Kugler Eager to Move On from Eagles, Readies for Rice
(Courtesy: Denise Mata, UTEP Athletics)
UTEP Set to Host Rice on Friday Night
UTEP (3-5, 1-3 Conference USA) and Rice (4-4, 2-2 C-USA) will face each other on a Friday night for the second consecutive season. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network. Fans can purchase two-for-one tickets beginning at just $10 at the UTEP Ticket Center.
Both squads are coming off losses to league foes, as UTEP fell at Southern Miss (34-13) and Rice was beaten by LA Tech (42-17). Friday’s contest will mark the 300th game played in the Sun Bowl. The Owls defeated the Miners, 31-13, on Nov. 21, 2014 in Houston. The contest is the first non-Saturday game for the Miners in the Sun Bowl since hosting Houston on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2011. UTEP is looking for its first win against Rice since the 2010 season. UTEP’s final home game of 2015 is on Nov. 21 against LA Tech.
Game No. 300
UTEP’s contest against Rice will mark game no. 300 in the Sun Bowl. The Miners’ first-ever game in the stadium came on Sept. 21, 1963, a 34-7 victory over North Texas State. UTEP is 132-164-3 all-time in the Sun Bowl. During that time, UTEP is 4-4 versus Rice in the stadium.
Friday Night Lights
UTEP is 3-5 in its last eight Friday night contests since the 2005 season. The Miners have lost their last five Friday games, as the last victory came at UAB – a 36-17 stomping on Nov. 10, 2006. UTEP is hosting its first Friday night game since defeating Houston, 44-41 (2OT) on Friday, Sept. 16, 2005. The Miners chalked up another Friday night win in 2005, prevailing at Tulane, 45-21, on Oct. 14.
The Owls have won eight of the last nine games between the Texas rivals to take a 12-6 lead in the series ledger. The Miners last defeated the Owls, 44-24, in the Sun Bowl on Oct. 9, 2010, but have dropped four straight in the series since. The teams have split eight meetings in El Paso, but Rice has emerged victorious in three of the last four matchups in the Sun Bowl.
Miners & Owls Producing Points
During the two programs’ 18 meetings, Rice has outscored UTEP 641-521. The Owls have averaged 35.6 points, while the Miners have produced 28.9 points per contest. The most points between the two teams came during a 56-48 Rice win in Houston (104 points) on Nov. 3, 2007.
The Last Meeting
Mario Hull set a career high in receiving yards (150) on six receptions, while scoring a late touchdown as Rice beat UTEP, 31-13, on Nov. 21, 2014 in Houston. Darik Dillard scored the game’s first touchdown to break a 3-3 tie, finding the end zone on a five-yard run with 53 seconds left in the first half. The Owls took a 17-3 lead when Driphus Jackson connected with Jordan Taylor for a 24-yard touchdown to open the second half. With Rice leading 17-6, Devin Cockrell intercepted his first pass of the season, setting up a Jameill Showers three-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. Rice answered with a six-play, 83-yard drive, punctuated by a three-yard touchdown run by Dillard. Following a special teams miscue by the Miners midway through the fourth quarter, Hull scored on a five-yard run to account for the game’s final points. Ian Hamilton tallied a career-best 130 yards on four receptions (32.5 average) for the Miners, who were limited to 53 rushing yards. UTEP was 3-for-12 in third down conversions to Rice’s 7-for-15. Jackson threw for 227 yards on 10-of-22 passing with two scores. The Miners lost the time of possession battle for the only time in 2014 as Rice controlled the clock 31:51 to UTEP’s 28:09.
UTEP Head Coach Sean Kugler and Rice tight ends coach David Sloan have crossed paths on multiple occasions. Kugler coached with the Miners during the 1993 and 1994 seasons, while Sloan played at New Mexico during those two seasons. Kugler was the tight ends coach with the Detroit Lions during the 2001 season where Sloan played tight end and led the Lions with seven touchdown receptions, while being named as a Pro Bowl alternate. UTEP OL John De La Rosa and Rice WR Derek Brown attended Bay City High School. UTEP DB Traun Roberson and Rice LB Alex Lyons attended DeSoto High School. UTEP’s Assistant AD for Football Operations, Nate Poss, is a graduate of Rice University and played for the Owls from 1973-76. Rice Safeties Coach Larry Hoefer had two separate stints as an assistant coach at UTEP, including serving as defensive coordinator during the WAC championship 2000 season. Kugler was also on the UTEP staff in 2000 as the offensive line coach. Rice Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Larry Edmondson was on the 1988 Southern Miss staff as the wide receivers coach. UTEP and Southern Miss faced each other in the Independence Bowl in 1988.
