Questions and Answers for UTEP Football After Overtime Loss Starts Kugler Era
So, now we know. A little more, anyway.
As expected, Sean Kugler's UTEP Miners are hard-nosed, ready and able to battle in the trenches.
Defense? The jury is out for deliberation on UTEP's 4-2-5 defensive scheme after the New Mexico Lobos pounded out 395 yards rushing in a 42-35 overtime win that spoiled Kugler's debut as head coach at his alma mater.
Certainly, many will say a questionable spot on the final play of the game cost the Miners; but in a battle that was decided by a razor's edge, UTEP suffered a few more cuts on defense and one big gash on special teams.
Until the Miners find a coagulant that stops the defensive bleeding, you had better believe other teams will be testing UTEP with the run. Somebody from the secondary will need to step in and help stuff the rushing swarm that is headed the Miners' way.
UTSA held UNM running back Kasey Carrier to 58 yards on 28 carries just a week ago. Against the Miners Carrier could not be stopped, earning 291 yards on 41 carries, the last three accounting for every play in New Mexico's overtime touchdown drive.
However, the turning point of the game may have been a rushed punt by freshman Mike Ruggles, this coming right after the Miners earned their first lead of the game in the third quarter.
On fourth down and with the play clock running out of time, UTEP didn't look ready to roll out the punt team. The unit rushed onto the field, Ruggles bobbled a low snap and was only able to get off an eight-yard punt, which gave the ball to UNM on the UTEP 39-yard line. Carrier scored the third of his four touchdowns soon after to tie the game.
Predicting exactly what would have come had the Miners been able to get off a good punt is solving Chaos Theory, but the play gave momentum back to New Mexico after the Lobos had been forced to punt just before.
The good news -- great news, really -- is that the Miners run the football. Better still, they CAN run it.
Nathan Jefferey earned 59 tough yards on 17 carries, softening the Lobos up for true freshman Aaron Jones, who seemed to pick up on Sun Bowl Drive right where he left off on Edgemere Boulevard.
The Burges High grad might have been red-shirted with brother Alvin Jones, but was so impressive in camp Kugler and his staff had to put him on the field.
On his fifth carry as a collegian, Jones broke into the secondary with a run to the right then blew by everyone else on the field for a 65-yard touchdown that gave the Miners that first lead.
Jones finished with 11 carries for 127 yards and two touchdowns, although he had no carries in UTEP's one overtime possession.
Despite the outcome there is so much to like about a very different Miners' team. It's only the first game, but you get the impression that UTEP will be as tough-minded as their head coach. The Miners' offense was ably managed by Texas A&M transfer Jameill Showers, who was 15-of-20 passing for 119 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, UTEP took care of the football -- no turnovers on 66 offensive plays.
It might be asking a lot for a true freshman like Aaron Jones to continue being as brilliant as he was in his debut, but if he's anywhere close El Paso could have four years of watching a very special hometown hero.
The Miners have moved on from Mike Price's friendly flamboyance for Kugler's grinding grit -- on offense. If and when the defense catches up, UTEP fans -- football fans -- may enjoy the change.