Game of Groans: Is UTEP’s Season Going Up in Smoke? [OPINION]
Unfortunately, a late-running ESPN game in South Florida delayed the already-late start of UTEP's game against Arizona by 45 minutes. Fortunately, that meant most kids were tucked away safely in bed by kickoff. Because what the Wildcats did to UTEP on national television was obscene.
Hey, if you're paying to watch medieval WMD – Westeros' Marauding Dragons – on HBO, you send Junior to bed because you know there will be human bits burnt, bashed, bloodied or beheld.
But what happened Friday night in the Sun Bowl was on basic cable, and it was gratuitous. Wildcats QB Brandon Dawkins went full Night King on UTEP, running for 155 yards and three touchdowns, throwing for 133 yards and three more scores.
The sad part is, Dawkins and his teammates were ready for battle but the Miners were not, and haven't been in a single game this season.
It's one thing to see the Night King slay a fire-breathing dragon in mid-air, but no one's paying to watch him shoo fireflies.
It's not for lack of trying. Anyone who knows Sean Kugler knows his teams work hard.
Give this to Kugler's staff, too – contrary to what many of us thought might be an issue, they had no problem ditching the run to move the ball. Quarterbacks Zach Greenlee and Mark Torrez showed they could lead with their arms while Ryan Metz rehabs a shoulder injury.
But there were more drive-killing turnovers and penalties and, yes, another dreadful night of trying to run for UTEP, which could only manage 17 yards rushing. Seventeen!
All-American Will Hernandez, Tanner Stallings, Derek Elmendorff and Jerrod Brooks are returning parts of the same offensive line that helped Aaron Jones set a new school record for most career rushing yards just last season.
The Miners were always going to struggle to replace Jones, but 43 yards rushing in two games against teams picked to finish at or near the bottom of their conference divisions?
Defensively, the Miners held Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez's helter-skelter read option scoreless for the first quarter.
But the second quarter started with Dawkins throwing the first of his three touchdown passes to JJ Taylor, and the Wildcats were off to the races.
Once again, the defense allowed big plays, committed drive-extending penalties, and couldn't even slow down the run, much less stop it.
Alvin Jones had another wrecking-ball performance with a game-high 16 tackles and two sacks, but even with some great individual efforts the Miners' defense is a Lunchables-size slice of Swiss cheese.
All this leads to an inescapable, fundamentally disturbing conclusion: it's not that this UTEP team doesn't try to punch above its weight, it's that it has no arms.
Oklahoma is No. 2 in the land for a reason, but Rice? The Owls are not that good, picked fifth in the Conference USA West Division pre-season media poll. The Miners had 26 yards rushing against Rice, while the Owls racked up 437 yards of offense.
Arizona? Picked sixth in the pre-season Pac-12 South Division poll. Out of six.
The only other option is that Kugler's team has quit on him and the coach refuses to see it. I don't believe that.
Either way, the responsibility is Kugler's to bear; a fact he acknowledges.
"No fault to the kids, I think the kids are working hard during practice with the right
attitude," Kugler said. "So we may have to make a couple personnel moves but really it falls on the coaches, getting these guys in right positions to be successful.
"And, really, that falls on me."
Kugler sees that fans are sharing their thoughts, too. Every empty seat makes a statement.
"I don't blame them, I could see where they're frustrated," said Kugler of Miners fans. "I'm frustrated, too. We haven't held up our end of the bargain. I acknowledge that."
It must also be acknowledged that, just three games in, the Miners will be playing to save their season next Saturday against New Mexico State.
A loss in Las Cruces?