Monday , December 11 2017
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"We were just ineffective, and you can’t sit there and do the same things with the same ineffectiveness and think that you’re going to be OK.  Really what we needed was a spark to get ourselves going in the right direction..."

H-P Sports In Depth: UTEP Football Looks to Get Back on Track vs NMSU

UTEP will travel up the road to take on rival NM State in the FirstLight Federal Credit Union Battle of I-10 on September 23. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Aggie Memorial Stadium

UTEP Head Coach Sean Kugler appointed Brian Natkin as offensive coordinator on Monday. Natkin previously coached the tight ends and served as the team’s special teams coordinator.

Natkin, an All-American tight end at UTEP in 2000, returned to his alma mater in December 2011 when he was named a full-time assistant.

Kugler: “And I will say this, there is not a more trusted member on my staff, a more trusted member that is loyal to this university and loyal to turning this thing around for the players’ sake.”

Natkin spent the 2012 season as the Miners’ offensive line coach before moving to tight ends coach and special teams coordinator.

Natkin was co-offensive coordinator at Midwestern State during the 2011 campaign. The Mustangs went 10-1 in 2011, while leading the nation in total offense (531.9 ypg) and scoring (48.6 ppg).

Natkin’s coaching career began as a graduate assistant at UTEP in 2004 and 2005. In 2006, Natkin coached the offensive line at Northern Colorado before spending five seasons (2007-11) at Midwestern State.

Other moves by Kugler include Chuck Veliz taking over as quarterbacks coach, and safeties coach Don Yanowsky assuming duties as special teams coordinator.

***

UTEP Football Media Luncheon with Coach Sean Kugler  (On Last Week’s Game Versus Arizona)

“Starting with special teams, [Alan] Luna has been punting well for us all year.  He had a 43.7-yard average in this game, he had a 53-yarder.  We did have a punt return for a touchdown, we had some missed tackles on that punt return to put our defense in a tough bind.  But on the punt team [Jesse] Montgomery, a backup corner for us, had two solo tackles.  He had an outstanding solo tackle.  He earned the Top Gun Award for outstanding special teams player for this game.

Punt return, we had zero returns on three punts.  It was solid decisions again by Terry Juniel.  He hasn’t had an opportunity yet to return some this year, but he has been making solid decisions.  We did a little more pressure in that game, getting after the punter and forced two bad kicks.  So that was good to see.

Kickoff cover, Brady Viles was 100 percent on all touchbacks.  They did not get any returns against us.  He kicked outstanding, I think you’re starting to see his leg strength show up.  And even on PAT/field goal, we had one miss and that was more due to the snap and protection than the kicker.  And then you did see his leg strength on the 53-yard field goal, which probably would’ve been good from 63.  So he does have an outstanding leg.

Kickoff return, there were some positives there with Keynan Foster, he had four returns for a 28-yard average.  I do think this young man has the ability to pop one and start hitting the seams and we’ve got to sustain our blocks a little bit better up front.  Special teams, the eyesore again was the punt return for a touchdown, and any time a team can score on special teams it lessens your chances to win the game.

“I thought the defense came out and started playing extremely well.  We held them to zero first quarter points and then they were put into three really tough positions.  There was a fumble on the short side of the field that resulted in points.  There was an interception that could’ve easily been avoided that turned into a huge play for Arizona where they got the ball at the two-yard line which turned into points.  The offense went three and out and that’s when the punt return happened.  So you’re looking at a 7-0 game that quickly avalanched into a 28-0 game.

From that point, I felt like the defense was on the field too long.  That was evident by the time of possession, 36 minutes to 23.  But not more evident than in the fourth quarter, 12 minutes and 33 seconds where Arizona held the ball.  So I think our defense, a little outmanned numbers wise, really wore down at that point.  And again, we cannot leave our defense on the field for that long of time, 36 minutes per game.

“The quarterback was very effective for them.  I think he’s an outstanding player.  He had three touchdowns and accumulated 143 yards.  But they ran the ball too efficiently on us, later in the game even moreso.  We only gained one turnover, that was a fumble recovery by [Joseph] Pickney who is a young man I have high hopes for defensively.

I know the coaches do.  He plays with a lot of energy, he had some outstanding hits at the end of the game.  He’ll get more playing time as we go.  We had two sacks in the game, both by Alvin Jones.  Even though the score did not favor us, Alvin Jones had an outstanding game.  It was really his first full game, if you remember he missed half of the Oklahoma game and half the Rice game.

He had 16 tackles, two sacks and a tackle for loss.  That’s the type of production that we expect from Alvin week in and week out and he came through on that.

“Offensively, there are a lot of things that need correcting.  The inability to run the football, and we only had nine carries by our running backs.  That will never happen again.  We only had 14 attempts all around with 1.2 per carry.  So we’re not running the ball efficiently.  For the third consecutive week, we lost the turnover battle.

We lost a fumble that resulted in points and we had an interception on a screen that could’ve easily been thrown into the ground that resulted in points.  Both those occurred when the game was still in the balance.  It was 28-7, we had the ball inside the 50 and it snowballed with the score.  We were only 46 percent completion percentage at the quarterback position as a whole.  We had only 218 total yards, it’s the third straight week we’re under 250 yards.

We can’t keep going in that direction.  Only 4.1 yards per play, and when you look at an offense’s explosiveness, anything over six is good.  Anything over seven is explosive.  Under five is unacceptable.  We have been less than four for the year.  Only 2-of-12 third down conversions.  And again multiple drops on third downs, we had three.  So for the third consecutive week we lost time of possession in a big way.

“This team is built on controlling the ball, time of possession, taking care of the football, being efficient on third downs and running the football with efficiency to set up play action passes.  None of this is how we want to play offense here at UTEP.  So I had to make the difficult decision to move on.  I have changed coordinators.

I have relieved Brent Pease of his duties as offensive coordinator.  That will fall in the hands of Brian Natkin.  And I will say this, there is not a more trusted member on my staff, a more trusted member that is loyal to this university and loyal to turning this thing around for the players’ sake.  We could not continue to head in that direction.

