The UTEP football team continued spring drills on Friday morning with a scrimmage in the Sun Bowl, and the performance on one side of the ball stood out.
“I’d say the defense dominated the day overall,” coach Sean Kugler said. “[There was] a lot of pressure on the quarterback. I think there were five sacks. [Linebacker] Johnny Jones was active inside getting some sacks. I thought Brendan Royal really did a nice job at strong safety setting the edge. I think he had two or three tackles for losses.
“They did well in the short yardage segment, and they did a great job in the goal line segment. They won the move the ball segment. And the one group kept the [one offense] out of the end zone in the red zone segment. It was a great day for the defense.”
Statistically, Jones compiled two sacks and a pass break-up. Nik Needham picked off a pass, Dashone Smith added two tackles for losses and Kalon Beverly chipped in with two pass break-ups.
The offense managed three short scoring runs, one each from quarterbacks Kavika Johnson and Ryan Metz and another from running back TK Powell.
Metz had the best numbers among the signal-callers, completing 6-of-10 passes for 59 yards. Johnson was 1-of-8 for 10 yards. Cole Freytag was the only Miner with more than one catch (he had two), while Orion Prescott (10 carries for 30 yards), Powell (six for 25 yards) and Treyvon Hughes (10 for 22 yards) set the pace in the ground game.
“I think the number one offense did some good things, and the number two offense kind of struggled mightily today,” Kugler said.
Spring camp is winding down. The Miners will conduct their final scrimmage next Friday (April 15) in the Sun Bowl as part of the “UTEP Spring Football Fest.” The free admission event will feature a fan fest from 5-7 pm at the North end of the stadium, including a live performance by local band Formal Intent. A pep rally will ensue at 6:30, followed by the game at 7. A total of 1,000 hot dogs will be given away to fans and students at the fan fest, and there will also be inflatables and games for the whole family.
Kugler is pleased with his team’s performance heading into the final week.
“Kids are doing a good job,” he said. “They are playing with effort. And again, we are looking at a defense that is probably down five starters and they’re flying around having fun. That’s fun to look at as a head coach.”
The Miners are getting by with two quarterbacks for now, as Mack Leftwich recently underwent shoulder surgery.
“[Ryan and Kavika] both moved the ball a little bit, and then they had some inconsistent plays,” Kugler said. “They dealt with some things like snap issues and there were some drops. I thought the receivers had too many drops today. There were some well-placed balls that should’ve come down as catches. Sometimes you’ve got to evaluate that and not put it on the quarterback.”
There was a double dose of good news on the defensive front as linebacker Nick Usher (broken foot) returned to practice and safety Devin Cockrell’s long-term prognosis is good.
“It was good to get [Usher] back,” Kugler said. “He was in there on a limited basis. He wants to be out there all the time. It’s got to be a slow process for him. I’m going to have to monitor keeping him off the field more than he is on the field.”
“Cockrell will be back. I’ll probably hold him out the rest of the spring, but we got good news on his knee. It’s not a major knee injury that’s going to require surgery. I think right now all of our injured guys are really on track. I think we’re going to get back every single one of them, which makes me happy.”
After next week the Miners will have 14 spring practices, plus a spring game, in the books.
“It’s huge because we’re implementing a new offense and defense,” Kugler said. “Just the fact that these guys are getting all the terminology down so when we go to camp in the fall, they’ll have a good understanding of that. They’ll also be here all summer training in the weight room and those type things.
“I really think the kids on both sides of the ball have done a nice job learning the systems, I think the coaches have done an excellent job of teaching it, and the thing I like is they’re having fun and playing with energy on both sides of the ball. That’s what you want out of the spring … come out of it without injuries and enjoy it.”