The Owls are coming off a 42-17 loss against LA Tech on Oct. 30 in Houston. QB Driphus Jackson threw for 180 yards and a pair of scores, but the Owls’ defense surrendered 455 yards of total offense, including 320 passing yards and four touchdown throws. Rice is averaging 28.9 points (ranks sixth in Conference USA), but is yielding 37.5 points per contest (ranks 11th in C-USA). Jackson is completing 61.2 percent of his passes (126-of-206) for 1,568 yards, 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Jackson has also rushed for 136 yards and two scores. Jackson’s passing efficiency (142.0) ranks fifth in C-USA. Darik Dillard leads the rushing attack with 443 yards on 89 carries (5.0 avg.) and four touchdowns. RB Samuel Stewart (321 rush yards) also has four scores rushing and one receiving. WR Dennis Parks leads the receivers in receptions (27), yards (403) and is tied with WR Zach Wright with three touchdown receptions. RB Luke Turner Stewart shares the team lead in total touchdowns with six. Turner has rushed for five and caught one. LB Alex Lyons leads the defense with 46 tackles, while DE Derek Brown leads the team in sacks (3.0). DB Zach Espinosa has both of the team’s interceptions. DB Brian Womac leads the squad in tackles for loss (11.0) and has a pair of sacks.
Last Game: Southern Miss 34, UTEP 13
Nick Mullens threw for four touchdowns (23-of-33 for 277 yards) and DJ Thompson hauled in 10 receptions for 112 yards and a pair of scores, as Southern Miss defeated UTEP 34-13 on Oct. 31, 2015 at M.M. Roberts Stadium. A lightning delay initially stopped the game, but a tornado warning ensued, delaying the contest for more than an hour. The game resumed with 14:54 remaining. The Miners, following the delay, took the ball and drove 57 yards on nine plays that ended with a LaQuintus Dowell one-yard touchdown run, that made the score 27-13. With less than 10 minutes to play, UTEP forced an incomplete pass on a Traun Roberson breakup on second and six, but the Golden Eagles converted the third down on a Michael Thomas 39-yard reception. On the same drive, Southern Miss put the game away when punter Tyler Sarrazin ran for an eight-yard touchdown on a fake field goal. The Golden Eagles struck first with an eight-play, 63-yard drive that resulted in a Mullens 11-yard touchdown pass to Thomas. Roberson wrapped up the receiver at the one-yard line and came close to batting the ball down. The Miners answered with a 17-yard drive (77 yards) that resulted in a 37-yard Jay Mattox field goal, making the score 7-3. The offense chewed 8:49 off the clock on the drive. With the score 7-3, UTEP forced a turnover when Nick Usher recorded a sack and forced fumble on Mullens at the UTEP 28-yard line. Gino Bresolin recovered the ball, but the Miners couldn’t convert the turnover into points as Mattox missed on a 50-yard field goal attempt with 48 seconds remaining in the half. Southern Miss took advantage of the missed opportunity and drove the ball 68 yards on three plays. The drive took all of 33 seconds, as Mullens found Jalen Richard on a screen pass for a nine-yard score. The drive was highlighted by a Richard’s 38-yard run into UTEP territory and a Thomas reception in triple coverage at the four-yard line. The extra point was missed, making the score 13-3. Mattox also connected on a 26-yard field goal at the 4:11 mark of the third quarter, cutting the deficit to 14 points (20-6).
Success in the Sun City
After its 27-17 win over Florida Atlantic on Oct. 24, UTEP is 8-2 in the Sun Bowl dating back to a 33-10 victory over FIU on Nov. 16, 2013. The Miners finished 5-1 at home in 2014 and are 2-1 thus far in 2015. The last time UTEP had a stretch like this came during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The Miners were 8-2 during a 10-game stretch – 5-1 at home in 2010, while winning three of the final four home games in 2009.
