches and 647 yards. But those big Miners also are in there to pound away in the trenches.
“Sometimes you’ll see two, three or four tight ends on the field at the same time,” said Kugler. “We’re not going to be shy about it.”
The Miners often will run out of a two-back backfield. They will try to establish the run. They will be smash mouth like the Lobos. They also want balance in their attack and there is a good chance that aerial balance will be there. UTEP returns nine of its top receivers from 2012, including the No. 1 target, Jordan Leslie, who had 973 receiving yards in 2013. The Lobos, as a team, had 895 passing yards in 2012.
The key to that balance obviously comes from the quarterback. The Miners (like the Lobos) will start a quarterback who is getting his first start for his school.
Jameill Showers jumped from Texas A&M and out of the shadow of Johnny “Football” Manziel to try his luck in El Paso. He played in 11 games at A&M in two seasons completing 31-of-49 passes for 359 yards and two scores. He is eligible in 2013 since he is in graduate school and pursuing a master’s degree not offered at A&M.
“This kid is awesome,” said Kugler. “I really expect big things from him.”
Kugler is doing some rebuilding. He has six assistants new to Miner ball, including an offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator. UTEP returns 41 lettermen with seven starters back on offense and four back on defense.
Like the Lobos, they expect to move the football on offense. On defense, there is a lot of rebuilding with youth – enthusiastic youth. Youth that is supposed to fly around and hit people -- hard.
“I do know this,” said Kugler. “Our guys are going to compete for four quarters. If we ever come across a young athlete that doesn’t do that, he won’t be on the field for us.”
The secondary is the Miners’ biggest question mark on the defensive side. It is young and inexperienced. The Miners' depth chart for the UNM game lists 10 defensive backs -- six of them have never played for UTEP.
Against the Lobos’ option, it helps to have experience up front. The Miners expect to start four senior defensive linemen. The top D-linemen look to be Germard Reed (29 starts) and Marcus Bagley (19 starts). Senior Horace Miller moved off the line to become a linebacker, which also should help UTEP plug the middle.
Kugler appears to be a coach of detail. On Saturday, he will move his Miners away from the East sideline sun and place them in the shade beneath the Sun Bowl’s press box. He will let the Lobos bake in the sun
“The main thing is giving us an advantage,” said Kugler. “We would never do anything here unless it gave us an advantage on the field.”