Through UTEP's first six games, we took Monday mornings to highlight the best and worst individual performances from the offense, defense, and special teams. Fresh off the stink of an injury riddled, tired performance against UAB, it didn't seem right to give post-game awards.
Looking back, that was a mistake for several reasons. First off, it wasn't fair to several Miners who fought till the bitter end in Birmingham. Offensively, I didn't miss much. Defensively, DeShawn Grayson had perhaps the best game of his season. The safety had a ridiculous 9 solo tackles to lead all Miner defenders and he had a tackle for loss. However, after a loss it does seem odd to give a "Most Valuable Player" award. So, we'll keep that to Mondays after wins (hopefully after Marshall) and try a different format today. I'm always open to suggestions, but for now I'm going with "Picks Up/Picks Down."
First, the good news.
Marlon McClure (WR, KR/PR)
Simply the Best: All due respect to UCF's Quincy McDuffie and Houston's Patrick Edwards, but I firmly believe that Marlon McClure is the best return man in the C-USA. And, he's starting to develop as one talented wide receiver as well. I loved that Aaron Price is trying to find new ways to get the ball in his hands. McClure is simply the fastest man on the field, seemingly every week. Against Tulane, Marlon led the Miners with 216 all purpose yards. Get this, Marlon had 19 rushing yards, 32 receiving yards, 153 kick return yards, and 12 punt return yards.
Donald Buckram's Knee
Almost There: Unfortunately, late turnovers and being behind made it all but impossible for Donald to rush the ball in the fourth quarter, but when he did get the ball he looked to be back in 2009 form. Donald found the end zone for the first time this season and carried 10 times for 81 yards. Aaron Price dialed up several screen passes to try and get Donald the ball in space, but the Miners simply couldn't get them to click. I expect a lot more Buckram in the game plan against Marshall
Room for Controversy? The coaches believe Trevor Vittatoe gives UTEP the best chance to win football games. I don't see a QB controversy developing this season, but I do see James Thomas II becoming a bigger part of the offense. Trevor has never been a mobile quarterback, so when UTEP shows a zone read look with him in the gun it really can't be effective. Thomas opens up the running game because he is such a viable threat running the ball. I hope Aaron Price keeps giving Thomas reps and finds a way to maximize JT's limited passing potential.
The Playcaller: As alluded to, offensive coordinator Aaron Price called what I thought was an excellent game. He got Marlon the ball as a runner and as a receiver. He tried to piece together long, time consuming drives via the screen game and Wildcat. The decision to use James Thomas II more to get the running game going was a great call. And, I like that the offensive coaching staff is spreading the carries around to UTEP's stable of talented ball carriers (Joe Banyard and Leilyon Myers are too good to not use).
More Than Adequate Replacement: First off, it's required reading for any Miner fan to read this incredible story on Jeune by Bill Knight at the El Paso Times. Anyway, with Brandon Miller banged up over the last several weeks, Jeune has stepped up and just played good football. Wiston was in on 14 tackles (5 solo/ 9 assisted) and had a pass breakup. It's great to see a senior making the most out of his opportunity to help his team.
The Defensive Ends
Renewed Fight: Credit Andre Patterson for challenging Bernard Obi this week. The junior simply hasn't had a great season, at least one that's lived up his enormous athletic potential. Patterson started Greg Watkins at Obi's spot this week. The result? Watkins played well, had a huge sack, and put some pressure on Ryan Griffin. And, when Obi came in, he seemed to play with renewed fire. Also, note that the strong side end position was filled with two redshirt freshman, who happen to both be high school teammates. Adam Ayala and James Davidson both played admirably on the strong side. Davidson was in on four tackles and had a QB hurry. Ayala was also in on four tackles and had a tackle for a loss of 5 yards.
Musical Chairs: I know what you're thinking. We just lost to Tulane and theOC and DC are getting "Thumbs Up?" Yes. Aaron Price didn't have three turnovers and Andre Patterson wasn't playing DT (though I think he could probably do pretty well if he did). Some people might look at the stats, or the score, and say Patterson didn't know what he was doing. Those people don't realize how miraculous it is that Patterson is doing what he's doing given the circumstances.
The move to start Watkins was a bold one. Increased competition will only make UTEP better and after UAB, and now Tulane, it should be an open field for starting jobs. No position should be safe. Also, as Tulane slowly UAB'd UTEP to death with Orleans Darkwa, Patterson adjusted his defense by sending the safeties (Jeune/Grayson) up to help in run support often. This led to more man-to-man coverage but Tulane only had one real weapon at receiver, Casey Robottom. Robottom gave Antwon Blake fits throughout the game, so Patterson adjusted and had Nixon cover him late in the game. Nixon is our best cover corner and if as far as I can recall that 43 yard Robottom bomb was the first time he's been beaten deep this season.
Five kickoffs. Three touchbacks. Enough said.
Running Out of Time: I already addressed TV's struggles in detail here. At this point, there's not a whole lot more to say about his career. UTEP just lost two winnable games mostly due to inconsistencies on offense. If Trevor wants to put those games behind him and secure his legacy as a great Miner quarterback, he has four games left to prove his mettle. And, this week he'll have two of the nations best defenders chasing him (Vinny Curry and Mario Harvey). It's not going to get any easier.
Yikes: Bad timing. Bad communication. Bad passing. Bad receiving. Last season, Donald caught 30 balls for 453 yards and three touchdowns coming out of the backfield. I realize he's been injured, but UTEP needs to find a way to get this vital aspect of the 1 Back going again.
Butterfingers: Trevor did have several catchable passes dropped by UTEP receivers. It's been a problem all season long. When TV is struggling, his receivers have to help him get going and dropping easy ones isn't the way to do it.
Travaun Nixon's 1 Play
Toast: Travaun had a nice play on an interception. He had six solo tackles and four assisted. He is incredible in run support and in my opinion should be an All Conference selection at CB. But, Casey Robottom absolutely burned him on that 43 yard pass. Robottom is a really good player, and Nixon played a heck of a game. But, Picks Down for that one.
Anton Blakes Cleats
The Slip: Another Robottom touchdown was the direct consequence of Antwon Blake slipping in the end zone allowing Robottom to catch a 7 yard Griffin strike unimpeded. Somebody, get his kid some new cleats.
El Paso's Infatuation with the UFC
25,007. Enough said.
The Music Selection in the Sun Bowl Including that Siren
We Can do Better: Maybe more fans would go to the games if not for that ridiculous siren and the rock version of the Cotton Eyed Joe. Honestly, who picks this stuff? ECU comes out to Purple Haze, UCF has Zombie Nation, and UTEP's blasting Mambo No. 5? Mambo No. 5? Really. Really?
Change this. Now.