Saturday night, in front of a couple hundred loyal fans, the UTEP football team held one of the last dress rehearsals before the 2012 season kicks off. While the game didn't resolve every area of concern for the team, one that was addressed, was that of the running back situation.
On the opening drive, after moving the chains a few times, UTEP sophomore running back Nathan Jeffery sprinted for the first score of the game from 26 yards out. Later in the night, Jeffery tacked on a 65 yarder where he simply hit the edge, and outran the defense. The speedy back finished the night with 5 carries for 103 yards, and 2 touchdowns, in only about 12 minutes of action.But Jeffery wasn't the only UTEP back to strut his stuff. True freshman Autrey Golden also got a chance to showcase his abilities, rushing 9 times for 80 yards, and 2 scores. LA Dowell went for 42 yards on 7 touches, and Xay Williams added another 26 yards on 7 carries as well.
In the end, the stable of running backs for the Miners tallied 251 yards as they went for a total of 5 touchdowns. Coach Mike Price was quick to praise the speed of his backs, and also noted that Josh Bell, who only got a couple of touches, would still be in the mix as well.
While the running backs were a major point for the Miner offense, the rest of the unit wasn't exactly as impressive. Senior QB Nick Lamaison followed up a 12-13 performance a few days ago, with a 9-16 effort in Saturday's scrimmage. He totaled 82 yards through the air.
Junior QB Carson Meger finished up at 6-11 for 51 yards and an interception, and true freshman QB Garrett Simpson went 7-10 for 62 yards. None of the Miners' QBs threw for touchdowns on Saturday night.
In the receiving game, sophomore TE Eric Tomlinson led the way with 4 catches for 45 yards. And with those catches he showed not only great hands, but great strength as well. On one grab late in the 2nd period, Tomlinson carried a few defenders to the sideline in an effort to stop the clock. He succeeded.
Junior WR Jarrad Shaw was the leader for the wideouts, tallying 3 catches for 37 yards. Sophomore Jim Jones added a couple grabs, and Jaquan White, Jordan Leslie, Ian Hamilton, and Ishmael Harrison all had a single catch.
The lack of production in the passing game can probably be attributed to a couple of different things. First, the format of the scrimmage. This wasn't your typical game. In these scrimmages, the Orange is the offense, and the White is the defense. And because of that, its tough for guys to get into a true rhythm when they are being shuffled in and out every other drive.
Second, the defense did a great job defending the pass. Most of the completions made Saturday night went for single digit yards, and to my knowledge, the defense didn't allow a single reception over the top. In that sense, the defense looked much improved from a year ago.
That said, the defense is still a major area of concern. While the pass defense was pretty stout, the rush defense will definitely need to be sured up as we head into the season. One thing should be noted though; again, because of the format of the scrimmage, with units being shuffled in and out, it's tough to get a true gauge on these guys.
A couple of plays that did stand out, were sacks by both Roy Robertson and Greg Watkins, as well as an interception by senior CB Darren Woodard that was returned for almost 30 yards. Junior LB AJ Ropati made some plays as well, in both the rush and pass defense.
But, while there were a few good plays made by the defense, it can't be overstated that they gave up over 250 yards on the ground. Much of the yardage came on the outside as backs hit the edge, and sprinted for the end zone with no one in their way. That just can't happen.
The inside rushing game didn't see nearly as much success, and if we can figure out a way to cut those big plays down on the outside, this defense will be in pretty good shape, and could be one of the better units in Conference USA. But that's still yet to be seen.
On special teams, senior P Ian Campbell was his usual self, booting punts for near 50 yards on a regular basis. Senior K Dakota Warren seemed to be getting his form back, as he nailed field goals of 44 and 52 right down the center. Coach Price wouldn't say for sure the kicking battle is over, but it was clear who best on Saturday night.
All in all, the scrimmage was a major success. For one, the team came out of the game at just about 100%, and two, as coach Patterson put it, the biggest objective is to find out who is ready to play, and I believe that was accomplished.