While many have been un-amused with Mike Price's play calling, and the Miners' 1-3 start, there are a lot of positive things to take away from the first 4 games of the season. I know we're all tired of hearing about moral victories against these BCS schools and would like to start actually winning games, but I am encouraged by what UTEP has shown so far. To brighten up your day I'll be recapping and going over the positives from each game so far this season.
Heading in we all thought, heck we all knew, there was about a 1% chance that we would win that game. Despite being at home, UTEP entered the game as a 30 point underdog against the #4 ranked Oklahoma Sooners. What did the Miners do? They made everybody in the stadium have that thought in the back of their minds that they would get to rush the field after the game when they saw Nathan Jeffery scoop up a punt blocked by Richard Spencer and return it for a UTEP touchdown.
The hopes got even higher when Deshawn Grayson nearly picked off a pass from Heisman candidate Landry Jones. Grayson did drop what should have been an interception, but nonetheless UTEP was able to force a 3 and out. After an OU score to make it 7-7, Oklahoma attempted a fairly easy field goal. The field goal was "blocked" (actually a line drive right into the back of an Oklahoma offensive lineman) by the Miners and taken back to mid-field.
UTEP wasn't able to capitalize on the good field position but the game went to halftime knotted at 7-7. During that halftime period #UTEP was trending on twitter and ESPN had the UTEP-Oklahoma game as a top story in the top events section on the ESPN Scorecenter app.
It was 10-7 OU going into the 4th quarter and as we all know Oklahoma was able to survive against UTEP 24-7. Now what's positive to take away from this? UTEP got much need football publicity from ESPN and others, people now know who UTEP football is and hopefully never ask "is that a Division 2 school" again, and the fact of the matter is that if UTEP should have won this game.
I think a lot of people wouldn't have imagined that after this game was over they would be saying UTEP should have beaten the #4 team in the nation. Not to mention we scared the living daylights out of Oklahoma Sooner fans.
At Ole Miss:
Now this was a game where many of us thought that UTEP would win. Considering Ole Miss only won 2 games last season, it was not at all a longshot. The Miners came into the game as only 8 point underdogs. Nathan Jeffery, who ran for 177 yards against Oklahoma, suited up but did not play against the Rebels due to a groin injury that had held him out of practice all week long.
So it was going to be up to Nick Lamaison, on the offensive side of the ball, to have a bounce back week against a school he would have been playing against anyways if he was still at Tennessee. Lamasion did his job of not turning the ball over and throwing for 213 yards including a 26 yard touchdown hookup with Jordan Leslie. It was an ugly first half and UTEP trailed 21-0 going into the locker room as this was all but over.
There was a glimmer of hope though going into the 4th quarter only down 21-10, but the offense couldn't get it going and the home team tacked on another Bo Wallace passing touchdown to make it 28-10 and that was all she wrote. This was a little more disappointing than the OU loss because it was a game a lot of fans were hoping to win, not just keep close.
But you must look at the fact that UTEP was without their talented tailback Jeffery and were able to move the ball well all night without him. Although the Miners couldn't convert in red zone situations, they might have been able to get the ball into the end zone if Jeffery had played, and that would have certainly changed the trajectory of the game.
In the end it was good for UTEP to go play in a hostile environment and get more national exposure while not losing any players to injury.
It was that time of year; rivalry week. UTEP was coming into the game at 0-2 after keeping it close with Oklahoma and Ole Miss. New Mexico State was 1-1 after a home win vs. Sacramento State and a road blowout loss on the road at MAC powerhouse Ohio.
For the first time in 2012 UTEP was favored to win a football game, they were favored by 13. After a week-long of trash talk going back and forth between the I-10 rival fans, things were set for kickoff in El Paso between the Aggies and Miners.
On the Aggies opening drive Sophomore QB Andrew Manley was picked off by Richard Spencer and everything from there went downhill for NMSU. UTEP was able to get down the short field NMSU had given them, and Josh Bell was able to punch in his first collegiate score to give the Miners a 6-0 lead. (Valadez's PAT attempt was blocked, sound familiar?)
UTEP ended the 1st quarter with a 20-0 lead and the game was 27-7 at the half. NMSU was able to get it to 27-14, but there wasn't any doubt that this game belonged to the Miners as they went on to win 41-28. Please excuse 14 of those NMSU points though as they came against UTEP's 3rd and 4th string defenses, some might call those "garbage touchdowns".
Lamaison ended up passing for 300 yards and 4 TDs and went on to get C-USA player of the week honors as this was easily his best performance of the season and quite possibly as a Miner. UTEP was also able to get things moving on the ground once again without Jeffery as Autrey Golden had a very eye-opening performance.
Bottom line UTEP got their first win and who better to do it against than your most bitter rivals.
It was finally here, the last game of the brutal non-conference schedule. Coming into the season even I would have given UTEP no chance in Madison against the Badgers. But, after seeing Wisconsin struggle on the offensive side of the ball against Northern Iowa and Utah State at home I knew this would once again be a game going into the 4th quarter.
Jeffery was back and Wisconsin had redshirt Freshman Joel Stave start at QB, two things off the bat that might have given the Miners somewhat of an edge on paper. UTEP started out strong forcing Montee Ball to fumble for the first time in his collegiate career. That gave UTEP some momentum as later in the 1st quarter Lamaison went to Edwards for a 39 yard TD grab and the Miner were riding high.
The Miners had the momentum for all but 2 minutes as Steven Valadez's PAT attempt was blocked and returned 98 yards for a 2 point score for the Badgers. That seemed to the air out of the Miners balloon as when Wisconsin got the kickoff they were able to move right down the field and go up 9-7. Montee Ball scored the touchdown for Wisconsin, but that would be the last carry he got all day as he was held out of the rest of the game with what appeared to be a head injury.
This however did not slow Wisconsin down as in the 2nd quarter they scored twice more to go up 23-6. After a Drew Thomas interception towards the end of the 2nd quarter, UTEP was able to get into field goal range as Steven Valadez went on to drill in a 45 yard field goal as time expired in the 1st half. UTEP went into the locker room down by 2 touchdowns, but would receive the kickoff at the start of the 2nd half.
UTEP and Wisconsin both went scoreless their first 2 drives of the 3rd quarter, but on UTEP's second possession of the half they were able to use a good combination of run and pass to move down the field and get into the red zone. UTEP positioned themselves on the 8 yard line when they handed to true freshman Xay Williams to make it a 23-16 game.
On to the 4th quarter we went, and to start the 4th Wisconsin missed a 33 yard field goal attempt wide left. This let the Miners get the ball back and march down the field once again. UTEP however was not able tie the game as they had to settle for another Valadez field goal to make it 23-19. UTEP's defense couldn't hold and in the end it just wasn't meant to be as the Miners fell to 0-17 on the road against BCS opponents.
It was what a lot expected, a 1-3 start. Another game that the Miners had, but just couldn't pull through in the 4th. Jeffery was a non-factor but Josh Bell and Xay Williams had some clutch carries to help move the ball for the Miners.
Lamaison through 4 games has not thrown an interception a good sign there as well. Let's all hope our Miners have learned from their mistakes as they will open up conference play at East Carolina next week, yet again another hostile environment.
They certainly have as much talent as anybody in Conference USA but it will all come down to if they can close out games, stay healthy, deal with adversity, and NOT CALL STUPID PLAYS!