H-P Sports In Depth: UTEP Returns to Action vs UTSA on ‘UTEP Legends Night’

Coming off its bye week, UTEP will host UTSA on Oct. 28. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. in the Sun Bowl. “Legends Night” will be celebrated in the Sun Bowl as the 2017 UTEP Athletics Hall of Fame Class will be recognized. Aaron Jones, former Miner and Green Bay Packers rookie sensation, is also expected to attend, as 1,000 lucky fans will receive a free bobblehead of UTEP’s all-time leading rusher.

The Miners (0-7, 0-3 Conference USA) are coming off a setback at Southern Miss on Oct. 14 in Hattiesburg, as the Golden Eagles prevailed 24-0. The Roadrunners (4-2, 1-2 C-USA) are coming off a 20-7 victory over Rice on Oct. 21 to end a two-game skid.

The Roadrunners have C-USA’s no. 1 ranked defense. These two programs played an epic five-overtime contest (first in C-USA history) last season in San Antonio. The Miners, who overcame a pair of 14-point deficits, came out on top, 52-49 after Ryan Metz found Warren Redix on a six-yard TD pass for the game winner.

From Coach Mike Price’s Weekly News Conference

(On UTEP’s last game at Southern Miss)
“I thought we came out with really good energy and enthusiasm for the first half. The momentum really got squandered when we fumbled on the one-yard line. We made a tremendous play on the interception, and then fumbled the ball back to them and gave them a touchdown, and otherwise it would’ve at least been 7-0 and we would’ve remained in the game with the enthusiasm that we started the game with. But I thought our defense played well again for two weeks in a row with great intensity and enthusiasm and we got three turnovers, which is something we’re striving to do as a defense and continue to improve on. But that fumble did change the momentum of that game, there’s no question about it. Our offense again was very poor. I don’t think we know who we are on offense, or we know who we are on offense and don’t like it. One of those things is where we stand, I think, in our opinion of the offense right now. Special teams are solid, OK. We got another great run from Terry [Juniel] on a kickoff return, he almost broke it for a touchdown. And we had no missed field goals. So those of you that were upset about that, we’re going to change that. You’ll be surprised and pleased with our field goals and PAT attempts in the future. And I think we just got a little worn out in the fourth quarter.”

(On the offense’s struggles)
“Kind of that statement I made about not knowing who we are is kind of where we’re at. I don’t know what kind of offense we are right now. But I don’t like that kind, whatever it is. Nobody does. Players and coaches and fans.”

(On getting a handle on the play caling)
“Coach [Brian] Natkin is working real, real hard, as are all the coaches. Every play is drawn up to be a touchdown in everybody’s playbook. If everyone does their job, you get a touchdown. Every play should be a good play to call, or it shouldn’t be in your playbook. So I don’t see that as being particularly poor. I don’t think it’s the play calling, it’s our execution that is poor.”

(On the quarterback situation for this week)
“Quarterback is still kind of up in the air. I don’t know how Zack [Greenlee] is, I haven’t seen him since Wednesday. He has been in for treatment. I think his groin is fine, but he’s still got a high ankle sprain. We’ll just have to see how that goes. Ryan [Metz] is better every day too. He was kind of a winged warrior when he was in that last game.”

“We’ve got the Roadrunners coming in here. They’re hard to kill, if you’ve seen any cartoons. They are an elusive bird. I think they’ve done a really good job there. Their program has come a long way. Frank Wilson, the new coach, and his associate head coach Jason Rollins, they are guys with really great reputations in the coaching profession. And their players play like it. They are well coached and they’re disciplined and they play well. Their offense is pretty explosive. They are averaging around 460 yards per game. Oh, what we would take for 460 yards a game on offense. They can move the football. They’ve got a really good quarterback. He’s a senior. He is really tough, #14 Dalton Sturm. He has got five or six school records already and he’s chasing all of the other passing records. He is a real good player. They have two running backs. #5 Jalen Rhodes has really been the guy that started the season out for them. He was closing in on all the career records in San Antonio. And then his backup, Tyrell Clay, has had a fantastic last two games. They have four solid receivers, all making about 20 receptions so far. They are really good on offense. Really good.

