Quick Facts on the UTEP Miners
Last Year’s Record: 7-6
Location: El Paso, TX
Coach: Sean Kugler
Returning Offensive Starters: 6 (RB Aaron Jones; FB Darrin Laufasa; OL Will Hernandez; OL Eric Lee; OL Derek Elmendorff; OL Jerome Daniels)
Returning Defensive Starters: 5 (DL Nick Usher; DL Roy Robertson-Harris; DL Gino Bresolin; LB Alvin Jones; DB Devin Cockrell)
- RB Aaron Jones (5-10/185): Jones was a fantastic workhorse for UTEP last year, averaging over 100 yards a game and he played perfectly into what UTEP wanted to do offensively, which was to kill you with consistency and beat you over noggin by running the the ball over and over and over. UTEP had over 1,000 more yards running the ball than passing the ball and Jones was the main reason why. Jones is going to get his 19 to 25 carries a game and he’s going to run for over 100 yards and he ran for over 100 yards 6 times last year, including 144 against Texas Tech.
- DE Roy Robertson-Harris (6-7/255): Harris is the backbone of the defense, although his numbers aren’t going to jump off the page at you. Robertson-Harris was UTEP’s most disruptive force from the defensive line spot and being at big as he is. The forced fumbles is a big deal and he was second on the team in tackles for loss, with those plays sprinkled through the year (not just one game, although he did have 3 TFL against Southern Miss). I think I’d expect Robertson-Harris to improve on those sack numbers this year. I think he needs to do that for UTEP to be successful.
- LB Alvin Jones (5-10/215): Leading the defense was Alvin Jones, the freshman linebacker and twin brother of Aaron. Aaron finished second on the team with 54 tackles on the year with 45 and 9.0 tackles for a loss. Jones only had two games where he didn’t register a TFL.
- Under Center: I don’t have a clue who will be under center for UTEP. During the spring game, Hunter McEachern (6-2/200) led all passers with 54 yards. McEachern is a redshirt freshman from Keller. In the annual spring guide, the starter was between Mack Leftwich (5-10/19) and Garrett Simpson (6-7/250). There could not be two more polar opposite possible starters. Leftwich is the son of one of the offensive coaches at UTEP and in watching his film (yeah, I did) he’s actually a pretty good quarterback, played really well in Pennsylvania, where I assume his dad was coaching before arriving at UTEP. Simpson also doesn’t look 6’7″ on film, but he’s more athletic than you think. I have no idea who UTEP will pick and without any sort of seasoning last year, this would be a good bet that you let these guys be bus drivers this year.
- The Important Stuff: Nearly the entire offensive line and the fullback does return and that may be the most important thing that you should know about UTEP. LG Will Hernandez, C Eric Lee, RG Derek Elmendorff and LT Jerome Daniels all return to form a formidable offensive line and then if you add in fullback Darrin Laufasa, you’ve got yourself a pretty nice offense, regardless of the quarterback. We’ll get into their offensive efficiency closer to the year, but know that a pretty good offensive line essentially returns intact as well as a handful of running backs and that’s what will make UTEP scary in 2015.
- Strong Up Front: Despite returning very little in the secondary, there’s some good players returning at the line, including Robertson-Harris, who wa the most disruptive player for the Miners. Add in Alvin Jones at one linebacker spot and Nick Usher at the defensive end opposite Robertson-Harris as well as nose tackle Gino Bresolin and you’ve god a pretty good group. Not only that, but the guys that are filling in for the departed seniors are seniors themselves, Alex Villarreal and Jimmy Musgrave.
- Tough to Watch Highlights: It’s really tough to watch those highlights from last year. Every man is blocked and the stiff-arms from Jones on Texas Tech defensive backs were, well, embarrassing. The missed tackles, the diving at ankles to be denied, the defensive line completely blocked and not shedding a man, just taking up space. Arkansas copied this blueprint and executed it to perfection. Knowing that the offensive line returns four of five starters, Texas Tech almost has to look at this game as one where you need to admit that the Miners almost whipped your tail. You better bring everything you have and pray that Mike Smith and David Gibbs is going to have a significant impact on the tackling and shedding of blockers.And let’s not forget that the team failed against UTEP. Not just the defense and not just the offense. You can see all of those missed tackles, but what you don’t see is the first four drives, yes five drives, were all stalled against UTEP. No points. No nothing. Three punts and a fumble and general ineptitude. Sorry to bring up bad memories, but wasn’t good, but it was a cumulative team failure.
- How They Did It: UTEP Sean Kugler is not a man of many words. There’s hardly anything out there for the spring game coverage, at least on the official site and I’d imagine that he was pretty low-key about spring football. With high-flying offense, Kugler has taken the opposite approach. A ground-based attack that maximizes the running backs and running game, only asks the quarterback to do so much, and a defense that does just enough to win some games. But it wasn’t all great for UTEP, they were in the red in point differential, averaging only 26 points a game while giving up 28. UTEP was also 38th in overall defense and there were rumblings that head coach Kliff Kingsbury was looking at the Miner’s defensive coordinator. UTEP didn’t give up a ton of passing yards, perhaps because of the conference where they play, and they were 77th in rush defense. There are holes in what they do. UTEP wasn’t all that efficient on offense, ranking 105th in the country in total yards, but was 33rd in rushing yards. Plenty of holes. Still, they were 7-6 on the year and what they did do right is run the damn ball, not turnover the ball, 18th in the nation in turnover margin, and they were the 28th least penalized team in the nation. That’s what churned out those seven wins.