For the first time in each school's history, UTSA and UTEP will face off on the gridiron for what a lot of people who follow the two schools think will be a fierce, intense conference and in-state rivalry. UTEP is one of three teams in C-USA that UTSA has yet to play in their impressive infancy as an FBS program.
Larry Coker's squad continued their tough early non-conference schedule last week, and fell to Arizona 38-13. After an impressive 11 play 58 yard opening drive which led to a field goal, (the first lead in school history against a BCS opponent) Arizona went on to gain 422 yards of total offense and forced the Runners into throwing it 47 times for only 277 yards.
SEAN KUGLER ON UTSA:
"They're a well coached team. Coach Coker does an outstanding job with them. They're fundamentally sound in every aspect. What we're facing is a very fundamentally sound team with good speed. Even though they've been a program for four years these guys have been playing together. We got a challenge ahead of us and we're excited about getting into the conference part of our schedule, and that's when it all counts."
The Runners are led offensively by senior QB Eric Soza, who only threw 3 interceptions last year, but has matched his 2012 total in UTSA's first 3 games. Soza can be a dual threat, as he averaged 5.6 yards a rush last season.
Soza, a native of Beeville, TX, is UTSA's captain and has started 23 games as QB, winning 13 of his starts. He is a very cerebral player and uses all his weapons in the passing game. From watching highlights and small bits of film, he is very accurate while throwing on the run and keeping him the pocket will be the key.
KUGLER ON SOZA:
"Their QB has thrown for over 800 yards and he's rushed for close to 150 yards. He's active, he's accurate and he is extremely competitive. If you concentrate on one, he's probably going to beat you with the other. We need to be assignment sound."
UTSA's offense relies on being balanced to have sucess. The past two games they have been playing from behind, so thier stat sheet wont show gaudy rushing numbers or attempts, but the Miners should expect to see a heavy dose of running backs David Glasco II and Evans Oktocha.
Like the Miners first two opponents, the Runners will utilize the read option, and rely on the QB to make plays in the running game. Staying disciplined on their assignments and tackling will once again be points of high emphasis this week to contain it, and not giving up big plays to get them going on offense.
The Runners use alot of motion and mis-direction when they run, wide receiver and top offensive playmaker, junior Kam Jones is another player who will contribute in the run game. They like to move him in motion and give the rock on reverses and designed runs so that will be another key in stopping them. He's averaged 5.8 yards a carry so far, and is just a highlight waiting to happen. Jones has also caught 13 balls for 132 yards.
As much as I've been talking him up, he has yet to score despite averaging 127 all purpose yards in their first three games. He leads a wide receiving corps that's had at least 13 different receivers catch a ball, and 9 of those guys have more than 3 catches.
That says a lot about Soza's decision making and the creativity that young offensive coordinator Kevin Brown brings, as he himself was a former wide receiver at TCU.
Kenny Harrison is second on the team in catches, Brandon Freeman and 6'4 Earon Holmes split time on the outside as the X receivers, but a guy who has emerged, after flashes of being a solid deep threat last year is Kenny Bias.
Bias owns the young school record of longest reception (82 yards), and is averaging 20 yards a grab and leads the Runners with 163 yards receiving, though most have come while they were fighting back from 15+ point deficits vs Ok State and Arizona.
Up front, UTSA is big, physical, and experienced and have only given up 6 sacks in 131 QB drop backs this season. They start all juniors in the trenches, and Pre-Season All C-USA guard Scott Inskeep should be playing on Sunday's one day. At 6'4 315, he was a member of the Lombardi Award for the Nation's best interior lineman.
Defensively, Jameill Showers and Co. will see a familiar 4-2-5 look. Defensive Coordinator Neal Neathery brings years of experience and a stout, solid D-Line, led by juniors Cody Rogers and 6'3 315 lb DT Ahsaad Mabry. Richard Burge and the best name in C-USA Ferrington Macon, will provide depth and solidify their D-Line.
KUGLER ON UTSA D-LINE:
"They're very deep up front, they rotate two different lines in there, and in particular their tackles are very stout. Three of the four guys are over 300 pounds, and they have done some work on the guards they been playing against. Those guys are very stout run defenders and we'll have our hands full there."
The weakest link on the D, is in the Runners DB unit. They gave up 518 yards passing vs Ok State. Though junior Triston Wade has been solid at safety, and they limited Arizona's passing attack, the Runners D has yet to intercept a pass, and has given up a majority of their pass yards on 1st and 2nd downs, to along with 7 TD's on those downs.
Special teams are going to be a huge part of this game, a spot where UTSA is very strong. Kam Jones will return kickoffs. While they haven't been a factor returning punts, Kenny Harrison has returned 2 for 60 yards, plus Kam Jones will go back there if needed.
Kicker Sean Ianno is a UTSA legend and will forever be a fan favorite, as he gave UTSA their first FBS win and road victory, with a 51-yard game winner at South Alabama last year. He has made 61 straight extra points in his career, and I can see him limiting Autrey Golden's returns as the Sun Bowl's higher elevation helps good kickers.