“On defense, they run a different defense. I kind of like it, a 4-2-5. It’s got five defensive backs. The safeties are kind of interchangeable. They have three safeties in the middle that either support or defend, and they’re active. The corners are pretty much on islands. Four down linemen, two inside linebackers and then these three safeties that roam and are really hitters. #14, #11 and #25 are all really good hitters. Their two inside linebackers, #55 and #31, are solid linebackers. Their best player, and maybe one of the best players we’ll see all season, is #93 Marcus Davenport, defensive end. He is 6-7, 255 pounds. He looks the part, plays the part, is the part. He is someone that you’ve got to know where he’s at all the time. Last game he had 11 tackles, two sacks, broke up a pass, picked up a fumble and ran it in for a touchdown. He is one of the best defensive ends that we have faced and probably the number one defensive end in the conference. Fantastic player, plays really hard, he is really talented and that’s a combination you can’t beat. Their special teams are solid. This is a solid team that we’re playing, and very well coached by a couple of good young coaches in the profession.”

(On Quardraiz Wadley’s status)
“Wadley is a question mark still. I just saw him yesterday and he’s still a question mark. I’m not sure if he’s going to play and how much he would play.”

(On UTEP and UTSA building a rivalry)
“When they first came into the league and they first started up, I thought that’s fine and dandy, because we used to recruit that area pretty good. Let’s not let them get good, because we’ll really have our hands full. I would’ve liked to have kept them a not really good program, and we could’ve gone in and recruited a little bit better out of there. Now they’re 4-2, they’re right in the race for the conference and they’re doing a really good job. Them and North Texas, I wasn’t really excited about having them join the league because it’s two really good recruiting areas and they’re both doing very, very well. It will be, and is, a rivalry.”

(On trying to find an identity on offense)
“I think it’s an evolving process. Like I said before, these players were recruited to a particular type of offense. The terminology is professional in its nature, having come from professional football, and real wordy. It’s a little hard to change horses in the middle of the race, but hopefully, and that’s on my part, what I’d like to do is help the offense produce more yardage and touchdowns and be a more wide open scheme. We’ll see how that goes on Saturday night.”

(On team morale)
“I think team morale is good. I saw everybody yesterday. We had dinner here. They want to win as bad as anybody. But their heads aren’t down, their heads are up. And their heads could be down. It hasn’t been a real fun year. But we’re trying to instill some fun. We had a really good scrimmage here Wednesday afternoon, with all the reserve players and scout team. That was a lot of fun for the players.”

(On what he sees from the players to indicate they’re still fighting)
“I thought we had energy here two or three weeks ago for my first game here and we had energy at Southern Miss. A lot of energy, and we played well in almost all phases against Southern Miss in the first half. We wore out in the fourth quarter, I think. We’re going to have to bring it again. This is a really good team. I’m asking the fans to have faith in us. Faith is belief without evidence. We haven’t given you a lot of evidence. But we’re going to. You wouldn’t want to miss this Saturday night as being the one where the Miners catch on fire. I’m asking more of the players than what they’re giving, but they are definitely responding well to the adversity that they have had. They’re not hanging their head, they’re not pouting, they’re not pointing fingers at other people. None of that. That’s hard to control when you’re going through what they’re going through.”

(On the process of selecting a quarterback for Saturday)
“I don’t know what the process will be. I’ll have to sit down with the coaches and talk about that a little further. The injuries have prevented us from being put in that situation. If they’re both healthy, that’s awesome. Because we’ll probably need both of them. We probably should’ve played Mark Torrez a little more, I would’ve liked to see what he could have done in the last game too.”

***on Saturday’s Game

Antonio Davis (basketball, 1986-90), Seth Joyner (football, 1982-85), Blessing Okagbare (track & field, 2008-10), Cynthia Ruelas (volleyball, 1993-97) and Paul Stankowski (golf, 1987-91) form the 15th induction class into the UTEP Athletics Hall of Fame. The Miner greats will be honored during Saturday’s game against UTSA.

Seth Joyner played football at UTEP from 1982-85. He arrived on campus as an undersized walk-on before hours in the weight room transformed him into a college standout and, ultimately, one of the NFL’s top linebackers. His Miner career produced 324 tackles before he was picked by Philadelphia in the 1986 NFL Draft.

Joyner played for the Eagles for eight seasons, where he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and the 1991 Sports Illustrated NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He later played for Arizona, Green Bay and Denver, and was a part of the Broncos’ Super Bowl championship run in his final year as a pro (1998). Joyner was credited with 52 sacks and 24 interceptions in 195 NFL games. He is a member of UTEP’s Football Centennial Team.

