Miners Fade vs. Tulsa: Picks Up & Picks Down

The 2010 UTEP Miner football team has been agonizingly frustrating to watch.  At times, this squad has shown glimpses of a team that was more than capable of winning the C-USA West Division and perhaps going 8-4 or even 9-3.  UTEP was summarily outclassed by only two opponents on this years schedule:  A Case Keenum led Houston and the Arkansas Razorbacks.  While the odds are still in UTEP's favor when it comes to bowling, the Miners season will best be remembered for what might have been.  

Football is a team sport.  However, there's no denying that quarterbacks get more of the glory when a team wins and a larger share of the blame when a team loses.  We'll look back on UTEP' s regular season in more detail, perhaps agonizingly so in the coming months, but right now I can't help but wonder about three key plays that might be the difference between UTEP being 6-6 and 9-3.  

What if Trevor Vittatoe doesn't toss that pick six against Tulane?

What if Trevor doesn't throw that pick two against Marshall?

What if Trevor doesn't throw that final interception against Tulsa?

Looking back, there's no way the Tulsa game could have ended any other way.  This team was cursed with a pattern of self destructive behavior that teased Miner fans for three and a half quarters until a costly turnover ended hope of a Miner win.  Trevor showed some good fight in this one.  He was injured and even practiced last week in a boot.  I wanted Trevor to get the start and keep his streak alive.  I think he gave us his best and that's really all we could ask for.  The plain truth is that his best, down the stretch, simply wasn't good enough.  Again.

This loss wasn't entirely on Trevor Vittatoe's shoulders, obviously, but the memory of another winnable game lost will almost always focus on those final minutes when UTEP was close to field goal range and Trevor managed three straight incompletions and a pick.  Such is life for a quarterback.

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1.  Marlon McClure is the Best in the League

Miner fans saw how good Damaris Johnson is, and Damaris might get the first team All-CUSA love because of his body of work, but Marlon is the most dangerous return man in the league right now.  McClure had his second return touchdown in as many games against the Hurricane and had 158 all purpose yards.

2.  Joseph Banyard Gives Us Hope in 2011

With Marlon and Joe Banyard returning in 2011, Miner fans can be optimistic that UTEP will continue its tradition of stellar athletes at the skill position.  Banyard had 20 rushes for 155 yards and scored 3 touchdowns against Tulsa.  I was frustrated that Banyard's carries dropped so much when it looked like Donald Buckram was back because even with a healthy Buckram, Banyard is too good not to use.  On a day where UTEP couldn't do anything in the air, Banyard's stellar play kept UTEP in the game.

3.  James Thomas II to Corey Trisby

Despite Trevor's obvious struggles (8/22, 1 INT) UTEP only allowed James Thomas II to throw one pass against Tulsa.  He made it count as he hit Cory Trisby on a 40 yard bomb that set up a Banyard touchdown.  Thomas was used in the running game where he was very effective and chipped in 47 yards rushing on only 9 carries.

4.  Jeremy Springer Playing Tough

Last seasons breakout star on defense was undoubtedly Springer.  This year, he's played well on special teams and has contributed but hasn't seen as many snaps in the 4-3 as he did in the 3-3-5.  Springer had a tackle for a loss and a sack on G.J. Kinne in this one, perhaps showing that the junior can fit in to the 4-3 a bit better next season.

5.  Andre Patterson's Job as Defensive Coordinator

Some Miner fans don't like the "bend but don't break" philosophy that we've seen this year.  And, I realize Tulsa chewed up tons of yardage in the air, but when the chips were down, UTEP's young, undersized defense gave the offense a chance to win this game.  That's all we've ever begged for as Miner fans.  

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1.  UTEP's Passing Game

TV limped through an 8 for 22 performance.  100 yards and an INT as the tree topper.  No UTEP receiver had more than 50 receiving yards.  Kris Adams was a non factor.  Did I mention that Tulsa entered the game with the nations 120th ranked pass defense?  Yes, that's dead last.  Worse than New Mexico even.

2.  Blocked Kicks

Why is this a problem all of a sudden?  Last week, UTEP couldn't get a field goal attempt off the ground against Arkansas.  Now, Tulsa is blocking kicks too?  Remember when our field goal game was a strength?  

3.  Coaches Watching the Clock

At the end of the first half, UTEP could have drained some time off the clock before attempting Warren's 54 yarder.  The Miners called timeout instead.  After the kick was blocked, those precious seconds were used by Kinne to lead TU to a tying touchdown pass to Charles Clay.   This wasn't quite as absurd as the Marshall debacles, but once again UTEP went out of their way to help give another team momentum in a situation where they couldn't have gotten in any other way.

4.  Tulsa Fans:  A New Level of Apathy

Miner fans might slam locals for not supporting the team.  If UTEP had won four in a row, including one at Notre Dame, and was playing for a share of the division title, I think more than 17,000 fans would make it to the Sun Bowl.  Not the case at Tulsa.  Thisis the same fan base that didn't show up for the C-USA basketball tournament last season.

5.  Joe Muench's Blog Posts

Before the Tulsa game, Joe posted that a UTEP win over Tulsa would be nearly the biggest UTEP upset ever.  What?  Tulsa isn't ranked.  Tulsa still hasn't even won a depleted West division.  Tulsa lost to SMU who UTEP beat.  The game proved that Tulsa was not anywhere near as good as what Houston was last season or would have been this year with Keenum.  Joe also believes that a 6-6 UTEP team should turn down a bowl invite.  Here's what Joe wrote:

Unless UTEP does pull the big upset, and finish 7-5, the Miners should quietly pack up the gear for the season...... Thirty-five bowls are way too many. Seventy of the 120 schools go to a bowl? They're turning college football into what parents have made little kid sports nowadays - everybody gets a trophy.

Nevermind the fact that a bowl game will give UTEP coaches more practice time to start to see what Carson Meger and Tate Smith have as potential starters next year.  Nevermind that all these seniors would get a chance to play another game in front of their fans and families.  Nevermind that a bowl will get UTEP on TV for only the third time this season.  Nevermind the fact that UTEP and the C-USA are contractually obligated to participate in bowl games and the schools earn revenue from these games.

Let's just pass on a potential invite.  Joe thinks 35 bowl games are too much.  Picks Down.

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