UTEP converted a season-high 52.9 percent of its third-down attempts at Southern Miss, while its nine third downs tied a season high. The Miners converted 9-of-18 against Florida Atlantic on Oct. 24. The nine third downs were the second-most during the Sean Kugler era. UTEP registered 10 against Old Dominion on Oct. 11, 2014, while the highest conversion percentage was 70 against NM State on Sept. 13, 2014. UTEP ranks sixth in Conference USA with its 40.3 percent (54-of-134). Rice ranks first (51.6 percent), while converting a league-high 64 third downs.
Red Zone Offense
The UTEP offense has not converted many touchdowns inside the red zone, but the Miners rank sixth in Conference USA with their 83.3 conversion percent (15-of-18). UTEP is 8-for-8 on field goals, while scoring seven touchdowns (three rush, four pass) with one turnover. FIU leads the league with its 90.6 percent, while WKU leads the league with its 32 touchdowns.
Return of the Mack
QB Mack Leftwich made his second consecutive start at Southern Miss since coming off the injury list. Leftwich sustained a concussion at NM State (Sept. 19) that kept him out for an extended period of time. The sophomore completed 16 passes for 197 yards against the Golden Eagles, but played the best game of his career against Florida Atlantic on Oct. 24, setting career highs in passing yards (271), completions (20), attempts (39) and touchdown passes (three). Leftwich also connected on a career-long 76-yard touchdown throw to Tyler Batson. On the season, Leftwich has thrown for 804 yards on 66-of-118 passing, four scores and only one interception. If Leftwich were eligible, his 122.7 passing efficiency rating would rank in the top 10 in Conference USA.
Passing Yards during the Kugler Era
Ryan Metz’s 275 yards against Incarnate Word on Sept. 26 were the second-most passing, while Mack Leftwich’s 271 yards against Florida Atlantic on Oct. 24 were the third-most during the Sean Kugler era. Jameill Showers threw for 365 yards at Colorado State on Sept. 28, 2013. Of the 33 games with Kugler at the helm of the program, UTEP quarterbacks have hit 200 or more passing yards eight times, including four this season. Metz threw for 218 yards at NM State on Sept. 19 and 216 against UTSA on Oct. 3. Showers threw for 253 yards at NM State on Sept. 14, 2013 and 237 yards against LA Tech on Oct. 5, 2013. Last season, Showers recorded 201 yards at no. 25 Kansas (Sept. 27) and 209 yards at Rice (Nov. 11).
Batson’s Big Game
WR Tyler Batson played the biggest game of his UTEP career against Florida Atlantic on Oct. 24. Batson only had three receptions, but he scored his first-ever touchdown on a career-long 76-yard catch and added another score – a 30-yard catch. Batson ended the night with a career-high 143 yards receiving (47.7 y/catch). Batson’s 47.7 yards per catch was the second-best performance in Conference USA during a single game this season (Florida Atlantic’s Kamrin Solomon averaged 55.0 yards per catch versus Rice on Oct. 10). Batson currently leads the team in receiving yards (352) on 18 receptions (19.6 y/catch). Batson’s 76-yard score was the longest reception by a Miner in 2015.
More on Batson’s Yards
Tyler Batson’s 143 yards receiving against Florida Atlantic were the most by a UTEP pass catcher in the Sean Kugler era, while it was the most receiving yards by a Miner since Jordan Leslie’s 147 yards against NM State on Sept. 15, 2012. Batson is the fourth Miner in program history to record 143 yards receiving. The other three are David McMillan (1968 vs. UC-Santa Barbara), Lonnie Crittenden (1972 at Utah) and Lee Mays (2000 vs. SMU).
Big Play Cole
WR Cole Freytag established a career high in receptions (three) for 41 yards at Southern Miss. Freytag entered the 2015 season with one catch in his career – an 11-yard reception in 2012. Freytag hasn’t had many opportunities but has shined when thrown to, hauling in eight passes for 208 yards (26.0 avg.) and a pair of scores this season. His breakout game came at rival NM State where Freytag caught two passes for 58 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown catch. Freytag established a career-high in yards (81) and long reception (58 yards) against FIU, including a 23-yard touchdown grab.
Jaquan Making Plays
After winning Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week with a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown on Sept. 19, WR Jaquan White registered a career-high 77 yards on six receptions, including a 25-yard receiving score, against UTSA on Oct. 3. White leads the Miners in receptions (28) for 296 yards and leads the team with three touchdown receptions after catching a pair of passes for 50 yards at Southern Miss. White also leads the Miners with four total touchdowns and ranks second with 24 points. Thirteen of White’s catches have gone for first downs, while eight have come on third down plays and another on fourth down.