The Roadrunners, who sports Conference USA’s no. 1 ranked defense, improved to 4-2 overall and 1-2 in Conference USA play after a 20-7 victory against Rice in the Alamodome on Oct. 21. UTSA, after starting 3-0 with a victory over Baylor, dropped its first two league contests (31-29 to Southern Miss, 29-26 to North Texas) before righting the ship versus the Owls. The Roadrunners and Owls played a tight first half, as Marcus Davenport put UTSA ahead in the first quarter on a 34-yard fumble return for a score.

Jared Sackett made the score 10-0 with an 18-yard field goal, but Rice answered with a 50-yard touchdown pass with four minutes left in the first half. But 10 unanswered points in the third quarter by UTSA put the game away as Dalton Sturm hooked up with Brady Jones on a 26-yard touchdown early in the second half and a Sackett made a 20-yard field goal with just over five minutes to play in the third. UTSA ranks third in scoring offense (31.2 ppg) and second in scoring defense (18 ppg) in C-USA.

The Roadrunners’ 458.7 yards of total offense rank third, while they rank first in total defense (303.3). UTSA’s rushing offense (222.3) ranks second and its rushing defense (124.3) ranks third in C-USA. Its pass defense (179.0) and opponent third-down conversions (27.5 percent) are both ranked no. 1 in C-USA. Sturm has thrown only one interception on 155 pass attempts as he ranks first in the conference in passing efficiency (165.2).

Sturm has tossed for 12 scores and 1,375 yards on 103 completions (66 percent completion percentage). Jalen Rhodes (496 rushing yards) ranks fifth in C-USA in rushing yards per game (82.7) and has scored four total touchdowns (three rush, one rec.). Rhodes ranks eighth in all-purpose yards per game (101.0). Josh Stewart leads the team in receptions (21), receiving yards (306) and receiving scores (three).

Sackett has made 11-of-12 field goal attempts and is 17-of-18 on PATs to lead the team with 50 points. His 10.0 points per game ranks second in C-USA. Ka’Kel Bass leads the defense with 35 tackles, while Davenport ranks second in C-USA in tackles for loss (12.0) and sacks (6.5). His tackles for loss per game (2.00) ranks first in C-USA. The UTSA defense has sacked the quarterback 18 times, ranking fourth in C-USA, and has intercepted seven passes.

UTEP sophomore RB Walter Dawn Jr. and UTSA senior S Nate Gaines are from Mesquite, Texas, and played at Poteet High School. UTEP senior DB Devin Cockrell and UTSA junior S C.J. Levine are from Port Arthur, Texas, and played at Memorial High School. UTEP senior QB Zack Greenlee and senior CB Devron Davis are both from Stockton, Calif.

The series is tied 2-2 with the visiting team emerging victorious every time. The Miners won in San Antonio with a historic defensive effort, 34-0 in 2014, and outlasted the Roadrunners in a five-overtime thriller, 52-49, a year ago at the Alamodome. UTSA prevailed in El Paso during the 2013 (32-13) and 2015 (25-6) seasons.

Ryan Metz hooked up with Warren Redix for the game-winning six-yard touchdown as UTEP defeated UTSA, 52-49, in the first five-overtime contest in Conference USA history on Oct. 22, 2016 in the Alamodome. The Miners rallied from a pair of two-touchdown deficits (14-0, 28-14), the last coming early in the third quarter, to secure the victory.

UTEP knotted it at 28 on a 74-yard pass from Kavika Johnson to Walter Dawn Jr. with 1:11 to play in the third period. After neither team scored in the fourth quarter, the overtime sessions produced a total of 55 points – including 24 by UTEP. In the first overtime, Victor Falcon (UTSA) and Jay Mattox (UTEP) traded field goals.

In the second overtime, quarterbacks Metz and Dalton Sturm both threw 25-yard touchdown passes. In the third OT, Dawn scored on a 12-yard run and Metz completed the two-point conversion pass to Hayden Plinke as UTEP stayed alive after UTSA went ahead 46-38. Following a scoreless fourth overtime, Falcon booted a 33-yard field goal to put the Roadrunners ahead 49-46. But on second and five at the UTSA six-yard line, Metz threw a sideline pass to Redix for the winning points.

Metz tied his career high with a trio of touchdown passes, while completing 15-of-23 attempts for 211 yards. Aaron Jones rushed for 113 yards on 21 carries with a rushing score and two receiving touchdowns, while Dawn tallied two rushing touchdowns and a receiving score.

