Can The Miners Rebound After a Bad Loss to Army?
To sum up Army's 66-14 blowout, the Black Knights did whatever they wanted and got most of the applause in UTEP's house on a memorable Saturday the Miners will want to forget.
It was a beautiful afternoon for a football game. Nearly 38,000 were in the Sun Bowl to watch the West Pointers and UTEP on a day that was all about honoring El Paso's many veterans, Fort Bliss and the US Army, complete with fireworks, a football-field-size American flag, parachuters and a flyover by two Army helicopters during the National Anthem.
The Miners should have hailed the choppers for an evacuation right then and there because Army clearly had the place surrounded.
Imagine kicking off and almost never seeing the ball again. UTEP, a team that prides itself on its ability to control the ball and the clock, had the ball just once in the first quarter for a grand total of 2:55, then twice for 4:17 in the second quarter.
Army? The Black Knights optioned and misdirected but mainly just bulldozed their way to 598 yards of total offense, ran 80 plays to the Miners 42, dominated UTEP up front and held possession for 42 minutes.
That's more than two-thirds of a 60 minute game.
Army Airborne did well, too, going 7-of-8 for 174 yards through the air for an average of 25 yards per catch.
It was a site to behold the Black Knights running their version of the triple-option. Most quarterbacks stand as tall as they can to survey the defense. But all three Army signal-callers -- Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Carter and Malik McGue -- squat low to wedge themselves firmly behind the center.
The effect is like an Indy Car driver in an open cockpit -- you can only see his head. The inference is clear -- "We don't care what your defense is doing, we're going to run whatever play we want."
And they did. Twice as many times as UTEP.
How do you hold Aaron Jones under 100 yards rushing? Make sure he only touches the ball 11 times. The Miners' workhorse and star tailback was held to a measly 67 yards on the night by a fired-up Army defense that also beat a path through the Miners' veteran offensive line throughout the game to put pressure on all three UTEP signal-callers.
Zack Greenlee, Kavika Johnson and Ryan Metz all saw time behind center, especially as the score got out of hand. All were constantly under pressure as Army blitzes found their way through time after time.
The Black Knights were certainly inspired to do their level best to honor their fallen teammate, Brandon Jackson. The sophomore cornerback died in a car crash hours after Army's win over Rice last weekend.
So, how do the Miners rebound for the start of Conference USA play against a resurgent Southern Miss program next week?
It should be noted that UTEP has responded well to challenging times under Kugler. One thing the coach has instilled in the Miners' program is a sense of emotional toughness. He wasn't irate at anything specific after the Army drubbing, just the totality of it. There was no grumbling or whining on the sidelines or in the locker room, according to Kugler. UTEP will take its beating and move on.
The Miners won't face a laser-focused team with a chip on its shoulder and a wacky triple-option offense next weekend, either; though the Golden Eagles are coming off a tough home loss of their own to Troy, 37-31.
Although the Miners will probably be underdogs in the Sun Bowl again, a win to start conference play is an achievable goal. If they can keep the ball more than 18 minutes.
The Miners will certainly be happy to have Fort Bliss and the Army back on their side.