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Over the last several seasons, how many times have Miner fans asked themselves: How good would this team be if they had even a decent defense? Well, through six games we saw exactly how good that team could be. Doesn't the "Route 44" Rice game feel like an eternity ago?
Looking back at Mike Price's Monday press conference after that game, I couldn't get the following comments out of my head:
"I thought we really outhit them. Our defense hit as hard, as viciously, as tough and as physically as it could. It was really exciting and fun to watch the tape with the players yesterday. We had a 22-play tape of the defense just smacking their guys. I'm sure that their running back McGuffie and their quarterback were in the whirlpool Sunday because we smacked them around a lot. That's exciting. We're building confidence, and we did it without seven guys who played in the New Mexico game the week before. We have good depth and if we continue to play with the same intensity we have a chance to have a good year."
Do you hear that? It sounds an awful lot like confidence to me. It sounds like Coach Price and the team had some real swagger to them. At that point, UTEP was 5-1, had the 4th best defense in the C-USA, and the 50th best total defense in the country. The offense was all but unstoppable. That Rice team beat Houston the next week. Rice is every bit as good as Marshall and Tulane who the Miners lost to in the following weeks.
What happened to the swagger? What happened to the confidence?
"We have to go play and have fun," Kris Adams said. "We need to play the game like it's a game - don't be so stressed out. If you're feeling pressure you have to let it go. ... The most important thing is we've got to have fun. We're overthinking; we're thinking too much."
You can't tell yourself to have fun doing anything. You're either having fun or you aren't. You know what's fun? Winning. How can the Miners win again? The coaches can help Trevor Vittatoe and the other team leaders find their confidence again.
I think the Miners need to take a look back at how past Miner greats loved the game and how their confidence led to fun. Johnny Lee Higgins, theformer UTEP wide receiver and current Oakland Raider, used to be so confident that fun came naturally. Remember Johnny? Watch this:
I've read that at Texas, Mack Brown shows his team highlights of the past weeks successes every week. Mike Price needs to get his offense together and help remind them that they can still be remembered like Higgins, Demps, and other Miner greats, by reminding them that they have beat Tulsa before. Show Buckram those clips from last years game. Show him what he's capable of. Because right now, the offense looks like they need to be reminded how good they can be.
Against Rice, just three weeks ago, the UTEP Miners were playing good, confident football. The Miners didn't need to remind themselves that they needed to "have fun out there." The play of their team leaders, namely Trevor Vittatoe and Kris Adams, exuded confidence on the entire roster. Vittatoe has the talent to beat SMU and Tulsa. But, for the Miners to have a chance, they need their leader to find his confidence again.
SMU might not enter the Sun Bowl with a 3 game losing streak around their necks, but when it comes down to it, they are 5-4 too. Last season, UTEP led 31-28 at SMU with under 9 to play. Trevor passed for 396 yards and 2 touchdowns. Buckram ran for 241 yards on SMU. UTEP had a ridiculous 627 yards of total offense. This UTEP offense can be just as good as last years but somebody needs to tell that to the team leaders again. Because right now, the Miners already look defeated.