Ito Smith rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns, spoiling a solid performance by the UTEP defense as Southern Miss shut out the Miners, 24-0, on Oct. 14 at M.M. Roberts Stadium. The Miners allowed 286 yards through three quarters before finally wearing down in the final period, when Southern Miss scored the game’s final 10 points. The Miners finished with six first downs and 147 yards of offense.

The Golden Eagles got on the board with 8:26 remaining in the first quarter when Keon Howard threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Jaylond Adams. After that, the defense stepped up and limited Southern Miss to 102 yards on its next five drives. The Miners also forced a season-high three turnovers in the first half as Devin Cockrell and Kahani Smith picked off passes, and Sky Logan recovered a fumble.

But the defense was put in a precarious position when Kevin Dove fumbled at the UTEP one-yard line in the final minute of the half. On the next play, Smith plowed into the end zone for his first score (two yards) and the Golden Eagles were up 14-0 at the midway point. The defense continued to shine in the third quarter but finally broke in the final period, when Southern Miss completed a 13-play, 80-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown run by Smith.

Later, the Golden Eagles tacked on a 38-yard field goal by Parker Shaunfield. Zack Greenlee started at quarterback for the Miners and completed 5-of-10 passes for 63 yards before getting injured. His replacement, Ryan Metz, finished 9-of-17 passing for 67 yards with an interception. Alvin Jones led the Miners with 10 tackles.

UTEP has posted a 9-6 overall mark and a 5-4 home record following a bye week since the 2004 season. During the first Mike Price era (2004-12), the Miners were 6-5, including a 2-0 mark in each of his first two seasons (UTEP had two bye weeks in 2004 [vs. NM State, vs. Rice] & 2005 [vs. Houston, at Tulane]).

Price’s squads tallied wins in 2009 (vs. Tulsa) and 2011 (at Tulane), and losses in 2006 (at New Mexico) and 2007 (vs. Houston). UTEP had another two weeks off in 2008, where it went 0-2 (vs. NM State, vs. Rice). In 2010, UTEP’s bye week fell on the last day of the regular season. The Miners are 3-1 in their last four bye weeks, with victories against UTSA twice (2014 & 2016) and Florida Atlantic (2015).

UTEP will face UTSA for a third time during the last four seasons following a bye week. The Miners are 2-0 is they blanked the Roadrunners, 34-0, in 2014, and won an epic five-overtime game, 52-49 in 2016, both at the Alamodome.

The UTEP kickoff return defense has been solid as it ranks no. 1 in Conference USA and no. 4 in the nation at 14.5 yards per return.

UTEP converted a season-high six third-down conversions (6-of-15) at Southern Miss on Oct. 14. The previous high was a 5-of-13 effort against WKU (Oct. 7) and a 5-of-12 outing at Army (Sept. 30).

Junior WR Terry Juniel, who returned a kickoff for a career-high 59 yards at Southern Miss on Oct. 14, also recorded a career-best five receptions for 46 yards against the Golden Eagles. His previous high was four receptions against Arizona for a career-high 82 yards on Sept. 15. Juniel ranks third on the team in receptions (13) and second in receiving yards (154) in 2017.

True freshman Joshua Fields registered season highs in carries (six) and rushing yards (13) at Southern Miss on Oct. 14. The graduate of Americas High School also hauled in an 18-yard reception against Rice on Sept. 9 in the Sun Bowl. Fields has rushed for 25 yards and has tallied four receptions for 22 yards in 2017.

All three UTEP quarterbacks have rushed for at least one touchdown in 2017. Junior Ryan Metz has scored two – a one-yard score against Rice and a five-yard dash at NM State. Freshman Mark Torrez found the end zone on a six-yard rush against Arizona and senior Zack Greenlee, most recently, ran for a five-yard score against WKU. It’s the first time since at least 1990 that three UTEP quarterbacks have found the end zone with their legs during a single season.

Kavika Johnson recorded his first career touchdown catch against WKU on Oct. 7 as he now joins a rare club of Miners who have scored a touchdown rushing, receiving and throwing. Johnson has thrown for four scores and has rushed for one (2015 at North Texas) during his career. Johnson joins Aaron Jones, Lorne Sam, Marcus Thomas and Omar Duarte as Miners who have accounted for a touchdown three ways since the 1998 season.

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 fourth on the team with 11 receptions for 124 yards (third-most on team) and a touchdown.

Junior transfer WR Erik Brown, who just recently joined the program, made his first start against WKU on Oct. 7. Brown delivered with a pair of receptions for 32 yards. The first was an eight-yard catch for a first down on a third-and-4 in the third quarter. Brown followed with a 24-yard reception during the fourth quarter. Brown, in his second start, followed with a season-best 34 yards on a pair of catches at Southern Miss on Oct. 14. Brown has caught four passes for 66 yards in four games played.

