UTEP at Colorado State Game Preview

Doug Pensinger

Old WAC foes square off this Saturday for the 35th time. Can UTEP put it all together vs a battle tested Colorado State?

The UTEP Miners (1-2, 0-1 C-USA) head to Fort Collins this weekend, and will to try to do something they haven't done since 1987 in that town; win a football game. The Miners, who are coming off a disappointing loss to UTSA, will try to bounce back this Saturday before they face three straight conference opponents.

Colorado State leads the all-time Series 24-10, and has won the 8 of the last 10 games against the Miners. The Rams (1-3, 0-0 MWC) enter Saturday's contest off a loss to the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. The week before they played Tulsa close but lost, and they've also lost to Colorado. Their only win is a 34-17 game against Cal-Poly.

The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network, and CSU will have an orange out, paying tribute their old name Colorado A&M where their colors used to be Orange and Green.

SEAN KUGLER ON COLORADO STATE:

"They played Alabama extremely tough this past week. They held Alabama to 61 yards rushing, which kinda speaks for itself. They're' a very balanced team, they got a good Quarterback, very big and athletic offensive line, they run the ball efficiently."

The Rams, like the Miners have debuted a number of new players this season. A total of 17 players are calling 2013 their first college season for the Rams. Even with all the new talent that was implemented this camp by head coach Jim McElwain, the Rams have returned 79 percent of its passing yardage from last season.

Garrett Grayson is the QB of the balanced, pro-style look offense, in which certain concepts are similar to that of the Miners' offense. The Rams will use multiple tight ends and backs that run right at you downhill.

Donnell Alexander will probably start the game at running back, but Chris Nwoke is the clear leader and most experienced. The Rams will also use Kapri Bibbs who had 83 yards rushing on only 9 carries vs Tulsa earlier this season, and has emerged as a more than average compliment to Nwoke. Both have over 200 yards on the young season.

Just like last week vs UTSA, the Miner defense will face an offense where the QB play makes the offense go round. Grayson can and will run, and the Rams use a lot of pistol and spread, but will also go under center and bring in a fullback.

Grayson is a an above average passer. If he feels pressure, he takes off without hesitation most times and can be an effective scrambler if the Miners miss tackles or are out of place.

He is able to complete a lot of passes at a decent percentage due to the fact that the Rams run a lot of bubble screens. Sometimes they'll run them as many as 3 or 4 times a drive, and they also like to hit their TE's in the flats and let them go one-on-one with DB's. Once again, simple tackling will be a key on defense.

They like to go to freshman Rashard Higgins mostly on that screen. Higgins reminds me of former Miner Johnnie Lee Higgins as they both have almost the exact stride when they run. The Rams' Higgins is also from Texas, but there is no relation.

Its going to be rare, but not out of the question that the Rams will go for the home run on the pass. Five of Grayson's targets in the pass game have 100 yards already through 4 games, and Grayson has hit 9 different receivers more than three times.

They also like to hit Joe Hansley, who is second on the team is yards but leads in catches, as well as red-shirt freshman Jordan Vaden who owns the Rams longest reception of the season of 52 yards. He is very productive, but is out with an injury.

Expect Thomas Coffman see more production as he has already caught 10 balls and does well reading blocks off the bubble screen going downfield.

Coach McElwain won 2 national championships at Alabama as the offensive coordinator, so he knows how to put his QB in good situations. Grayson skill set has been the perfect match so far.

One of the concepts very similar to the Miners, is when the Rams are not in a down and long situation they will always have a tight end on the field. And the Rams have two towers who can flat out ball; 6'6 255 lb senior Crockett Gilmore has 731 career yards and is averaging 12 yards a catch this season, and 6'4 25 junior Kivon Cartwright is an athletic freak for his size and will definitely test Puente and Miller depending on what side he is lined up on.

The Rams starting offensive line features no-one under 6'3 290. Senior center Weston Richburg is the main cog and most certainly will be drafted next spring. Three seniors and a junior (left tackle) lead a rushing attack that is averaging exactly 4 yards a carry.

The talk of the week is going to be about how the Rams held Alabama to only to 66 yards rushing. Don't look to much into that. While they did fly around and virtually shut down Alabama's run, they did give up 203 yards to Cal-Poly, and Tulsa's Trey Watts went off for 150 on them a couple of weeks ago.

