Louisiana Tech at UTEP Game Preview

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

LA Tech and UTEP rekindle an old WAC matchup on the Miners homecoming at 5:30 MDT Saturday at the Sun Bowl.

Through the first four games of the Sean Kugler era, the majority of the talk has been about the defense, or lack thereof, and how terrible its been. There is no denying it its been ugly, as UTEP has given up eight yards per play, and is 115th overall in FBS giving up 38.5 points a game.

SEAN KUGLER ON LA TECH:

"Very athletic, good team speed, they lost a lot of people from last year. So In many ways they are a lot like us, they're young in some areas, but they got great athleticism. They probably haven't put up as many points as they wanted to. Its going to be a challenge for us. We're extremely excited about it. We gotta get a win for the home folks because they have been outstanding. We need to reward them with a win on homecoming."

Statistically, and on paper, this week's matchup with LA Tech should be a banner day for the defense. Like I said, on paper. Getting back veterans Germard Reed and Richard Spencer payed dividends as they both look good and will be able to help going forward.

Staying healthy on both sides of the ball is a huge key going forward, as the Miners will get back corner Adrian James this week which is great news.

Bad news keeping with injuries, saftey Devin Cockrell suffered a quad injury late vs CSU and will miss this week's game.

One glaring stat comparison for this game is UTEP's nine tackles for losses compared to a 1-4 overall Dogs defense that has recorded 35 TFL's. For the ultimate stat gods, I'm sure the 2013 UTEP Defense leads the nation in most missed tackles for loss.

Another sad stat that every week I have stressed and is a huge key for this defense is in the sack department. In 88 QB drop backs by the Miner opponents, only two sacks have been recorded and seven total QB hurries.

After a lot of film watch and study of the 4-2-5 I believe I found the huge factor that made Scott Stoker a success at the FCS level and even some current 4-2-5's.

KUGLER ON IMPROVING THE DEFENSE:

"Well you can improve on fundamentals, and you can show when the effort is there and when the effort is not there and you need to constantly point that out. I will never take a status quo approach, like hey this is what we got, this is as good as we're going to get, I don't believe in that, we're going to work at it. If certain individuals continually show that can't do they cant do the job there will be a change, whether its the guys on our team, our guys we recruit. We do need to improve, being a head coach I acknowledge it."

Its quite simple, no rocket science is involved: You must bring pressure and get to the QB on 1st and 2nd downs which includes stopping the run with that pressure.

With being able to execute that you force 3rd and long and bringing six sometimes seven DB's on the field that allow you to bring both linebackers as extra rushers which makes using unique stunts/twists up front to open up those backers.

Dropping back those DB's to create creative zones and man-to-man looks are suppose to create confusion and turnovers making the QB uncomfortable and susceptible to mistakes.

The Miners have done the opposite, as they have given up 17 first downs on first down. Also on first down, they have let up the longest play of 81 yards from scrimmage. With an additional 17 plays that have gone for 15+ yards on that down so far this season. While creating only 6 total turnovers, and having only one guy being credited with both interceptions.

The Miner offense can also be credited with some of the defensive struggle, when the run game shuts down it creates those three and outs leading to more defense on the field. Last week was two weeks in a row the Miner offensive line was just over-matched and outplayed by a more talented and bigger D-Line.

Kugler said he expects both LaQuintus Dowell and Nathan Jeffery back this week, which will take the load off Aaron Jones who has done a nice job until that fumble vs Colorado State.

The addition of those two will make the Miner running game more diverse. Kugler has noted Jeffery runs certain called plays that no one on the team can and the Miners need all the creativity and different angles they can get on offense.

I would like to see Autrey Golden get more carries this game and going forward. The kid can flat out run, his vision is the best on a team filled with talented backs.

A guy who is really coming along and that I think will have a great career is Darrin Laufasa. He brings another element and skill set similar to guys like Delaney Walker and Marcel Reece of the NFL, bring to pro-style offenses.

SEAN KUGLER ON OFFENSE:

"We have several things that we can go to offensively, what I like is we have balance. I would like to see us be more balanced throughout the drives, where we're mixing in run and throws and being efficient at it. There's been times when we do that and our offense really hums. I been pleased with the production at the four game standing with the offense, but we gotta be more consistent."