I will say this, all of that falls on me.  But I felt it was necessary to make a change to move forward.  There is a lot of season left.  As a head coach, it’s my responsibility to make sure that these kids have a chance to be successful and that’s why I made the difficult decision to move on.  Brian Natkin will be the offensive coordinator. He’ll call the plays.

Chuck Veliz will work with the quarterbacks.  And to take special teams off of Brian Natkin’s plate, Don Yanowsky who is the assistant special teams coordinator will be the full-time special teams coordinator.  He has been a coordinator in Canada, he has been a coordinator in several different places.  He’ll do an outstanding job with the special teams.

Brian will continue to work with the tight ends and wide receivers and get assisted help throughout the staff on that.  But I really felt, there’s too much talent at all positions to be as effective as we have been on offense, and there needed to be a change and I had to make that difficult decision.”

(On NM State)

“I think this is an outstanding football team.  I think they are well coached.  I think coach Martin does an outstanding job.  This is a very experienced and talented offensive group.  The quarterback, it seems like he has been playing against us for four years straight because he has.  He is having a great year, 67 completion percentage, over 1,110 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.  This guy has played outstanding football for them.

You know what I think about Larry Rose.  I think he will be the best running back that we face all year.  I think this guy’s shifty, I think he’s got long speed.  He runs hard between the tackles.  This is an outstanding running back, I’ve got a lot of respect for him.  He leads their team in rushing and he is also their second-leading receiver.  They have an explosive receiving corps.  These guys are experienced.

Jaleel Scott, he has been their go-to guy this year.  I can see why.  He has great size and length, 6-6 and 215 pounds.  He is making plays all over the field, he is their leading receiver and he also has four touchdowns on the year.  He has accounted for 100 yards a game himself.  This Izaiah Lottie is a very competitive, explosive receiver.  He leads them in big plays, he leads their team in touchdowns with four with a long of 81.

And he is also bringing in 65 yards receiving per game.  They have a very solid offensive line, their left tackle is probably going to be a future pro guy.  He is extremely huge, 6-7, 343, but he has got balance and pro-type ability.  The things that stand out to me on offense, they are averaging 477 yards per game, 6.1 per play, but they have been great on third downs, close to 50 percent on third downs, and they have been great in the red zone, 86 percent red zone touchdowns.  So they are very efficient, they are averaging 28.3 points per game.

“Where I think they have made the biggest jump is defensively.  This is a very athletic, fast defense.  Again, they are experienced.  A lot of these linebackers have been starting for them for four years and are now seniors.

They use a lot of multiple fronts.  They are never sitting in one spot, they are always on the move.  A lot of stunts, a lot of fire zones, a lot of twists.  These guys are really playing hard on defense and flying around to the football.  It all starts with Dalton Herrington, the captain.  He leads their team in tackles, tackles for losses and sacks.  He has also got some good quarterback hits.  You can see that he is a leader on film, he is getting guys lined up, he is a relentless football player.  I really like the way he plays.

Terrill Hanks, I have always had a lot of respect for him.  This guy can really fly, he is an outside linebacker and one of the fastest guys on their defense.  He is their second leading tackler.  The defensive end has been their splash player as far as up front, #11 Malik Demby.  He rotates in there with some other guys but he is second on the team in tackles for losses and sacks.  He has got a fumble recovery and he is also very active, he is their third leading tackler.  They have a safety #23 who leads their team in interceptions.  He is fourth on their team in tackles.

But also, I think they’re going to gain back Jaden Wright.  He has been out the initial part of the year.  This is a guy that has started against us every year, he is a big physical safety, he is a team captain for them.  He was an All-Conference player for them and I would anticipate he is returning as well.  Some things that stand out defensively, they are stopping the run extremely well.  They are only giving up 3.8 per carry.  They have nine sacks, they have been getting after the quarterback.

They had seven sacks versus Arizona State.  They made Arizona State’s offensive line look silly.  They are very active in the backfield and have several tackles for losses.  And much like their offense, they have been good on third downs.  They are only giving up 34 percent success rate on third downs.  So this is an outstanding defense.  I also have a lot of respect for the nose guard #51. He plays extremely hard.   I think they have really improved on that side of the ball drastically.

“Special teams, their punter averages 38.9.  They are only giving up six yards a return by the opponent.  Punt return, they haven’t had many chances but the returner scares me.  That’s Rose.  They’ve got him back there and he has the ability to take it to the house at any time.

Kickoff cover, opponents have been having 28 yards a return on them.  Their kicker is solid, he is 10-of-16 touchbacks.  Kickoff return, they have been averaging 14.5 yards per return but they have two explosive returners, Lottie the receiver and their backup running back Huntley who is also a very good running back.

They are 2-for-2 on field goals, they have had some snap issues on their field goals and I’m sure they’re trying to rectify that right now.  This is a rivalry game.  I think this team right now, and I’m going to be very honest about it, the team that we’re playing right now is probably a better team than we are right now, the way that we have been performing.  We need to work our tails off to be a better team on Saturday night.”

(On making a change at offensive coordinator)

“We were just ineffective, and you can’t sit there and do the same things with the same ineffectiveness and think that you’re going to be OK.  Really what we needed was a spark to get ourselves going in the right direction.

And again, as the head coach, it’s not a fun decision for me.  I’m the one that brought Brent Pease into the fold.  I hired him to be the offensive coordinator.  He is also somebody that I have known for a long, long time.

So this is not a fun decision for me to make, but I feel it was a necessary decision for us to have a chance to move forward.”

(On how the offense will be different under Brian Natkin)

“It needs to be different from the standpoint of being effective and running the ball with efficiency. It needs to be different from the standpoint of being in manageable third downs.  The two things that stand out to me, time of possession we have been tops or near the top in time of possession in our conference for the last four years, which allows us to play quality defense because we are rested.  We can’t be sitting there at 23 minutes.  We are giving up five to six possessions a game.  And there are a lot of things that go into that.  There have been mistakes, dropped balls, those types of things.

But again, the style of play that we want, I think Brian has a very sound understanding of that.  He also understands these players and he works not only with the offensive players, he works with the defensive players.  If anybody has the best understanding of our personnel, it’s Brian Natkin because he works with all these guys on special teams.  They have a lot of respect for him.  They know what he has been through here as a player and as a coach.  They respond to him and I think the move for him being the coordinator, he has called games before when he was at the Division II level.