From rebounding To pass catching
Former UTEP basketball forward Cedrick Lang caught his first touchdown at NM State on Sept. 19. It was a six-yard reception in overtime to down the Aggies. Lang is using his fifth-year status to play tight end for head coach Sean Kugler. Lang recorded his first collegiate reception during the third quarter at Texas Tech – a four-yard catch that went for a first down. Lang added a pair of receptions against Florida Atlantic for 13 yards. On the season, Lang has eight catches for 48 yards and a score.
Plinke on Midseason John Mackey Watch List
TE Hayden Plinke was named to the 2015 John Mackey Award Midseason Watch List on Oct. 14. The junior ranks third on the team in receiving yards (293) and second in receptions (24). Plinke led the Miners in receptions (four) for 35 yards at Southern Miss. In the Miners’ home opener against Incarnate Word, Plinke caught four passes for 80 yards, including a career-long 57-yard reception. The junior led UTEP in receptions (four) and yards (87) against Texas Tech, including a 42-yard catch. His yards versus the Red Raiders were the most for a UTEP tight end since Jamar Hunt’s 86 yards to open the 2008 season at Buffalo. Plinke hauled in a career-best seven receptions against UTSA on Oct. 3. This is the second consecutive year that UTEP has had a tight end named to the Midseason John Mackey Watch List (Eric Tomlinson in 2014). Plinke is one of seven Conference USA tight ends that were named to the list. Plinke’s 24 receptions for 293 yards are ranked fifth-best among C-USA tight ends, while his 12.2 yards per catch rates third-best among league tight ends.
Plinke running hard
Transfer TE Hayden Plinke knows how to use his 6-foot-4, 255-pound frame to bulldoze over defenders. On Sept. 26 against Incarnate Word, Plinke caught four passes for 80 yards, including a career-long 57-yard reception. But it was the first pass he hauled in that set the stage for the remainder of the evening. It was a nine-yard reception during the third quarter where Plinke broke away from the initial tackler, before it took literally six defenders to bring down the big tight end. Plinke had another hard run after reception at FIU, as he ran over a defender and pushed another out of the way before being forced out of bounds for a nine-yard gain.
Protecting the Field General
The UTEP offensive line didn’t allow any sacks at Southern Miss and has surrendered only eight sacks in eight games thus far in 2015. UTEP is ranked first in Conference USA in fewest sacks allowed and tied for 13th nationally. The Miners’ signal callers have not lost big chunks of yardage on the sacks, losing a combined 48 yards (fewest in C-USA). Dating back to last season, the Miners’ offensive line has allowed only 21 sacks in 21 games. WKU (10) and Middle Tennessee (10) rank tied for second in C-USA in sacks allowed, while on a national scale Air Force and Toledo are the only two programs to allow zero sacks in 2015.
The final game of head coach Sean Kugler’s first season (2013) saw a starting offensive line that averaged 298 pounds. Since then, Kugler has assembled a starting offensive line that averages 310 pounds in 2015. LT Jerome Daniels (305 lbs.), LG Will Hernandez (330 lbs.), C Eric Lee (305 lbs.), RG Derek Elmendorff (310 lbs.) and RT Chris Thomas (300 lbs.) compose the starting run blockers/pass protectors. The second unit offensive line averages 321 pounds. According to the depth chart LT Jerrod Brooks (330 lbs.), LG Josh Silvas (375 lbs.), RG Anthony Kyles (300 lbs.), C Erik Ramirez (285 lbs.), and RT John De La Rosa (315 lbs.) make up the second unit.
Keeping an Eye on Eric Lee
Senior C Eric Lee was named to the Rimington Trophy Spring Watch List on May 19. The list includes 52 of the best centers in Division I football. Lee saw playing time for the first time last season, starting in all 13 games. Lee is one of six starting centers in Conference USA to make their return for the 2015 campaign. The others are redshirt junior Jarred Barr (Charlotte), senior Kirby Wixson (LA Tech), redshirt junior Josh Chester (Middle Tennessee), junior Kaydon Kirby (North Texas) and junior Cameron Tom (Southern Miss).