Of note: While UTSA only has 10 seniors, they boast a junior class of 45 players and have 92 Native Texans on their roster. What that means? Right now UTEP and UTSA are behind the scenes trying to out recruit each other, and that's where the real battle begins. With Texas having so many D-1 schools, now this game will mean a lot going forward to the off-season.
COACH KUGLER ON POTENTIAL UTSA RIVALRY:
"Oh certainly, because of the proximity, the fact you know a Texas school, and we probably recruit the same players. We've already run into them on the recruiting trail on a lot of the same players, so anytime your competing for the same players much like New Mexico or New Mexico State, there's a chance for a rivalry to develop, so were excited about that."
The Miners will look to keep the momentum going from last week's impressive win vs NMSU, and Jameill Showers looks to continue his solid start in managing the Miners balanced attack.
KUGLER ON LAST WEEK'S OFFENSE:
"The things I was most pleased with was improvement in not only the passing game, but the long ball efficiency. We have several converted long third downs, the receivers were involved, our yards per catch dramatically increased. We rushed for close to 250 yards in the second half alone. I thought NMSU did a good job in the first half taking away the run, but the second half we really got after it in the run game."
Showers and Jordan Leslie put up some great numbers vs the Aggies and really got it going on 3rd downs particularly early in the first half, and Ian Hamilton looks to continue his hot start. There should definitely be a bigger emphasis on getting these guys the ball down field vs UTSA's questionable secondary. Showers' lone two TD passes on the season have gone to TE's.
Nathan Jeffery was slowed by injuries last week vs the Aggies, is questionable this weekend, and I honestly doubt he will get more than 10 carries or even play as getting him healthy is the number one priority.
Aaron Jones is the number 1 now with Jeffery possibly being out, and he showed last week he can carry the load if need be as again he led the Miners in rushing and had 22 carries. He also became the first Miner freshman to score in his first two games since 1974.
LaQuintus Dowell is going to miss some time with a hamstring that got him at the end of that 54 yd TD run last week. Expect to see more of Autrey Golden and Josh Bell, along with Darrin Laufasa who showed his speed and great vision last week.
KUGLER ON LAST WEEK DEFENSIVE PERFORMANCE:
"We cut our assignment errors almost in half. Our missed tackles throughout the game were almost cut in half. Again, our goal was to keep them under 100 yards rushing. We accomplished that. The other goal was to force turnovers. I was very pleased with that aspect of it, we played a lot of young guys, kind of a next man up principle."
The Miners will be tested by that UTSA multiple look. Expect to see a lot of bubble screens and running backs flaring out of the backfield, something the Miner linebackers have struggled with so far.
As good as DeShone Smith and the secondary played vs NMSU, the Miners need someone other than Horace Miller to step up and be a factor. No Miner linebacker has registered a solo tackle for loss so far this season.
Kugler made some shuffles in the DL last week, and those moves seemed to have slowed down the run in the second half, but the Miners will need to get way more pressure on Soza and disrupt the mis-direction. They are playing a very decent offensive line as mentioned so guys will have to step up and create havoc. Look for Scott Stoker to send some linebackers to not let him get outside the pocket and do what he does best.
James Davidson is hurt but could be a go. He will most likely be a game time decision. Nick Usher has filled his spot at DE, and Wesley Miller will miss sometime with a knee injury. Germard Reed lost his starting spot and did not play against NMSU. We'll monitor that situation and see what the deal is with him, but I don't think its injury related. Also, Ish Harrison will return this week at corner after missing last week with a concussion.
Jay Mattox missed an easy 31 yard FG attempt vs NMSU. I think he will be called upon more against UTSA but the Miners have been doing an excellent job of finishing drives with 6 instead of 3 in the first two games. The Miners used Brandon Moss vs NMSU to punt twice. They will bring him in when they feel a block is coming, and use Ruggles when its a regular punt return coverage.
KUGLER ON COKER:
"Outstanding job, he's got a proven track record at Miami, he's a quality guy. I got a chance to meet him at the C-USA coaches meetings, and he is just a good person so I will enjoy and look forward to competing against him."
This game is just way to close to call, but to me the Miner game plan on a weekly basis should stay the same. Only difference this week is instead of just getting pressure on the QB and making him uncomfortable, they need to come up with sacks and really get in his head with some hits.
UTSA has big play ability at receiver as noted, and they will spread it out to them and are not shy in doing so. The Miners again need to limit the big play and just simply tackle in order to not let this turn into a shootout. They'll need get off the field on third down when the Sun Bowl gets going.
Though its only two games into the season, the Miners are 12th in the nation in rushing, so continuing to move the ball on the ground and win the time of possession is what the Miners are going to do.
As Showers and his duo of Hamilton and Leslie get more game speed reps, the yards and big plays will keep coming. I wouldn't be surprised if the TE's get more involved outside of the red zone to create size mis-matches against UTSA's 5 DB look.
This will be a close game, and its going to come down to who either has the ball last, or which defense can make the play to win it or give it back to offense to finish for the win. But I think Showers is better than Soza and the Miners will make more plays on offense when it counts.
Let the new Battle of I-10 begin.
UTEP 35 UTSA 34