He’s an outstanding football coach and competitor.  He knows what this series means, this game, and he’s already hard at work getting ready.”

(On the quarterback situation for this week)

“As far as injuries, I can’t really tell you where Metz is right now.  We are probably going to have to go through the week on that.  There are several players on our team that are still dinged up.  Their availability for this week, I really won’t know until we get out on the practice field and see some guys moving around.  So I really can’t expound upon that because I don’t know the availability of our starting quarterback at this point.”

(On the ineffectiveness with the running game)

“Running the football is all 11 guys, it’s the quarterback getting guys in the right run checks, it’s the offensive line executing their blocks and sustaining their blocks, it’s the running backs hitting the right holes, it’s the perimeter players getting on the right safety.

To look at one position or the other and say that’s the reason why we’re not running the ball well, and again, to run the ball well you’ve got to run the ball.  We had nine carries by our running backs last week.  That’s not going to happen again.  To energize that, everybody has got to do their job better. But as coaches we have to put guys in better positions to be successful.  That’s our jobs.”

(On the importance of the NM State game)

“No matter who we play this week, and this is a big game – we all understand that — we need to win period, to fix a lot of things.  Winning solves everything.  Winning makes everything better.  It gets your energy up, it gets your confidence up.  But what we desperately need right now is a win.  It just so happens that we’re playing our rival this week and a team that is playing outstanding.

We’re going to have to play our ultimate best to beat this team because I think they’re an outstanding team.  Right now, you watch them on film, they should be 3-0.  They were a better team against Arizona State.  They were the better team against Troy, which is probably the best team in their conference.

And then they beat New Mexico for the second straight year.  They are playing outstanding football right now.  We’re not, we acknowledge that.  We’ve got to be the best team on Saturday night.  We’ve got a week to get prepared for that and our kids know what’s at stake.”

(On Mark Torrez)

“I’ve been saying it all along, I think Mark Torrez has a lot of talent.  He can make plays with his legs.  You saw him create things when things weren’t there.  That’s what he brings to the table.  If we go with Mark Torrez, we’ll have to put that flavor into the game and try to play to his talents.

Again, I have mentioned it, I like all three of our quarterbacks.  Ryan Metz is our starting quarterback.  If Ryan Metz is healthy, he’ll be our quarterback not only for this game but for future games but again, I don’t know his availability right now.  And I don’t think we’ll know that until maybe late in the week.”

(On NM State’s offensive evolution)

“It’s based on a lot of things.  Experience number one, you’ve got a fifth year quarterback who has been through the ringer.  He has gotten better and better each year.  He has grown physically each year.  You have one of the best running backs in the country.  I have a lot of respect for Larry Rose.

I think he is an outstanding player.  You have seen him grow up, he was a 160-yard back and now he’s a 200-pound back.  This guy is going to play in the NFL.  They have an NFL receiver in Jaleel Scott, a 6-6 guy.  And they have built their offensive line.  They are explosive and they can beat you many ways.  You see that he has been throwing for 300-some yards a game, but also they can line up and rush for 300 yards with Larry Rose.  There are so many different things that they can do.  They’re balanced and he gives them the ability to do that.

And the other thing about Larry Rose, you sleep on him in the run game, they can throw passes to him out of the backfield.  He’s got capable hands and he’s explosive.”

(On the running back depth chart for this game)

“They are all going to get opportunities in this game.  You will see more of Josh Fields and Ronald Awatt.  I thought we would’ve seen more of them last week and it didn’t turn out that way in the game.  But again, I’m not looking backward, I’m looking forward.  You’ll see all of the running backs in this game and they’re going to have to be effective, and the guys up front are going to have to do their jobs.

The guys in the perimeter, when we do call plays based on the looks, we’ve got to make the right decisions as a coaching staff.  All 11 people doing their jobs collectively, and the coaches, is what makes a running game go.  Do we know how to do that?  Yes, we have been one of the best rushing teams over the years.  Are we in a rut right now?  Absolutely.  And that’s why a change was made.”

***Looking ahead

MINERS AND AGGIES TO CLASH IN FIRSTLIGHT FCU BATTLE OF I-10 

UTEP and NM State will play in the 95th meeting between the two programs in the FirstLight Federal Credit Union Battle of I-10 on Sept. 23 in Las Cruces. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Aggie Memorial Stadium. The Miners (0-3) are coming off a setback against Arizona on Friday, Sept. 15, while the Aggies (1-2) were edged by Troy, 27-24, on Saturday, Sept. 16. UTEP is looking to extend an eight-game winning streak against NM State that started with a 38-12 triumph in Las Cruces on Sept. 19, 2009. The Aggies last defeated the Miners in 2008 by the score of 34-33 in the Sun Bowl. Last season, head coach Sean Kugler extended his undefeated record (4-0) against the rivals up the road as the Miners won handily, 38-22, to kick off the campaign in El Paso.

 

SERIES HISTORY

UTEP leads the series 57-35-2. This is the longest-running series in school history (95th meeting). UTEP has reeled off eight consecutive victories over NM State, its longest winning streak in the series. The series is all knotted up in Las Cruces, 19-19-1, on the heels of four straight Miner wins at Aggie Memorial Stadium (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015).  UTEP, which also won four consecutive in Las Cruces from 1986-91, has never posted five consecutive victories over its archrivals in the City of the Crosses. UTEP and NM State combined for 97 points in 2015, the second-most in a single game during the long-running rivalry. The 1948 contest saw 99 total points as the Miners dominated the Aggies 92-7.

 

THE LAST MEETING

Aaron Jones rushed for 249 yards as the Miners opened the season by dusting NM State, 38-22, on Sept. 3, 2016 in the Sun Bowl. The Miners led throughout after Jones put them ahead 7-0 on a 37-yard touchdown run five minutes into the game. Jones added a 75-yard scoring burst early in the fourth period. He appeared to get stronger as the game wore on. He rushed for 55 yards in the first quarter, 33 in the second, 21 in the third and a whopping 140 (on only nine attempts) in the final frame. The Miners finished with 518 yards of offense and 289 rushing.  Quarterback Zack Greenlee had a successful debut. The Fresno State transfer completed 15-of-27 passes for 229 yards and three scores. The UTEP defense yielded 345 yards to the Aggies, as Alvin Jones registered 12 tackles. Another El Paso native, receiver Cole Freytag, put together a great start to his senior year by recording four catches for a career-high 95 yards, including a 46-yard TD midway through the second quarter. Quarterback Tyler Rogers completed 17-of-41 passes for 206 yards for the Aggies, and was also the team’s leading rusher (63 yards and a score). UTEP led 31-10 late in the third quarter before NM State put together a couple of late scoring drives to keep the score respectable. 

