UTEP at a Crossroads Early in 2016 Football Season
It's still very early in the 2016 college football season, but many El Pasoans are wondering if they are in a familiar place with their football team. The Miners were supposed to lose to the Texas Longhorns last weekend. They did play a competitive first half of football in Austin before fading over the final thirty minutes of that game. Last night, was a much different story.
The Miners entered their third game of the season three and a half point underdogs to the Army Black Knights. UTEP has always played well at home in big games, and the school's four month marketing campaign of "One City. One Team" promised an exciting night and competitive 60 minutes of football. The biggest challenge facing the Miners would be to slow down the triple option and control time of possession.
Instead, Army dominated every facet of the game and they scored on nine offensive possessions. The only time their offense didn't put up points on the Sun Bowl scoreboard was when they ran out the clock to the end the game. The biggest plus for the Miners were the 37,893 fans that filled the Sun Bowl. Many of them came to root on the Black Knights, and very few boos were heard in the stadium despite the home team's awful performance. UTEP head coach Sean Kugler took the blame for the lopsided 66-14 contest.
"If you’re going to blame anybody, blame me," Kugler said afterward. "We weren’t prepared in any phase, we got our tails kicked in every phase, and I’ll own it. As a head coach you got to own up to those things. I’ll make sure we do everything to try to rectify that and move forward because there’s a lot of season out there for us."
When it comes to the head coach taking the blame for a bad performance by the Miners, we've heard that part many times before. I am much more interested in the last part of Kugler's comments, since the C-USA season begins next week at home against Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles were expected to come into the Sun Bowl undefeated, but they were upset at home last night by Troy, 37-31. A 180-degree turnaround will be necessary if the Miners will have any chance to win their second game of the season next weekend. If they are able to rebound against Southern Miss, they will have a hard time attracting more than their core die-hard fan base to the Sun Bowl for next Saturday's C-USA opener against the Golden Eagles. Losses like last night have a much bigger impact on future attendance at the Sun Bowl than televising home games, boxing pay per views, country music concerts, or bad weather.
As Duke Keith pointed out, the Miners need to do a much better job defensively so they can control time of possession. That was not the case last night, since the UTEP defense minus junior linebacker Alvin Jones could not slow down Army. Aaron Jones is a huge part of the Miners offense, and the Black Knights took him out of the game early once they ran all over UTEP.
The Miners next two games will both be big challenges. If they can come back and play well against Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech, the memory of a 52-point tail kicking will start to fade. However, if Coach Kugler and his staff is not able to correct the many problems his team showed last night, the Miners could be facing a 1-4 record and any hopes for a big season and bowl game will once again, start to fade away.