LA Leading the Rushers
RB LaQuintus Dowell rushed for 52 yards at Southern Miss to lead the Miners. In fact, Dowell now leads the team in rushing with 255 yards in 2015. Since Aaron Jones went down at Texas Tech on Sept. 12, he was still the team’s leading rusher (209 yards) through the next five games before Dowell surpassed him. Dowell also added a one-yard touchdown run against the Golden Eagles, giving him two on the season and three for his career. Dowell’s career high is 76 yards at NM State on Sept. 19, including a season-high 40-yard touchdown run against the Aggies.
RB Jeremiah Laufasa set career highs in receptions (three), receiving yards (54) and long reception (39 yards) at Southern Miss. Laufasa chipped in with 18 yards rushing against the Golden Eagles, giving the senior 200 yards for the season. Laufasa established his career best in rushing yards (71) against Florida Atlantic on Oct. 24. Laufasa has 12 receptions for 112 yards.
The Brothers Laufasa
Darrin and Jeremiah Laufasa made their first collegiate start together on Sept. 19 in Las Cruces, N.M -- Darrin at the fullback position and Jeremiah at the tailback spot. The Laufasa brothers are the only brothers on an FBS program starting in the backfield. But they are not the only brothers making starts on the same side of the ball. Air Force’s Connor and Patrick Healy are starting linebackers and Maryland’s Levern and Taivon Jacobs are starting wide receivers.
UTEP won the time of possession at Southern Miss, 31:29 to 28:31. Winning the time of possession has been a consistent element during the Sean Kugler era. In 2014, UTEP won the time of possession in 12 of 13 games. The Miners ranked second in the nation in time of possession (34:57) behind Michigan State (35:21) in 2014. UTEP has led in time of possession in 19 of the last 21 games dating back to the 2014 season. Overall during Kugler’s three seasons at the helm, the Miners have won time of possession in 26 of 33 games. UTEP currently ranks second in Conference USA and fifth nationally with its 33:27 time of possession. Rice is first in C-USA at 34:09, while Stanford leads the nation at 34:56.
Alvin’s Dynamic Season
LB Alvin Jones leads UTEP in tackles (56), solo stops (29), sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (11.0) in only his second season. Jones’s 7.0 tackles per game is tied for 16th-best in Conference USA, while his sacks is tied for third most and he ranks third in tackles for loss. Jones’s three-sack performance against UTSA is tied for most in single game with three other C-USA defenders. Jones tallied a career-high 5.0 tackles for loss at NM State on Sept. 19. His 5.0 tackles for loss was also a single-season best in C-USA this year.
More on Jones’s Sacks
Alvin Jones has 7.0 sacks in his career as a Miner, needing five more to crack the all-time sacks list. Five Miners (Joe Terry, Ross Puritty, Ricky Massey, Barron Wortham and Horace Miller) have registered 12.0 sacks during their respective careers – all tied for 10th in program history. Gonzalo Floyd’s 20.0 career sacks lead the all-time list, while Chris Mineo ranks second with 16.5 and Herman Whiting ranks third with 16.0.
More on Jones’ Tackles for Loss
Alvin Jones has also amassed 20.0 tackles for loss in his career, needing 10.5 to crack the all-time list in program history. Barron Wortham leads the all-time list with 45.0, while Chris Mineo and Jeremy Jones are tied for ninth with 30.5. Penn State DL Carl Nassib ranks first nationally with 15.5. Jones’ 5.0 tackles for loss in Las Cruces were the most since Menson Holloway amassed five at Tulsa on Oct. 7, 2000. Lucien Johnson racked up 17.0 tackles for loss in 1975, the single-season high in program history. Troy Collavo and Jones each tallied 14.5 during the 2005 season, ranking tied for ninth in school history.
‘Super Fly’ Jimmy Musgrave
LB Jimmy Musgrave has been flying around the gridiron in 2015, making big hits and key tackles. The senior captain registered his first sack of 2015 for a nine-yard loss at FIU on Oct. 10. Musgrave tallied a career-high 12 tackles versus UTSA on Oct. 3, surpassing his high of 10 stops against North Texas last season. Musgrave currently ranks second on the team in tackles (40). He’s chipped in with a pass breakup, two quarterback hurries, 3.0 tackles for loss and a forced fumble in 2015.
