UTEP Football’s Quarterback Dilemna
The UTEP football team lost its third consecutive game Saturday night to Southern Miss 34-7, and after each week more and more questions surround Sean Kugler's team. Can the Miners offense break out of their slump? Will UTEP find a quarterback that they can rely on and successfully lead the team? Will the defense be able to keep the team in each game?
The good news for the Miners is that the defense answered the call in the second half against Southern Miss, and they did not allow any points on the scoreboard. Playing their second consecutive game without linebacker Alvin Jones, UTEP held the Golden Eagles to just 378 yards of total offense. In fact, they seemed much more comfortable playing against a normal pro style offense. As for the quarterback situation, that is a much bigger cause for concern.
Fresno State transfer Zack Greenlee has started three of the first four games for the Miners, and his performance has gotten progressively worse each week. Against the Golden Eagles, Greenlee completed 7 out of 14 passes for 62 yards and a pair of interceptions. One of those interceptions was returned 100 yards for a touchdown. The junior signal caller injured his MCL against NMSU, and he has not looked the same since the injury.
The Miners also used sophomore Ryan Metz against Southern Miss, and he also completed 7-14 passes for just 51 yards. The former Andress star had his shining moments last season, but he also struggled with his accuracy. Sophomore Kavika Johnson started against Texas, but he did not comfortable at all against the Longhorns.
Kugler said that their offense could be too complicated for all three quarterbacks. That is never a good thing to hear from a head coach, even if the team brought in new offensive coordinator Brent Pease to take over the play calling.
"When you're struggling, you need to go back to basics," Kugler told the El Paso Times. "You go bare minimum. Maybe there is too much on their plate. We need to evaluate. Maybe they have too much. ... We're stuck in neutral on offense and we've got to fix it."
All three quarterbacks are running an offense that concentrates on running the ball during first and second down. While Coach Kugler stresses a physical style of football where his team can dominate the line of scrimmage and pound the ball, defenses like Texas, Army, and Southern Miss have all jammed the box and limited the UTEP running game. It is almost like opposing teams are daring the Miners to throw the ball on first and second down. UTEP has not taken the bait, and their offense has struggled for the last three weeks.
This week will not get any easier. Louisiana Tech is also 1-3 like the Miners, but that includes a one point loss at Arkansas, a wild 59-45 loss in Lubbock to Texas Tech, and a 38-34 conference defeat on the road against C-USA power Middle Tennessee State. The Miners could struggle again against the Bulldogs on Saturday, but their offense needs to find their rhythm since the C-USA schedule eases up in a big way over the last six games of the season. Whether Kugler chooses Greenlee, Johnson, or Metz to lead the team is the million dollar question.