 

CONNECTIONS 

UTEP has three players from the state of New Mexico on its roster – junior WR Kavika Johnson (Las Cruces), freshman FB Forest McKee (Las Cruces) and senor TE Sterling Napier (Rio Rancho). Johnson attended Mayfield High School, where he led the Trojans to consecutive state championship games. NM State has six El Paso natives on its roster: freshman WR Jameer Ancheta (Andress), sophomore DL Jacob Arellano (Socorro), freshman OL David Ash (Eastwood), freshman DB Brandon Bell (Eastwood), freshman K Isaac Garcia (Franklin) and freshman WR Antonio Gomez (Andress), although junior RB Dallas Hart attended Hanks High School in the Sun City after growing up in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Players from both schools who attended the same high school are: UTEP FB Forest McKee & NM State freshman DL Matthew Young (Onate HS [Las Cruces, N.M.]); UTEP WR Kavika Johnson & NM State OL Jalen Guerrero and DL Brett Kowalski (Mayfield HS [Las Cruces, N.M.]); UTEP QB Mark Torrez, WR Richie Rodriguez and OL Greg Long, and NM State OL David Ash and DB Brandon Bell (Eastwood HS [El Paso, Texas]); UTEP OL Rey Mendez and NM State DL Jacob Arellano (Socorro HS [El Paso, Texas]); UTEP WR Eddie Sinegal and QB Ryan Metz, and NM State WR Jameer Ancheta and WR Antonio Gomez (Andress HS [El Paso, Texas]); and UTEP OL Derek Elmendorff and NM State K Isaac Garcia (Franklin HS [El Paso, Texas]). UTEP Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line Coach Spencer Leftwich was part of the Aggies’ staff from 1992- 93, directing the offensive line. 

 

ABOUT NM STATE

The Aggies (1-2) are coming off a loss to Troy, 27-24, in Las Cruces on Sept. 16. NM State fell behind 20-3, but QB Tyler Rogers rallied his team within four points (20-16) by throwing a pair of scores in the third quarter.  The first was a 46-yard launch to WR Izaiah Lottie (missed extra point) with 9:53 left and the second passing score came at the 3:44 mark when Rogers connected with 6-foot-6, 210-pound WR Jaleel Scott for an eight-yard score. Troy would answer with a score late in the third to make the score 27-16. Rogers threw his third touchdown, a nine-yard toss to Lottie, while the two-point was converted to make it a three-point deficit (27-2). The Aggies got the ball back late in the fourth after forcing Troy to punt, but they were only able to gain six yards on three plays and were forced to punt. Troy then took the ball with 6:15 left in the contest and was able to use an 11-play, 56-yard drive to end the contest. The Aggies opened the season with a loss at Pac-12’s Arizona State, while their lone victory in 2017 came at New Mexico 30-28 on Sept.  9. The Aggies are scoring 28.3 points per game, while allowing 30.7 points. NM State is averaging 477.0 yards of total offense, while yielding 433.0 yards per game. RB Larry Rose III has gained 228 yards on 46 attempts (5.0 avg.), while RB Jason Huntley (88 rush yards) and Rogers (13 rush yards) have each rushed for scores. Rogers has thrown for 10 touchdowns (tied for fifth in FBS) with only a trio of interceptions on 106-of-159 passing (66.7 percent) for 1,130 yards. Rogers is averaging 376.7 yards passing per game (fifth in FBS). Scott ranks no. 22 in the FBS with 295 yards on 22 receptions (7.3 receptions per game ranks tied for 16th in FBS). Scott and Lottie have each hauled in four scoring receptions, ranking tied for fifth in the FBS. Defensively, LB Dalton Harrington is leading the Aggies in tackles (33), tackles for loss (6.0) and sacks (2.5). LB Terrill Hanks ranks second in tackles (32), while notching a sack. DB Malik Demby is third in tackles (22) and second in sacks (2.0). DB Ron LaForce has registered both Aggies interceptions. The Aggies defense as a whole has sacked opposing quarterbacks nine times. 

 

KUGLER’S SUCCESS AGAINST THE AGGIES

UTEP Head Coach Sean Kulger is 4-0 against NM State since his first season in 2013. Kugler became the third coach in program history to start 4-0 against the Aggies. Mack Saxon won his first five contests against NM State (1929-33). Bobby Dobbs won his first four against the I-10 rival (1965-68). Mike Brumbelow fashioned a 6-0-1 mark versus NMSU (1950-56), winning his first two and tying the third contest. Bob Stull chalked up a 3-0 mark in his three seasons at the helm (1986-88), while David Lee (1989-91) and Mike Price (2004-06) won their first three games against NM State before losing on the fourth attempt. 

 

UTEP’S NUMBERS VS. NM STATE DURING THE KUGLER ERA

UTEP has overwhelmed NM State on offense in the last four contests during the Sean Kugler era, winning by double digits in three of the four games played. The Miners have won by an average of 14.5 points, while averaging 43.0 points per game and giving up 28.5 points per contest. One of those contests was the epic 2015 overtime victory in Las Cruces (50-47), in which UTEP overcame a pair of 14-point deficits. The 97 total points were the second-most scored in the history of the rivalry. During the last four games, UTEP has averaged 519 yards of total offense, while averaging 298.8 rushing yards in the process. UTEP amassed over 500 yards in three of the games (546 [2013], 542 [2015] & 518 [2016]). The Miners have also averaged 27.5 first downs per game. The Miners have rushed for a total of 15 touchdowns during the last four contests, including five-touchdown efforts in back-to-back seasons (2013 & 2014). 

