Miners Plow Aggies, Jones Reaps 168 Yards To Stay Top Rusher
UTEP head coach Sean Kugler made no bones about it when he returned to his alma mater -- his Miners would put it all on the line. As in the offensive and defensive line.
Sounds risky. Developing a good line isn't easy for a team down a bit on the college football totem pole. But so far, it's been no gamble at all for Kugler, just sound football.
UTEP rolled out that heavy equipment again Saturday night in the Sun Bowl to deal with their I-10 rivals, NMSU. The Miners offensive front plowed furrows through the Aggies' defense, harvesting 347 rushing yards en route to a 42-24 win and improving to 2-1 on the season.
El Pasoan Aaron Jones continued to reap the benefit of running behind that line, too, scything his way for 168 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns.
Jones' performance gives him 552 yards on the season, keeping him atop the NCAA's rushing leaderboard.
UTEP OL Jerel Watkins couldn't help but smile in describing the Miners' success against a younger, smaller NMSU team.
"Oh, man, it's great," said the senior. "We got some of the greatest backs, my O-line is amazing, and they still have to honor each threat we have because we can pass the ball, and our quarterback (Jameill Showers) can run, so it's pick your poison. Who do you wanna get beat by?"
Again Saturday night, that was mainly Jones, running successfully against an Aggies' team that stacked the box to try and force UTEP to put the ball in the air more.
The strategy helped contain the damage, but even so, Showers was 13-for-16 passing for 126 yards and a touchdown -- a solid job of game-management the senior admitted he was looking for after a lackluster performance in UTEP's loss to Texas Tech.
"Last week (against Tech) wasn't the best week for me. I think I just came out and played relaxed and had a whole different game," said Showers.
But it was the offensive line and UTEP's running-back-by-committee ground game that paved the way for the Miners' second win. Nine different players carried the ball against the Aggies. After Jones, senior Nathan Jeffery had 79 yards while Showers contributed 41.
"It's more than us running the ball," said Watkins. "The coach told us, 'We're putting the game in your hands. O-line, the game is in your hands. It's up to y'all to win this game.'
"You can't ask for anything better than that."
UTEP has a bye week before heading to Manhattan, KS, to face its second Big XII opponent this season, the Kansas State Wildcats.