Rice 31, UTEP 14: Miners Don’t Measure Up in C-USA Opener [VIDEO]
Sometimes numbers don't tell the story of a game. This is not one of those times.
Take your pick of statistical comparisons from UTEP's 31-14 loss to Rice. In military terms, it's a target-rich environment. There's total offense: Rice 437, UTEP 229. One of Sean Kugler's favorites, time of possession: Rice 34:22, UTEP 25:38.
Net yards rushing: Rice 306, UTEP 26.
Twenty-six yards rushing. For a coach like Kugler who believes in controlling the clock and the line of scrimmage, that is a gut-punch.
The Miners also had to count up the injuries, including a late pop to QB Ryan Metz.
Kugler was downright touchy when asked about his junior starter, bristling when asked if he was undergoing concussion protocol on the sidelines. Kugler said he hadn't even had a chance to talk to UTEP head trainer Dawn Hearn.
An unofficial report on the former Andress star suggested it was not a head injury, though Metz might have tweaked his shoulder on a big hit from Owls defensive lineman Blain Padgett. Preliminary X-rays showed little damage, though further examination will be necessary.
That might be the best news of the weekend. Here's an instance where numbers can be deceiving – Metz was 18-of-33 for just 203 yards but, according to Kugler, had at least ten of his passes dropped by receivers in the great wide-open. He absorbed two sacks, but was poised when he had a pocket and was accurate most of the night.
UTEP's best run of play came when the Miners had their backs against the wall. Metz was forced to pass and showed he can lead the offense with his arm.
Whether or not he – or backups Zach Greenlee and Mark Torrez – will continue to have the freedom to do so is another question.
With Rich Rodriguez's helter-skelter Arizona Wildcats coming to the Sun Bowl next Friday, the Miners need to run the ball effectively. But, outside of injuries, the worst thing that could've happened Saturday, happened.
Rice physically dominated UTEP in the Sun Bowl.
That is a DEFCON 1-level existential crisis for the Miners, a team that was thought to have a strong offensive line and solid run game, even without Aaron Jones.
Getting blown out by Oklahoma is one thing, but getting bossed by Rice is something else. The Owls did whatever they wanted on the ground, pounding away on the Miners, using nine different rushers to gain those 306 yards.
No Rice rusher hit the century mark, but no one needed to – it was a team whipping and every Owl was a winner.
The defensive problems are scary enough, but UTEP has been there before. As a matter of fact, it's always there.
Kugler's approach to winning with a perennially under-achieving program is predicated around an offense that runs clock. Running the clock takes possessions away from opponents, keeps an undermanned defense fresh and can win games.
The lack of a run game behind what's supposed to be one of the best lines in Conference USA? That is a catastrophe. It's identity-shaking.
But – second point – that same line did pretty well in pass protection. Metz had time to pick out targets, even if many of those passes were dropped.
Consider, though, that UTEP's most ideal drives – deliberate and clock-chewing – looked like this:
Notice most of the plays start with "METZ..."?
Even if UTEP wants to run, even if successful plays might have to start with "GREENLEE..." or "TORREZ..." next week, even if the run is just what Miners do; if the offense can't run the ball, then continuing to run the ball...?
It just doesn't add up.