Jameill Showers and Jordan Leslie finally got it going, or they were finally let loose which ever one you want to read into. They both are talented and would start on any other D-1 school so getting them going early and often should be key.

Ian Hamilton also has shown he can be a factor. The Miners do need to open up the pass and get both involved along with tight end Eric Tomlinson when the run game is shut down and like Kugler said before about Showers let him "hang out there".

LA Tech has already given up 1000 yards on the ground through their first five games, so once again the Miners will establish the run, which I believe will get back on track, and should get at least a buck-fifty on a terrible defense that has given up 230+ yards three times this season.

Redshirt freshman Ryan Higgins will be the QB of Skip Holz's Bulldogs. They do use a two QB system, although the other guy Scotty Young, suffered an injury and has missed the past two games so no telling if he will go this week.

So there will be a heavy dose of Higgins at QB who has improved week to week this season learning a new offense although he now has seemed to been given the keys to the offense. Even with all the changes he has slowly improved and will be a decent player in a few years.

The Bulldogs will run multiple looks, but will come out of the gun and spread you out. Like the Miners past two opponents, the Bulldogs use a lot of receivers and feed them constantly, though ranking 90th overall in FBS in pass offense and 98th in pass efficiency.

Senior D.J. Banks leads the team with 20 catches, and also returns punts and kicks. He is small and quick and does well on screens. Andrew Guillot is another small bodied receiver, he has accounted for the 206 yards through the air and along with Banks are the top two play makers out of the WR core that shuffles in and out a lot of guys.

Another good target you can't forget about is Sterling Griffin who is second on the team in catches and is capable of making guys miss.

The real play makers for the Bulldogs reside in the backfield and up front. Sophomore Kenneth Dixon is a great hard runner and a Beyond The Boxscore game ball candidate.

If the Miners don't wrap him up and rough him up a little bit he could have a big game. He ran for 118 yards on 22 tough carries vs NC State, and is capable of a big game if he gets loose.

Miner fans will also see a heavy dose of freshman Tevin King, who had 182 yards vs Lamar, and has done a nice job spelling Dixon averaging 6 yards a carry.

Up front the Miners will face another big athletic offensive line. The 'Dogs outweigh the Miner D-Line by almost 30 lbs. One thing of note, they have given up 14 total sacks compared the eight for the Miners which three came from one man last week.

The Bulldogs run a 3-4 similar to CSU last week, though they are little more creative and versatile to compensate for the lack of talent.

Its seems like everyone on the D-Line can put their hand down or stand up. You will see multiple guys do this throughout the game. The one guy who does it best and should have his name called often is I.K. Enemkpali.

Like any 3-4 defense as previoulsy noted, you have to posses a dangerous edge rusher to be effective. He ranks 6th nationally in sacks and like Shaquil Barrett will have huge game if he is not game planned and not kept tabs on throughout the game.

He can also stand up if needed to. He did record a pick vs NC State. Texas Tech transfer, senior Daniel Cobb stands up in the middle and leads the team in tackles. Defensive end Vontarrius Dora is another good player who will line up everywhere within the front four.

Look for the Miners to maybe go with a little more read option. The Bulldogs front seven struggled with reading the option vs Army, though they run the triple option I doubt the Miners will do that but I wouldn't be surprised to see it when the they go shotgun.

I see this game going only two ways, Miners win big and dominate, or the struggles continue and this will be a close contested ball game. For the record, Skip Holtz is 3-0 all time vs the Miners, and a win Saturday would give him three wins with three different schools against UTEP.

If the Miners can get out fast on D and gash the Bulldogs run D, this will be all Miners. If Dixon goes off and makes guys miss like so many have done this year, it will be a game.

Shutting down the run and forcing the Bulldogs to air it out will be the key. The Miners have better playmakers so if they can generate big plays early often LA Tech doesn't stand a chance.

Offense should put together a good showing, defense still needs work but this is a good game to get some confidence and get the fans back excited for Tulsa.

UTEP 40 "DAWGS" 27

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