DL Gino Bresolin has filled the middle of the defensive line for the past three seasons. Bresolin recovered the first fumble of his UTEP career at Southern Miss late in the first half. The 6-foot-2, 290-pound interior lineman has started all eight games in 2015, including 13 consecutive dating back to last season. Bresolin has chipped in with 19 tackles and a quarterback hurry this season. He’s on pace to surpass his 27 tackles from last year and has tallied 61 stops in his career.
In the Nik of Time
Redshirt freshman DB Nik Needham registered his first career interception against Florida Atlantic on Oct. 24. In fact, it was a big play during the third quarter where the Owls were at the UTEP eight-yard line and Needham picked off the pass at the one. Needham returned it 27 yards. Needham’s interception was the first for the Miners since Kalon Beverly and Traun Roberson picked off passes against Incarnate Word on Sept. 26. Needham ranks tied for sixth on the team with 27 tackles, while leading the team with four pass breakups. Needham’s chipped in with two tackles for loss, half a sack and a blocked kick.
DB Kelvin Fisher Jr. tied his career high in tackles (six) at Southern Miss, while helping to direct the young defensive backs on the team. Fisher Jr. ranks tied for sixth on the team in tackles (27) with a pair of pass breakups. Fisher Jr. also recorded his first career interception at NM State on Sept. 19.
Traun’s First INT
DB Traun Roberson recorded his first collegiate interception late in the first quarter against Incarnate Word on Sept. 26. Roberson is currently a graduate student, playing his sixth year. Roberson was injured early during the 2010 season, followed by rehabbing in 2011. He was injured again in 2012, playing in only three games in two seasons. But Roberson has played in 29 games his last three seasons, including six in 2015. He’s also made 10 starts during that span.
Freshman DB Michael Lewis recorded his first pass breakup at Southern Miss. Lewis is the 10th Miner to breakup at least one pass this season, while Nik Needham leads the team (four). The defense has tallied 21 total breakups. The other eight include Ishmael Harrison (three), Traun Roberson (three), Kalon Beverly (two), Roy Robertson-Harris (two), Kelvin Fisher Jr. (two), Da’Carlos Renfro (two), Jimmy Musgrave (one), and Mookie Carlile (one). Last season, 11 different Miners recorded at least one pass breakup.
The Safety Dance
UTEP has recorded two safeties in 2015. Alvin Jones got a hold of NM State quarterback Tyler Rogers in the end zone during the first quarter on Sept. 19 to record UTEP’s first safety since Horace Miller on Nov. 16, 2013 against FIU in the Sun Bowl. The second safety came at FIU during the fourth quarter. The last time the Miners posted two safeties in a single season was during the 2000 campaign.
Opponent Third Down Conversions
UTEP ranks fifth in Conference USA in opponent third down conversion percentage (38.6). The defense was allowed 39-of-101 conversions. The Miners lead C-USA and are ranked tied for 30th nationally, allowing only 39 third down conversions. Southern Miss leads the way with a 34.1 conversion percentage.
Opponent First Downs
UTEP ranks tied for fourth with Southern Miss in Conference USA in opponent first downs (166). Opponents are averaging 20.8 first downs, ranking seventh in C-USA. Charlotte leads the league, allowing 157 first downs.
The Golden Standard
Autrey Golden returned two kickoffs for scores in 2014. The first was a 98-yard return in the third quarter against Southern Miss, while the second came at WKU, 92 yards for a TD in the first quarter. He has six kickoff return touchdowns in his career (ranked No. 1 in program history), making him the active FBS leader in the category. Golden is tied for second in Conference USA history and tied for third in NCAA history. He is now just one back of C-USA and NCAA record-holder Tyron Carrier of Houston (seven). Former Clemson star C.J. Spiller also shares the NCAA marker with seven kickoff returns for scores. Golden has a total of 113 career returns, three behind all-time leader Cedric Johnson (116).
UTEP’s All-Time Leader in Kickoff Return Yards
Autrey Golden needed 92 yards to become UTEP’s all-time leader in kickoff returns, and returned five kickoffs at FIU for that exact number to surpass Cedric Johnson’s 2,757 yards. Golden is the program’s all-time leader and NCAA active leader with 2,826 yards after returning three kickoffs for 43 yards at Southern Miss. On the season, Golden is averaging 20.3 yards on 24 kickoff returns with a season-long of 31 yards.