Senior WR Tyler Batson registered a season-high 80 yards on a career-best five receptions at Army on Sept. 30. In fact, Batson’s 80 yards were the second-most in his career for a single game. Batson’s career high was a 143-yard output against Florida Atlantic in 2015. Batson is ranked second on the team in receptions (14) and leads the team in receiving yards (169), while scoring a touchdown against Arizona on Sept. 15 – his first since 2015.

Junior TE David Lucero matched his season high with a trio of receptions (14 yards) against WKU on Oct. 7. Lucero caught three passes for a season-high 31 yards against Rice, while recording his first career touchdown with three receptions (15 yards) at Army on Sept. 30. Lucero currently leads the Miners in receptions (16) for 115 yards.

Senior OL Will Hernandez was named to the AP Midseason All-America team, chosen by a panel of 16 Top-25 poll voters, on Oct. 17. The guard garnered second team honors through seven games and has racked up 44 starts in four seasons for the Miners.

Hernandez is not new to the spotlight, having earned 2017 AP Preseason All-America second team recognition. Last season, the Las Vegas native 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. Hernandez is the only Conference USA student-athlete to earn recognition.

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.

Sophomore RB Kevin Dove uses his 6-foot, 245-pound frame to bulldoze over defenders as he rushed for a career-high 69 yards on a career-most 15 attempts against WKU on Oct. 7. Dove got stronger as the game went on as he rambled for a career-long 23-yard rush in the fourth quarter against the Hilltoppers.

Dove’s previous high was a 59-yard effort on 10 carries against Houston Baptist in 2016. In 2017, Dove has rushed for 150 yards on 44 carries. Dove also has a team-best 11 first downs gained.

The UTEP defense has shown improvement the last few outings. After allowing 47.8 points per game in the first four contests, the defense has cut it in half, surrendering 24.7 points per contest over the last three games.

The defense also gave up 519 yards of total offense per game during the first four contests and has cut that to 379.3 per game during the last three outings. On Oct. 7 against WKU in the Sun Bowl, the Miners allowed season lows in points (15), first downs (18) and total yards of offense (282).

Senior LB Alvin Jones registered back-to-back games of double-digit tackles after reaching 12 against WKU on Oct. 7 and 10 more at Southern Miss on Oct. 14. It’s his first back-to-back effort since racking up 16 at Rice on Nov. 19 and 12 tackles against North Texas to close out the 2016 season. Back in 2015, Jones recorded 11 stops three games in a row (vs. Rice, at Old Dominion, vs. LA Tech).

Alvin Jones has reached double digits in tackles 12 times during his career after his 10-tackle output on Oct. 14 at Southern Miss. 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 other 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). Jones registered a season-high 15 tackles against Arizona on Sept. 15, his first double-digit effort in 2017 and 12 stops against WKU on Oct. 7.

Alvin Jones registered 10 more tackles at Southern Miss on Oct. 14 after racking up 12 against WKU the week before. Jones currently leads the team in tackles (61) and tackles per game (8.7). Jones ranks sixth in tackles per game (8.7) and seventh in total tackles (61) in Conference USA. Jones has led the Miners in tackles in each of the last two seasons, recording 93 stops during each campaign.

Senior Alvin Jones has 302 career tackles (second-most at UTEP since the 2000 season) after tallying 10 stops at Southern Miss on Oct. 14. Jones has 12.5 career sacks, ranking tied for ninth with Menson Holloway on the program’s top-10 list.

Jones’s 34.5 career tackles for loss rank third on the program’s all-time list as Barron Wortham leads the all-time list with 45.0 tackles for loss and Gonzalo Floyd ranks second (41.0 TFL). 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.

Alvin Jones now has over 300 tackles in his career after being credited with 10 stops at Southern Miss. Jones joins Pete Shufelt (385 tackles), Fred Williams (375), Dale Kirry (335), Seth Joyner (325), Brian Young (322) and Richie Rodriguez (322) as Miners who have reached at least 300-plus stops during a career.

Barron Wortham leads the all-time list with 566 tackles. Doug Morgan (523), Tony Perea (459), Raymond Morris (458), Robert Rodriguez (443), Michael Comer (437), Fred Carr (410) and Hal Barnett (407) ranks as the next eight leading tacklers in program history.