As Injuries To Running Backs Mount, Can UTEP Evolve?
Going into its game with the University of Incarnate Word, the UTEP Miners really didn't know much about the Cardinals. But Incarnate Word became flesh and dwelt among the Miners a lot longer than UTEP would have liked.
A physical FCS opponent from San Antonio, the Cardinals gave UTEP all it could handle and then some before Ryan Metz again rose to the occasion in the fourth quarter and the Miners held off UIW, 27-17.
UTEP evens its record at 2-2 going into Conference USA play next weekend in the Sun Bowl against another San Antonio foe, UTSA.
Along the way, though, the Miners lost another running back to injury as Darrin Laufasa went out after only one carry.
UTEP hopes the as-yet unannounced injury isn't too serious, but losing its top guns along with some other dings to what was a strong stable of running backs has forced head coach Sean Kugler to re-evaluate who and what his team is.
With apologies to Incarnate Word, you'll pardon Kugler if he feels the need to be a bit Darwinian these days. For his Miners, it's clearly Evolve, or die.
Not that Kugler's ready to slap a fish with legs on the bumper of his car. If there's any new appendage to be considered an evolutionary leap for UTEP, it would have to be an arm.
Metz's arm, to be precise.
In his first start, the redshirt freshman settled down as the game wore on, shook off some first half indecision, and finished a solid 20-for-28 with 275 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Metz also did something Saturday that helps illustrate the Miners' identity crisis -- after UTEP's running backs led the team in receiving yards through the first two games, it was Metz who led the team in rushing Saturday with 46 yards.
UTEP, the team built to bulldoze, rushed for only 81 yards, more than half of which came on read-option keepers from its heady freshman signal caller.
But...the Miners won.
So, that old ball control stuff is gone, right? Discarded like gills in fresh air?
It's all big-play bombs-away, right? Hey, what self-respecting Neanderthal doesn't like to throw the rock?
Not so fast. Listen to Kugler's post-game comments below. He has a quarterback who can sling the ball, receivers who are now making plays, but he still sounds like UTEP has to grind out results.
Did he shave his head a little too close to the scalp? No.
The Miners ran for only 81 yards against the University of Incarnate Word. Yes, UIW was actually a pretty physical defense, but for a team with an experienced and still-healthy offensive line, that rushing total is scary.
So is a defense that has yet to douse the fire that still rages in its secondary. Cardinals' QB Trent Brittain threw two interceptions -- one that UTEP true freshman DB Kalon Beverly returned for a touchdown -- and fumbled once, but threw for 295 yards, including a touchdown pass to Jamari Gilbert that the receiver busted for 90 yards.
The Miners still need the run, or it's liable to be the opposite of what Texas Tech and NMSU did when they stacked the box and dared UTEP to throw. Ryan Metz could get nickeled and dimed to death -- as in extra defensive backs riding his receivers -- if the Miners don't find balance.
And if UTEP's defense keeps allowing offenses to do what Incarnate Word did? The Miners won't have a prayer.