Autrey Golden can find the end zone in multiple ways, as he scored his 12th career touchdown on Sept. 26 versus Incarnate Word. Golden hauled in a 10-yard touchdown reception, making it his third overall touchdown on the season and fourth career receiving score. His first touchdown in 2015 came on a reverse play to the left side that went 10 yards into the end zone during the season opener at Arkansas. It was his first rushing score since Nov. 16, 2013 versus FIU. Golden has six kickoff returns for touchdowns, four receiving and two rushing scores.
Much Improved Punt Return Game
Jaquan White took a punt 64 yards to pay dirt during the fourth quarter on Sept. 19 at NM State. It was UTEP’s first traditional punt return for a score since Johnnie Lee Higgins Jr. returned one 88 yards on Oct. 14, 2006. White’s 64-yard return is the longest in Conference USA so far. White is averaging 15.5 yards on eight returns (124 yards). The last Miner to average double-digits in return average was Marlon McClure (13.1) in 2010. White and LA Tech’s Paul Turner have the only two punt returns for touchdowns in C-USA. As a team, the Miners rank first in C-USA in punt return average (11.5).
Junior K Jay Mattox connected on a career-long 50-yard field goal against Incarnate Word on Sept. 26. Mattox’s field goal make is currently tied for the second longest in Conference USA behind UTSA’s Daniel Portillo’s 51-yard make. LA Tech’s Jonathon Barnes connected on a 50-yard field goal on Oct. 3. Mattox is 11-for-14 on field goal conversions and is ranked sixth for kickers in conference, averaging 6.2 points per game. Mattox leads the Miners with 50 points and is 17-for-17 in extra points. Mattox has made a dramatic improvement on his field goal kicking, connecting on 80 percent (24-of-30) since the start of the 2014 season after only 46.7 percent (7-of-15) in 2013.
Junior K Jay Mattox has connected on 55 consecutive extra points since missing one against Texas Tech on Sept. 6, 2014. And dating back to the WKU game on Nov. 8, 2014, Mattox had made 13 consecutive field goals before missing one on Oct. 3 versus UTSA. Jose Martinez connected on 15 in a row during the 2008 season, the previous longest streak by a Miner.
Mattox’s Career Rankings
Jay Mattox has also connected on 92-of-93 extra points and 31-of-45 field goals during his career at UTEP. Mattox currently ranks sixth in program history with 185 kicking points and is five points from surrpassing Hugo Castellanos’s 189 points. Reagan Schneider is the career leader for kickers with 287 points. Mattox’s 92 PATs rank fourth in program history behind Ricky Bishop’s 96. Schneider has 137 PATs, ranking first all-time in program history.
Luna on Ray Guy Watch List
P/K Alan Luna was announced as a 2015 Ray Guy Award nominee on Oct. 30. The Ray Guy Award identifies the nation’s top collegiate punter. The list is made up of 79 finalists. The native of El Paso is currently ranked second in Conference USA in punting average (45.3). Luna has kicked 42 punts for 1,903 yards, including 10 inside the 20-yard line and 16 punts of 50 or more yards (second most in C-USA). The sophomore recorded a season-high in punts (eight), yards (375) and average (46.9) at FIU on Oct. 10. Luna’s season long is 60 yards, a feat he has achieved in three separate games (at Arkansas, at Texas Tech and against Incarnate Word). Florida Atlantic’s Dalton Schomp leads the league (48.6 avg.), while Marshall’s Tyler Williams leads the conference in punts inside the 20-yard line (22) and punts of 50 or more yards (19).
Punts Inside the 10-Yard Line
Alan Luna has recorded 10 punts inside the 20-yard line and has registered two inside the 20-yard line in a trio of games in 2015. Luna tallied two at Southern Miss, against UTSA and at NM State. But not only were all six inside the 20, they were downed inside the 10-yard line.
Just Kicking It
Alan Luna, in his first season with the Miners, has done a solid job booting punts. If the sophomore transfer can maintain his average of around 45.3 yards per punt, he could rank in the top 10 in program history in highest single-season punting average. Owen Price averaged 48.0 yards in 1940 (all-time best in school history). Ed Bunn (47.7 in 1992), Ian Campbell (46.1 in 2011), Price (45.3 in 1941) and Campbell (45.1 in 2010) round out the top five single-season averages. Price ranks no. 1 in career average (46.7), Bunn ranks second (44.5 avg.) and Campbell ranks third (44.4 avg.).
