For the fourth consecutive week the UTEP Miners found themselves in a first half hole they could just not dig out of. The Golden Hurricane offense produced 430 yards of balanced offense, including two Cody Green touchdown passes to give them a 21-3 lead in the first half.
Not only was the Tulsa offense un-stoppable, defensively the Hurricane sacked Jameill Showers twice and had five total tackles for loss.
Tulsa sent blitzes and pressure all day at Showers, though the Miners were able to run for 222 yards, the Hurricane secondary had their best game of the season as the Miner passing routes became repetitive.
The Miner defense battled hard despite having multiple players playing with injuries. And also the loss of Richard Spencer who is suspended for disciplinary reasons.
They also struggled getting off the field on third downs, as Cody Green picked apart the man-to-man look from the Miners.
Keevan Lucas and Thomas Roberson killed UTEP with those quick slants all night long, and of course the two jump balls. The slants were something Tulsa did over and over again against Rice, and they also were able to get the ball down field on the Miner secondary.
Lucas and Roberson ate all night and were also the recipients of two intercept able jump balls that added to the laundry list of defensive problems.
The UTEP front seven showed some improvement, though they did give up 204 rushing yards, they held Tulsa to under five yards a carry, they came in to Saturdays game giving up 6.5 yards.
They also limited Trey Watts in the first half, though its hard to hold a player like that down as he wore down the Miner defense in the second half.
The tackling improved and the Miners keep improving on flying to the ball and being in the right in the right place, but Tulsa size was evident from the pre-game warm ups, and when they started grinding it out with Watts in the 4th quarter simply wore the Miners down.
Though the Miner defense fought hard and played just well enough to keep the Miners in the game, that would all change as the fourth quarter started.
Cody Green engineered an eleven play 68 yard drive, ending with him sneaking in on a fourth down. The Miner defense fought hard and responded well to the heavy dose of Trey Watts throughout the drive and stopped him on a 3rd and 2 that would set up the fourth down play.
UTEP's Micheal Kelley made a great stop on Watts on 3rd down, after a timeout he was in the huddle as UTEP forced a 4th and 1. The Miner coaches would substitute Kelley for a defensive back leaving a gap open for Cody Green to sneak in for the score which put the game away.
Only three of the Miners eleven drives would result in scores. The Miner passing attack only had 19 yards at the half, Showers would finish 12/30 with two picks. Though he did have 74 yards rushing, most were scrambles forced by Tulsa's superb coverage.
Aaron Jones had another solid night before leaving with a shoulder injury. He carried 15 times for 90 yards, his status is un-certain headed into the bye week.
There is just no creativity or or diversity on the offensive play calling. Seems as if the offense is playing percentages as the conservative, repetitive, and predicable runs really kill the drives. UTEP did not a take shot down field while the game was close.
Jordan Leslie showed off some moves and YAC skills on that 71 yard TD pass, though it was a questionable play call, a screen pass on a 3rd and 8. The offense executed the screen perfectly, but I felt a down field pass would have been better suited.
Another questionable move was late in the 4th quarter. After the Miners forced a Tulsa three and out, Showers drove the Miners to the Tulsa 26 yard line where he faced a 3rd and 3. Showers was making great plays on that drive but on 3rd and 2 the Miners called a draw for Nathan Jeffery that would get stuffed.
One of the biggest plays of the first half was that blocked field goal. The Miners had just forced Tulsa three and out, and had nice drive going setting themselves up nicely to grab points and momentum heading into the half when the kick was blocked.
Overall the Miners had their chances to cut the lead once again, though they could not execute and make plays in situations where it was needed
Five of the next six games are on the road, including a date with Texas A&M and Johnny Autograph. This season as far as bowl aspirations and conference contention are almost completely done.
It will be hard to string together road wins with the recent issues that continue, though majority of this team will return next year so every game is still a building block for the young Miners.
The Miners will rest up this week with a bye, then prepare for a trip to Houston to play the Rice Owls who held of UTSA for their second C-USA win..
I have faith in what Kugler wants to do long term, and I think he is doing well as far as getting guys to play hard and work hard with what he has left over from Mike Price. Though some scheme and situation philosophies should change with this particular team.
GAME BALL: Tulsa's Shawn Jackson 10 tackles, INT