 

UTEP’S NUMBERS VS. NM STATE DURING THE 8-GAME WIN STREAK

The Miners have outscored the Aggies 309 (38.6 ppg) to 174 (21.8 ppg) during the eight-game winning streak. UTEP has won by double digits in six of the eight contests, as the biggest win margin was a 42-10 victory in 2010 in the Sun Bowl. The Miners won by three points (50-47) in an overtime victory in 2015, while the two programs battled in a 16-10 contest in 2011 in Las Cruces. The Miners are averaging 463.1 yards of offense during the eight-game win streak. The most total yards prior to the Kugler era was a 495-yard effort in 2010.  

 

OTHER NOTABLE WINNING STEAKS IN FBS RIVALRIES 

UTEP has won eight consecutive contests against rival NM State, matching Kansas State’s eight-game streak against its respective rival Kansas. Wisconsin owns a 13-game winning streak against its Big 10 rival Minnesota, while Boise State has a current winning streak of 12 games against Idaho State (the two programs last met on Nov. 12, 2010). Cincinnati has been on the winning side of the ledger in 11 straight contests against Miami (Ohio), and Alabama has won 10 consecutive games against Tennessee. LA Tech has beaten Louisiana-Lafayette in eight straight (the two programs last played on Oct. 3, 2015). Last season, Army ended a 14-game losing streak against Navy (longest by an FBS program at the time), while Tennessee beat Florida for the first time in 11 contests. 

 

LAST WEEK

Brandon Dawkins beat UTEP with his arm and legs, amassing 288 yards of total offense as Arizona sent the Miners to a third straight loss, 63-16 in the Sun Bowl on Sept. 15. Dawkins threw for 155 yards and rushed for 133 for The Wildcats, who scored the game’s first 28 points. UTEP got on the board late in the second quarter on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Zack Greenlee to Tyler Batson. Later, the Miners added a 53-yard field goal by Brady Viles at the end of the half. Following a scoreless first period, Arizona scored five times in the second quarter and led 35-9 at the break. The Miners had a couple of big turnovers in the second quarter that led to short scoring drives for the visitors. Greenlee made the fifth start of his UTEP career and completed 11-of-17 passes for 104 yards with a touchdown. Redshirt freshman Mark Torrez also saw action at quarterback and gave the Miners a spark early in the third quarter. The Eastwood High School graduate engineered a four-play, 76-yard drive, finishing it off with a six-yard rushing touchdown to cut Arizona’s lead to 42-16. The Wildcats scored the game’s final 21 points. Arizona gained 501 yards, including 326 rushing. The Miners once again had difficulty moving the ball, finishing with 218 yards on 53 plays including 17 yards rushing. Terry Juniel posted four catches for a career-high 82 yards for UTEP.  He was one of 10 players to catch a pass as the Miners spread it around on offense.  Kenyan Foster was a special teams standout for the Miners with four kickoff returns for 94 yards. Defensively, Alvin Jones amassed 15 tackles (second most in career) while adding a sack and 1.5 tackles for losses. 

 

SEASON NO. 100 FOR UTEP FOOTBALL

The 2017 campaign marks the 100th for UTEP football. In honor of their centennial campaign, the Miners are wearing a commemorative decal on their helmets. There will also be centennial tributes in the game program, on the video board and social media over the course of the season. Though the centennial for The University of Texas at El Paso was in 2014, the football program suspended play for four seasons due to the World Wars. No games were played in 1918 (WWI) and 1943-45 (WWII). The 1914 season marked the first for the Miners. The Miners played their first ever game on Oct. 24, 1914 – a 7-6 victory against the YMCA.    

 

FEWER YELLOW FLAGS

UTEP was penalized four times for 35 yards against Arizona on Sept. 15. In week two, the Miners were only penalized two times against Rice. It marked the eighth time during the Sean Kugler era in which the Miners were penalized two times or less. In 2016, UTEP was penalized twice against Old Dominion and once against Houston Baptist. In 2015, the Miners had two penalties each at no. 18 Arkansas, against UTSA and at North Texas. In 2014, UTEP opened the season with a pair of penalties at New Mexico and in 2013, the Miners were penalized once against Tulsa. 

 

PENALTY RANKINGS

UTEP ranks tied for second in Conference USA and tied for 16th nationally with 11 yellow flags in 2017. UTEP’s 3.7 penalties per game rank tied for 10th in FBS, while it ranks 18th in penalty yards (100) and 12th in penalty yards per game (33.3). The Miners also rank third in penalty yards (100) and second in penalty yards per game (3.7) in C-USA. 

 

RED ZONE OFFENSE

UTEP is 4-for-4 in the red zone in 2017, which is tied for no. 1 nationally. The Miners are one of 20 programs at 100 percent.  

 

PROTECTING THE BALL

UTEP has turned the ball over only four times in 2017. The Miners rank tied for 49th in the FBS and tied for second in Conference USA in that department.

 

TERRY’S CAREER NIGHT

Junior WR Terry Juniel registered career-highs in receptions (four) and yards (82), including a season-long 40-yard grab against Arizona on Sept. 15. Juniel’s previous high was a 44-yard effort on a pair of receptions at LA Tech on Oct 1, 2016. Juniel’s seven receptions in 2017 are tied for second on the team with WR Kavika Johnson. Juniel’s 105 receiving yards (15.0 avg.) and yards per game (35.0) lead the offense. 

 

TORREZ GETS EXTENDED ACTION

Freshman QB Mark Torrez was inserted under center in the second quarter and engineered a six-play, 34-yard drive (3:10) that resulted in K Brady Viles’ 53-yard field goal before the half against Arizona on Sept. 15. Torrez hit WR Terry Juniel on a pair of passes, the first for 13 yards on a first-and-10 and a 21-yard strike on a first-and-10 that set up the made field goal attempt. Torrez also made a few plays with his feet, escaping Wildcat defenders to avoid sacks. 

 

TORREZ’S FIRST TOUCHDOWN

Mark Torrez hit paydirt on a six-yard quarterback keeper to the right side in the beginning of the third quarter against Arizona on Sept. 15. Torrez paced the Miners on a four-play, 76-yard drive that took 2:11. Torrez connected on a 14-yard pass to TE David Lucero on a second-and-7. A roughing the passer call on Arizona moved the ball 15 more yards for the Miners during the scoring drive. 