UTEP ranks fifth in Conference USA in overall punting (36.9 avg.). Collectively, the Miners have booted 44 punts for 1,964 yards. Besides Alan Luna punting, QB Mack Leftwich has kicked two for 61 yards (30.5 avg.), with both being kicked inside the 20-yard line. Florida Atlantic leads the league with its 41.1 average.
Kickoff Coverage Rankings
UTEP ranks fifth in Conference USA in kickoff coverage (40.4 net avg.). Marshall ranks first with its 41.8 net average. The Miners are averaging 64.9 yards per kickoff. UTEP has 22 touchbacks (third-most in C-USA). Marshall leads with 33 touchbacks, while Florida Atlantic has recorded 24.
Injuries have piled up for UTEP, as 11 players are done in 2015 due to season-ending injuries. Those players are DB Jerrell Brown, DB Devin Cockrell, DL Luke Elsner, LB Stephen Forester, OL Derron Gatewood, LB Matthew Heard, RB Aaron Jones, WR Terry Juniel, OL Christopher Misaalefua, DL Christian Richardson and DB Brendan Royal. Nine others have missed contests due to injuries -- OL John De La Rosa, DB Kelvin Fisher Jr., DB Ishmael Harrison, FB Darrin Laufasa, QB Mack Leftwich, TE Sterling Napier, DB Traun Roberson, LB Devin Simmons and QB Garrett Simpson. Six other players have either quit the team or been suspended.
With injuries plaguing UTEP, 27 players have seen action for the first time as Miners -- most notably DB Kalon Beverly, DB Mookie Carlile, DB Adrian Hynson, QB Kavika Johnson, TE Cedrick Lang, DB Michael Lewis, DL Sky Logan, P Alan Luna, QB Ryan Metz, DB Nik Needham, TE Hayden Plinke and WR Warren Redix. UTEP is one of 20 programs to have 26 or more players see action for the first time. Kansas leads the nation with 37 first-time players, while TCU has 36 and Colorado has 34. Boston College, UCF, Georgia, Ole Miss, Tennessee, USC and UTSA have 33 each. Arkansas State (31), Rice (31), NC State (30), Eastern Michigan (29), Fresno State (29), Old Dominion (29), South Carolina (28), Wake Forest (28), Wyoming (28), Oregon State (27), Texas (27), and Kansas State (26) round out the list.
There are 20 El Paso products on the 2015 roster (three seniors, four juniors, six sophomores and seven freshmen), including nine on this week’s depth chart -- RG Derek Elmendorff (projected starter), WR Cole Freytag, LB Alvin Jones (projected starter), P Alan Luna (projected starter), QB Ryan Metz, WR Warren Redix, LG Josh Silvas, RG Erik Ramirez and DB Brandon Moss.
Head Coach Sean Kugler
Sean Kugler is in his third season as UTEP’s head coach, as he went from two wins in his first season to a winning campaign and a bowl bid during his second. He was a four-year letterwinner for the Miners (1985-88) and a three-year starter at right guard. Kugler returned to the Sun City as a UTEP assistant coach (1993-2000), working as a graduate assistant/defensive line coach in 1993, tight ends & assistant strength and conditioning coach in 1994 and offensive line coach from 1995-2000. He coached in the NFL with Detroit (2001-05), Buffalo (2007-09) and Pittsburgh (2010-12) and was also assistant head coach at Boise State in 2006 when the Broncos finished 13-0 and upset Oklahoma, 43-42, in the Fiesta Bowl.
Players Turned Coaches
Sean Kugler is the second UTEP head coach who played for the Miners at one time. The other is Walter Milner, a three-year letterman from 1931-33 who served as head coach in 1942. Kugler is one of 14 active Division I head coaches who played at the school where they are currently coaching.
The Miners’ captains for 2015 feature four seniors and one junior -- (offense) WR Autrey Golden and RB Aaron Jones, (defense) DL Roy Robertson-Harris and LB Jimmy Musgrave, and (special teams) DB Traun Roberson.
UTEP will make its first-ever trip to Norfolk, Va. to take on Old Dominion Nov. 14. The two teams met for the first time in 2014, as the Miners defeated the Monarchs, 42-35, in the Sun Bowl. The contest will be televised on Fox Network.
For more information, contact the UTEP Athletic Department.