UTEP Miners 2016 Season Preview
2015 Record: 5-7, 3-5
2015 Bowl: None
Coach: Sean Kugler (14-23 at UTEP , 14-23 overall)
Rushing: Kavika Johnson, QB, 252 yards
Passing: Mark Leftwich, QB, 1228 yards
Receiving: Jaquan White , WR, 494 yards
Tackles: Alvin Jones, LB, 93
Sacks: Alvin Jones, LB, 6.5
Interceptions: multiple players, 1.0
Team Tidbits: The UTEP Miners play in the Sun Bowl with a capacity of 51,500 in beautiful El Paso, Texas.
The Miners have 8 returning starters on offense and 7 on defense this year. They should have the talent and experience to make a winning record and a bowl game a reasonable expectation.
Sean Kugler is 14-23 in his 3 years at UTEP. This year he replaced the offensive and defensive coordinators. Bring in Brent Pease, Former Florida OC under Will Muschamp and Tom Mason formerly of Hawaii as the DC.The Brent pease experiment could be a grand slam or it could be a foul ball. Pease is known for his Air Raid experience but ran a very conservative offense at Florida. I think UTEP could use a dose of Air Raid to put them back in the bowl game dance. However, Kugler seems like a ground and pound type of coach. Pease may be the perfect coach to blend the two styles.
OC: Brent Pease (first year)
OL: Led C-USA in fewest sacks allowed last year. Line has four returnging starters but could end up with a trio of new faces in the starting lineup this year. Tanner Stallings, a JuCo transfer, is slated to be the starting Center this year. The right side of the line could feature two sophomores in RG Derron Gatewood and RT Jerrod Brooks. The left side will be anchored by LT Jermoe Daniels (Sr) and LG Will Hernandez (Jr).
QB: The quarterback battle this year is between Ryan Metz who had an up and down season last year, Fresno State graduate transfer Zack Greenlee ad Mark Leftwich. Greenlee is the most interesting of the bunch. A highly touted recruit, he received degree in mass communications and journalism from Fresno State in May 2016. Played in seven games, starting five at quarterback and led the team with 866 passing yards he completed 74-of-156 pass attempts with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Metz needs to show consistency and the ability to cut down on mistakes. Mark Leftwich threw 9 TD’s and 3 INT’s in seven games last year and is the teams returning leading rusher. The three-way competition for the starting QB position could very well stretch into the beginning of the season.
WR: Top three receivers returning are Tyler Batson, Jaquan White and Cole Freyag. These three should be mixed into the offense quite a bit, especially if Pease works some of his Air Raid concepts into the previously conservative offense.
TE: Hayden Plinke (6-4, 255, Sr) is a returning starter that should be a solid outlet for whoever wins the QB battle. Last year he 37 catches for 405 yards.
RB: It’s never a good sign when your returning leading rusher is a QB. The good news, that was last year. Running back is a definite strength for the Miners this year. Aaron Jones (5-20, 205, Jr) could end up being the all-time leading rusher in school history. Jones had a season ending ankle injury last year after showing immense promise with 209 yards in his first two games last year. Jones rushed for 1300+ and 11 TD’s in 2014.
Defense only allowed 162.8 rushing yards per game in 2015 but that was at the high rate of 5.0 yards per carry. Against the pass, the Miners allowed 26 TD’s against only 5 INTs.
DC: Tom Mason (first year)
DL: Senior DE Nick Usher (6-3, 235, Sr) had 10 TFL. Some of the young defensive linemen stepped up and performed in the spring. How will they fare during the grind of the season?
LB: Alvin Jones (5-11, 220, Jr) had 93 tackles last year with 4.5 TFL. Jones is clearly the bright spot and the leader on the defensive side of the ball. Can he rally the rest of the defense to perform at his level?
DB: The secondary got better with experience last year and hopefully those improvements carry over to this year’s group. The CB spots will be handled by Kalon Beverly (so) and Nik Needham (So). Free Safety Devin Cockrell returns from an injury last year and will work with good SS Dashone Smith (Sr). The secondary definitely is experienced but needs to do a better job at picking the ball off and deflecting passes.
K: Jay Mattox
P: Alan Lunahad had a 44.4 yard average last year. That will be just fine, thank you.
KR: Terry Juniel
PR: Jacquan White
Key Game: September 17, Army. The first game of the year is a must win for the Miners. The second game against the Univerisyt of Texas is a must win for the Longhorns. How the Miners respond to the adversity of a loss to the Longhorns, or handle the bright lights of a win in Austin, will be reflected in how the Miners stack up against the notoriously difficult Army Knights. A win here would set the tone for the rest of the season.
Wrap Up and Season Prediction: I predict the Miners will bounce back slightly from their down year last year. If the defense can hold and if Brent Pease can rejuvenate the offense, then a 7-5 record should be within reach. If Brennt Pease unleashes an Air Raid barrage on the rest of C-USA, this team has the experience to compete for a division crown.