 

GREENLEE GETS THE NOD

Senior QB Zack Greenlee made his fifth start in a UTEP uniform against Arizona on Sept. 15. Greenlee found WR Tyler Batson for a nine-yard TD strike in the left side of the end zone late in the first half. He engineered a five-play, 66-yard scoring drive (2:37). It was Greenlee’s first touchdown since he connected on a 12-yard touchdown pass to Cole Freytag against FIU on Oct. 8, 2016. Greenlee finished 11-of-17 for 104 yards with a long pass of 40 yards. 

 

21 CAREER TOUCHDOWNS FOR METZ

Junior QB Ryan Metz threw his first touchdown pass of 2017, a 44-yard toss against Rice on Sept. 9. It was also Metz’s 21st career touchdown pass. He is now three passing scores from cracking the program’s top-10 list. John Furman and Nick Lamaison each threw 24 scores during their respective careers to rank tied for ninth on the list. Trevor Vittatoe leads all with 97 passing touchdowns.

 

METZ & TORREZ HAVE SOMETHING IN COMMON

Besides both being from El Paso, Ryan Metz and Mark Torrez share a common bond as both played against top-25 opponents on the road in their collegiate debuts. Metz saw his first college action at no. 18 Arkansas on Sept. 5, 2015, while Torrez played on Sept. 2 at no. 7 Oklahoma. Both quarterbacks were perfect in their debuts as Metz went 3-for-3 (19 yards) and Torrez was 1-for-1 (seven yards). 

 

BATSON’S LONG OVERDUE TRIP TO PAYDIRT

Senior WR Tyler Batson grabbed his fourth career touchdown against Arizona on Sept. 15. Batson caught a pass after making a leap to his left to snag the ball. The score was his first since Nov. 14, 2015 at Old Dominion – a seven-yard pass from Mack Leftwich. Batson has five catches for 42 yards this season. 

 

KAVIKA HITS DAWN JR. AGAIN

Junior WR Kavika Johnson, who has made starts under center during his career, hooked up with sophomore RB Walter Dawn Jr. on a 38-yard reception after a lateral pass by Mark Torrez against Arizona on Sept. 15. It was the key play on a first-and-10 to the Arizona six-yard line that ended with a Torrez TD. It’s not the first time these two have hooked up, as Johnson hit Dawn Jr. for a 74-yard touchdown pass on a lateral at UTSA last season. 

 

KAVIKA’S CAREER NIGHT VS. RICE

Junior WR Kavika Johnson produced career-highs in receptions (six), receiving yards (67) and long reception (40 yards) against Rice on Sept. 9. His previous highs were three receptions for 32 yards and a long of 27 yards at Rice on Nov. 11, 2016. Johnson ranks second on the team with seven receptions (76 yards).

 

FIRST DOWN DOVE

Sophomore RB Kevin Dove, a 245-pound tailback, grinded out his sixth first down of the season on a rushing play against Arizona on Sept. 15. The play was a five-yard rush on a second-and-4 in the second quarter. Dove gained two first downs against Rice on Sept. 9. The first came on a third-and-2 in which Dove gained three yards, while the second came on a long run of 14 yards on a second-and-13. Dove gained three first downs in week one at no. 7 Oklahoma. 

JOSHUA TAKES THE FIELD

True freshman RB and El Paso native Joshua Fields registered a season-high two receptions for five yards against Arizona on Sept. 15. Fields tallied a season-long 18-yard reception against Rice on Sept. 9. Fields has 22 yards on four receptions early in his collegiate career. 

 

CAREER-HIGH FOR DAWN JR.

Sophomore RB Walter Dawn Jr. registered a career-high four receptions against Arizona on Sept. 15. Dawn also hauled in a season-long 38-yard reception, while totaling 50 yards receiving on the night. Dawn Jr.’s previous high was three catches twice (at Texas [2016], vs. Rice [2017]). Dawn Jr. leads the Miners with eight receptions thus far.

 

ALL-AMERICAN STATUS

OL Will Hernandez has started every game in his three years with the Miners. Last season, Hernandez was the first Miner offensive lineman to receive AP All-American second team and FOX Sports’ All-American honors. The senior was also the first UTEP offensive lineman since 2009 to earn All-Conference USA first team recognition. Hernandez’s national recognition didn’t stop there, as he garnered Pro Football Focus Pass Protector of the Year. The Miners capped the season with two showings of over 500 yards of total offense, including a season-best 384 yards rushing in a victory over North Texas. 

 

WILL’S PRESEASON ACCOLADES

Will Hernandez was selected to the 2017 AP All-America second team on Aug. 22 as the senior has racked up multiple preseason honors. Hernandez was announced to the 2017 Outland Trophy Watch List and earned a spot on the 2017 Preseason Conference USA team. Multiple football publications, including Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, Phil Steele’s College Football Preview and Athlon Sports have Hernandez on their preseason teams. 

 

ALVIN THE BALL HAWK

Senior LB Alvin Jones amassed 15 tackles, a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss against Arizona on Sept. 15, the second-most in his career. Jones’ career high is 16 tackles twice. The first came against FIU on Oct. 8, 2016 in the Sun Bowl, and Jones followed with another 16-tackle performance at Rice on Nov. 19, 2016. 

 

LEADING TACKLER

Alvin Jones has led the Miners in each of the last two seasons, recording 93 stops during each campaign. Jones is leading the UTEP defense in tackles (25) and tackles per game (8.3) after his 15-tackle effort against Arizona. Jones ranks tied for 10th with two other players in tackles per game (8.3) in Conference USA. 

 

KEEPING UP WITH ALVIN’S CAREER

Senior Alvin Jones has 266 career tackles (seventh-most at UTEP since the 2000 season) after racking up 15 more tackles against Arizona on Sept. 15. Jones also registered a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss against the Wildcats. Jones now has 11.5 career sacks (needs half a sack to crack the program’s all-time top 10 list) and 31.5 career tackles for loss, which now ranks sixth on the program’s top 10 list. Brian Young ranks fifth with 32.0 tackles for loss. Barron Wortham leads the all-time list with 45.0 tackles for loss. Jones’s 14.5 tackles for loss in 2015 rank tied for ninth on the single-season list, while his 5.0 tackles for loss at NM State on Sept. 19, 2015 were the most by a UTEP player since the 2000 season. Jones has led the Miners in tackles the past two seasons, tallying 93 stops in each campaign, while in 2014 Jones ranked second with 55 takedowns. 

