For the second time this season, the UTEP Miner defense allowed 300+ yards on the ground and a 200 yard runner. This time it wasn't a lack of pre-snap adjustments or a crafty complex offense with multiple weapons.
Skip Holtz went old school and called for 50 runs that led to 353 yards and 5 TD's on the ground. The Miners missed, over ran, and were simply burned by the talented Kenneth Dixon. Blake Martin who only had 58 yards rushing coming in walked away with 89 yards including a 62 yard run that gave LA Tech a 21-7 lead in the 2nd quarter.
HEAD COACH SEAN KUGLER ON DEFENSE:
"We didn't execute we didn't tackle. Particularly the two 3rd and longs, we got them pinned back deep in their territory both times, I think one was a 3rd and 17 one was a 3rd and 21. The guy broke tackles and that was the story defensively. In the end result those two long runs killed us."
Despite the ugly numbers and lack of plays made on defense, a couple of Miner defenders did have solid games.
Richard Spencer looked like an NFL prospect, flying around and forcing a fumble. That play ended with a 59 yard fumble scoop by Spencer to end that half, despite not scoring it gave UTEP momentum going into the half.
Spencer has been hampered by injuries since camp, so its good to see him out there playing at a high level again, as he forced his fifth fumble of his career and also moved into 8th place all-time in Miner history in that stat department.
Defensive end Roy Roberson continued his solid play, though this time produced in the stat department more than disruption, he finished with 2.5 sacks and 10 total tackles. The sophomore has a bright future ahead. At 6'7 240 lbs, the Dallas area product should have confidence going forward after this game, defensively he is a nice piece to build around for the future.
KUGLER ON DEFENSE GOING FORWARD:
"You got to keep working on tackling, you got to keep working on fundamentals, you got to keep improving in that area. I can't go out tomorrow and bring in new players, I can't go out and bring in new coaches, I cant't go out and bring in a new scheme and everything is fixed, that's not how it works, you just go back to work. We have a lot of work to do, I acknowledge that, and we will get back to work. Sometimes its a process. "
Defensive Tackle Marcus Bagley had one of his best games of the season, but there was only so much the D-Line could handle as the Miner linebackers where almost non-existent at times, taking the most important part the defensive scheme out of the game and in opportune moments.
Punter Mike Ruggles had a solid night, four of his punts caused the Bulldogs to start inside the 20. Dixon and the offense did not have any problems with the tough field position, as four of their TD drive's were over 70 yards, in large part to the Miner in-ability to get off the field on third down.
Fans are probably calling for change at D-Coordinator, the real truth and film will show Scott Stoker called a good game and really had the Miners is good spots, there just was no execution. As explained in the game preview, Dixon needed to be smacked around early, something the Miners did, but he continued to make guys miss
Despite a balanced 75 yard opening drive TD, the offensive would stuggle again in the first half. The Miners would punt three times, and Showers would throw a interception before hitting Leslie on a nice 28 yard skinny post that would bring the Miners to life headed to the half.
Jordan Leslie had his seventh career 100 yard receiving game, now making it three out of the last four games he has gone over 100 yards. He also added two TD catches of 28 and 65 yards, marking another streak of two straight games with two TD catches.
"Like we said from the beginning, our offense has a chance to make big plays. Me and Jameill are connecting, you can see that. We got to come out with a positive attitude, we can't blame anybody, its not the defense's fault, if we score every time we win."
Leslie has been known for his big play ability and his been solid so far this season. Although no other Miner receiver had over 20 yards receiving versus the Bulldogs. The Miners are best passing down field with either the Tight Ends, Leslie or Ian Hamilton who only had three catches for 21 yards.
The lack of creativity in the passing game has made the Miners predictable, making it hard to get Showers in a rhythm in which D-Coordinators can bring pressure, that was evident early in the first half until the final drive.
The run game once again got going in the second half after another slow start. Lead by freshman Aaron Jones who banged and battled his way for 121 yards on 18 tough carries.
Jones has drastically improved his running in between the tackles game and is becoming more effective in doing so. The thing is the Miners need to get a lead or be close enough on the scoreboard for the running game to become a factor.
All the running game did last night was keep the Miners in the game, it also was able get first downs which was important, although UTEP is better utilizing the run game with a lead or at least within one score.
Defensively LA Tech did something the Miners' past two opponents have done, they brought in a safety to double as an extra linebacker. This time it was Thomas McDonald who brought up and was able to give the Miners trouble along with defensive star I.K. Enemkpali.
LA TECH COACH SKIP HOLTZ:
"Really proud of what they did tonight. What they were able to coming out here we really challenging them with the running game. Kenneth Dixon and the running game obviously was a real bright spot. When you have to play a freshman quarter back you don't want to just rely on him to throw it. We held a very explosive offensive football team that's been scoring a lot of points. Some big plays we gave up, but you do that to an explosive team like UTEP."
Linebacker Daniel Cobb also had a huge game, he had seven tackles, including a huge block of a 22 yard chip shot Jay Mattox field goal, that would have brought the Miners within seven late in the fourth. The Miner D would respond the ensuing possession forcing a LA Tech punt.
The Miners would go on a nice 18 play 79 yard drive to pull within three with 1:03 left in the 4th, though at times throughout the drive they played like the had made the easy field goal that was blocked.
Hunter Lee end would any talk of a potential Miner Miracle, as he recovered Mattox's onside kick and gave Skip Holtz his fourth win with three different teams versus UTEP
Game film cannot hide the Miners trouble stopping run, prompting Holtz to run the ball 40+ times with ease, something every team will do going forward. LA Tech came into the Sun Bowl ranked 115th in scoring offense and had 21 points in the games' first 25 minutes.
Going forward, there is no sugar coating it, from here on out the Miners will give up yards and points. Jameill Showers said it the best "if they score 50 we have to score 51." Unfortunatley that will have to be Miner philosophy from here on out.
The offense will have treat every drive with importance due to fact as I've pointed out before, the Miners ability to put long drives mixed with balance is the best defense for this team who will end up last in the nation in run defense after next weeks battle with Tulsa's Trey Watts who went off for 165 yards vs Rice.
The Miners are now 1-4 overall 0-2 in C-USA play and 0-3 in the Sun Bowl with just two home games left on the schedule.
Like a Miner fan told me walking out to the parking lot; "imagine how good the Miners could be if they could just tackle."
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GAME BALL: Kenneth Dixon: 25 carries 200 Yds 1TD