 

DOUBLE-DIGIT STOPS

Alvin Jones has reached double digits in tackles 10 times during his career after his 15-tackle output on Sept. 15 against Arizona. Jones’s first double-digit performance came against UTSA on Oct. 3, 2015 with a 10-tackle outing. Jones racked up 11 tackles in four different contests in 2015 (at NM State; vs. Rice; at Old Dominion; vs. LA Tech). In 2016, Jones registered double-digit tackles, including his career high of 16 stops, in four contests (12 vs. NM State; 16 vs. FIU; 16 at Rice; 12 vs. North Texas). 

 

ACTION JACKSON

Graduate student LB Julian Jackson tallied seven more tackles against Arizona on Sept. 15. Jackson, a transfer from Wake Forest, has hit seven tackles in each of his first three games in a UTEP uniform. Jackson’s seven stops are also tied for his college career high. Jackson ranks tied for 19th in Conference USA in tackles per game (7.0), while his 21 total tackles rank tied for second on the UTEP defense. Jackson also recorded his first pass breakup against the Wildcats and recorded half a tackle for loss at no. 7 OU. 

 

TREYVON’ S BREAKOUT GAME

In only his second game at the LB position, sophomore Treyvon Hughes tied for the team lead with 11 tackles against Rice on Sept. 9. Hughes registered three stops in his defensive debut at no. 7 Oklahoma in week one. Hughes came to UTEP as a running back and missed last season due to injury. He was switched to linebacker prior to the Annual Spring Game this past year. Hughes is ranked third on the team with 18 tackles three games into the season. 

 

Recovering Fumbles 

UTEP has recovered a pair of fumbles, one by junior DB Nik Needham (vs. Rice) and the other by freshman DB Joseph Pickney (vs. Arizona), the first of their respective careers. UTEP ranks tied fir fourth in Conference USA in fumble recoveries. 

 

IN THE NIK OF TIME

Junior DB Nik Needham recorded the first full sack of his UTEP career on Sept. 9. Needham took down Rice QB Sam Glaesmann on a third-and-13 play. Needham’s first sack was an assist at NM State on Sept. 19, 2015. Needham also recovered his first fumble during his career and tallied six tackles versus the Owls. Needham has recorded 15 tackles on the season. 

 

OTHER DEFENSIVE NOTABLES VS. ARIZONA

Defensively, these Miners recorded career highs in tackles: sophomore DB Jerrell Brown (six), sophomore DB Justin Rogers (five), junior DB Kahani Smith (five), freshman DL Dedrick Simpson ( five), sophomore LB Kalaii Griffin ( five), sophomore DL Denzel Chukwukelu (four) and freshman NT Trace Mascorro (three). Sophomore DL Sani Buckingham (four tackles) and freshmen DL Keith Sullivan (two tackles) and DB Joseph Pickney (one tackle) recorded the first tackles in their UTEP careers.

 

KEYNAN’S SPECIAL EFFORT

Sophomore WR/KR Keynan Foster returned a season-high 28-yard kickoff against Arizona on Sept. 15. The speedster returned four kickoffs for 94 yards, both season highs. Foster also hauled in a career-long 13-yard pass against the Wildcats and tallied 107 all-purpose yards. On the season, Foster ranks third in Conference USA in kickoff return average (23.2) on six kickoff returns (139 yards). 

 

BRADY’S FIRST FIELD GOAL ATTEMPT

Sophomore K Brady Viles connected on his first collegiate field goal, a 53-yard punch as the first half expired against Arizona on Sept. 15. Vile was good on one of two PAT attempts against the Wildcats. Viles has a team-leading seven points (4-5 PAT, 1-1 FG). Viles played his first year of college football at Arizona Western College, where he connected on 3-of-3 PATs and was used primarily as a kickoff specialist last season. 

 

VILES’ FIRST KICK WAS A LONG ONE

Brady Viles’ first field goal was a 53-yarder. It’s the longest first made field goal by a Miner since at least 1960. Viles is one of three Miners to hit a 50-plus yard field goal since 1960. Bronko Belichesky’s first career field attempt was a made 52-yarder against Pacific on Sept. 15, 1973. Jose Martinez connected on a 51-yard on Sept. 1, 2007 against New Mexico. 

 

DAS BOOT

El Paso native Alan Luna punted seven times for 306 yards (43.7 avg.) with one inside the 20-yard line against Arizona on Sept. 15. Luna opened 2017 with eight punts for 352 yards (third-most in his career) for an average of 44.0 yards at Oklahoma. The senior punter placed three inside the 20-yard line against the Sooners to tie his career high. Luna also placed three inside the 20 at LA Tech on Oct. 1, 2016. Luna’s 44.0-yard average ranks 35th in the FBS and fourth in Conference USA. Luna leads the league in total punts (22) and punt yards (969). Luna ranks fifth in the FBS in punt yards.

 

LUNA CAREER NOTES

Senior Alan Luna ranks sixth on the program’s all-time list in career punt yards (6,396) and seventh in career punts (149) after Saturday’s performance against Arizona. Rick Padia ranks no. 6 in career punts (156), while the overall leader is Jerry Walker (298). Ian Campbell ranks no. 5 in career yards (7,328), while the overall leader is Walker (12,193). Luna’s career high for yards is 376 at Texas (Sept. 10, 2016). His longest is a 69-yard boot, while his career-best average is 51.0 yards on six punts (306) against Southern Miss (Sept. 24, 2016). In week two against Rice, Luna registered a 63-yard boot, the second-longest of his career, while his third-longest went 61 yards at Old Dominion in 2015.

 

LOCAL FLAVOR

The 2017 roster features 30 players from the El Pas0/Las Cruces area — DB Deaumonjae Banks (Chapin), LB Chris Barnwell (Eastlake), WR Brannon Bullitt (Chapin), OL Bobby DeHaro (Montwood), OL Derek Elmendorff (Franklin), RB Joshua Fields (Americas), K/P Jason Filley (Coronado), LB Sergio Gonzalez (El Dorado), FB David Jackson (Parkland), DL Christian Johnson (Parkland), WR Kavika Johnson (Mayfield [Las Cruces]), LB Alvin Jones (Burges), OL Greg Long (Eastwood), LB Erick Lopez (Canutillo), OL Markos Lujan (Americas), P/K Alan Luna (Franklin), OL Rey Mendez (Socorro), QB Ryan Metz (Andress), FB Forest McKee (Onate [Las Cruces]), RB Jonathon Millan (Coronado), WR Brandon Moss (Chapin), DL Josh Ortega (Montwood), DB Elijah Perales (Chapin), OL Jaime Perales (Cathedral), WR Warren Redix (Montwood), TE Jorge Rodriguez (Montwood), WR Richie Rodriguez (Eastwood), WR Eddie Sinegal (Andress), QB Keith Tarango-Lopez (Eastlake) and QB Mark Torrez (Eastwood).

 

SUN CITY SENSATIONS

Ten players from El Paso grace the two-deep heading into the NM State game. RG Derek Elmendorff, TB Joshua Fields, K/P Jason Filley, FB David Jackson, MIKE Alvin Jones, LG Markos Lujan, K/P Alan Luna, WR (Z) Warren Redix, WR (X) Eddie Sinegal and QB Mark Torrez are listed on the two-deep chart. Of the 10, four of the players (Elmendorff, Jones, Luna, and Redix) are listed no. 1 at their respective positions. 

 

GRADUATE STUDENT-ATHLETES

The UTEP football program has eight student-athletes with degrees for the 2017 season. QB Zack Greenlee, LB Julian Jackson, DL Sky Logan, DB Jesse Montgomery, WR Brandon Moss, TE Sterling Napier, WR Nesley Ovincy and OL Logan Tuley-Tillman are pursuing their Masters of Arts in Leadership Studies. Northwestern has 18 student-athletes with degrees, while Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina and East Carolina each have 14. Toledo has 13; TCU, Alabama, Oregon and Virginia each have 12; Georgia State, Kansas State, Maryland, UCF and USF each have 11; Kent State, Nevada, New Mexico, South Alabama, Texas Tech and West Virginia each have 10; Houston, Iowa State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Rutgers and Temple each have nine; and joining UTEP with eight student-athletes are Auburn, Clemson, Iowa, Kentucky, NC State, Northern Illinois, Ole Miss, Penn State, SMU Syracuse, UAB and WKU. 

 

HARD WORK PAYS OFF

After day one at Camp Ruidoso, head coach Sean Kugler announced on Aug. 8 that walk-ons RB TK Powell, WR Keynan Foster, LB Johnny Jones, FB David Jackson and FB Robert Pufhal each earned scholarships for their performances on the field and in the classroom. 

 

FBS COACHES WITH FBS SONS

UTEP Head Coach Sean Kugler is one of eight FBS coaches who have a son playing for another FBS program. Patrick Kugler plays center at Michigan. Others include UAB’s head coach Bill Clark with son Jacob playing for the Blazers. Colorado’s head coach Mike MacIntyre has his son Jay playing for the Buffaloes. Tulsa head coach Phillip Montgomery son plays for the Golden Hurricanes. Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo has two sons, Va’a at BYU and Ali’i at Utah. Gary Patterson’s son Blake plays for his pops at TCU. Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, has his son Rhett playing for the Wildcats. And Bobby Wilder of Old Dominion has his son Derek playing for the Monarchs. Other coaches that have their son’s playing for them is Rick Stockstill at Middle Tennessee (Brent) and Dabo Swinney of Clemson (Will). 

 

COACHING YOUR ALMA MATER

UTEP Head Coach Sean Kugler is one of 21 FBS coaches in 2017 who are at the helm of their alma mater’s program. John Bonamego (Central Michigan), Troy Calhoun (Air Force), Paul Chryst (Wisconsin), Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern), Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State), Jim Harbaugh (Michigan), Bryan Harsin (Boise State), Paul Haynes (Kent State), Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech), Tim Lester (Western Michigan), Mike Neu (Ball State), Barry Odom (Missouri), Mark Richt (Miami), Nick Rolovich (Hawai’i), Scott Satterfield (Appalachian State), David Shaw (Stanford), Kalani Sitake (BYU), Kirby Smart (Georgia), Jeff Tedford (Fresno State) and Matt Wells (Utah State) are the other 20.   

 

CLOSING IN ON WIN NO. 400

The Miners are six wins away from 400 in their program history. Texas Western College chalked up win no. 100 during the 1941 season after it prevailed at Arizona State 28-0 on Nov. 8. The Miners recorded win no. 200 on Sept. 21, 1963, defeating North Texas State 34-7 during the inaugural game in the Sun Bowl. Toraino Singleton rushed for 199 yards and a score, and Jason Blair hauled in six passes for 95 yards and a touchdown in leading UTEP to a 17-12 triumph over New Mexico for win no. 300 in the Sun Bowl on Nov. 18, 1995.

 

BOWL MANIA

UTEP will face eight opponents in 2017 who advanced to a bowl game in 2016. The Miners opened with Oklahoma (Sugar Bowl) on Sept. 2 in Norman. After UTEP’s contest at NM State on Sept. 23, the next seven opponents are Army (Heart of Dallas Bowl), WKU (Boca Raton Bowl), Southern Miss (New Orleans Bowl), UTSA (New Mexico Bowl), Middle Tennessee (Hawai’i Bowl), North Texas (Heart of Dallas Bowl) and LA Tech (Armed Forces Bowl). Syracuse and Notre Dame lead the list with 11 bowl opponents each, while Duke, Ole Miss and South Carolina will see 10. Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, UCF, Clemson, Colorado State, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Kentucky, LSU, UMass, Miami, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Tulsa, Utah State, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest will face nine bowl opponents in 2017.

 

NEXT WEEK

UTEP will travel east to play at Army on Sept. 30 in West Point, N.Y. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. MT (3:30 p.m. ET). The two programs met for the first time on Sept. 17, 2016 as the Golden Knights came out on the winning side in the Sun Bowl. 

 

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