While the coaches and players made great improvement from the tough start against the run, they gave up 100 yards each game until last week. I'm sure McElwain knew what to expect from the run game aspect from the Tide.

The 3-4 look from the Rams leaves them open to give up the run which I'm sure once again the Miners will try to get going early and often. To run a successful, effective 3-4 scheme you have to have a beast on the edge that can get in the backfield, and the Rams have just that. Shaquil Barrett has 8.5 tackles for loss, to go along with 3.5 sacks.

Nose tackle Calvin Tonga goes 6'3 330 and will be lined up right or left gap of Paulo Melendez. He is huge and strong. That will be an interesting match-up up front.

Junior Aaron Davis is the wide linebacker for the Rams. He leads in tackles, but lines up almost as a safety and can also move like one. He can make a lot tackles by himself. Fourth year junior Max Morgan also makes a lot of plays by himself at middle linebacker, but the real strength for the Rams defense is in the secondary.

Freshman Kevin Pierre-Louis, who is from Del Rio, is second on the team in tackles. Usually when a safety leads the team in tackles that could be a bad thing, but he will step up in the run and will come on blitzes.

Junior corner Bernard Blake, who had a pick against Alabama, plays alongside another very talented corner, Shaq Bell. Those two, along with safety Trent Matthews will be the best starting secondary the Miners have faced all year.

Jared Roberts handles the place kicking and he is a good one. He's 8-8 on the season and has made 14 FG's in a row.

The Rams have some talented kick returners, Joe Hansley returned a punt of 74 yards to the house vs Colorado, Thomas Coffman averages 26 yards a kick return, and Tyree Simmons, who regularly will return punts, averages 9.5 yards a return.

While Autrey Golden ran wild last week on that 100 yard kickoff return, the Miners talented returner will tested by a coverage unit that gives up only 18 yards a return on kickoffs, and only lets up 7 yards a return on punts from punter Hayden Hunt.

Once again last week, the Miners were burned time and time again by the big play. This week they play a team that doesn't rely on the big play, but has the weapons to utilize it.

Despite his two costly personal fouls, Anthony Puente was having one of his best games as a Miner vs UTSA. They will continue to need that along with the solid play of Horace Miller.

The Miners were exposed by a lack of speed by UTSA in the linebackers, so I think Puente and Miller have to play a little faster. The truth is though, the Miners just don't have depth behind those two.

The Miner D-Line has been getting manhandled, particularly Marcus Bagley. They are a big part of the stopping the run in the 4-2-5 and so far they have not lived up to high expectations. This was one the strongest points coming into the season, and so far they have disappointed.

Part of that reason is Germard Reed has been injured and not played the past two games. I like they way Roy Robertson showed some flashes against UTSA, but consistency is needed out of the starters because behind them there is no consistent depth as of now. However, freshman Nick Usher and Silas Firstley are improving with more game reps.

Devin Cockrell will be a player before he leaves UTEP. He really flies around the ball and tackles well, but he still makes freshman mistakes in assignments as do the rest of the Miner secondary, outside of Traun Roberson.

They are all fast and athletic, but they are still adjusting to the scheme. Against UTSA, it seemed once they settled down in the second half and caught on to what Soza and Co. were doing, they were able to make some plays.

To me the Miner defense is just struggling to line up right and get in place, leaving them with terrible angles and missed tackles. Luckily, CSU doesn't shift and motion exotically like UTSA does, but they do like move TE's and backs in motion so that will be something to watch.

Getting veterans Wesley Miller and Richard Spencer healthy are also keys going forward. Miller is out with a bummed knee still, and Spencer has been battling multiple injuries since Alpine. He is out as well.

COACH KUGLER ON NATHAN JEFFERY:

"We're hoping to have him back for this week. He really worked hard. He was frustrated, you know he wanted to play in that game. I think with a couple of days of rest and a full week of practice we'll see Nathan Jeffery back out there, and he helps out offense."

Nathan Jeffery was clearly missed last week as he sat with his injuries, but Kugler said he expects him to play this Saturday. I know he is fighting and doing all he has to do to get back, lets all hope he can come back soon.

If not it will be Aaron Jones once again at RB, who was held in check after two spectacular games to start his career. Look for Autrey Golden to get more touches as well, as he was the Miners best RB on Saturday.

LaQuintus Dowell is doubtful. Although Kugler didn't completely rule him out, I wouldn't expect him to play as he is still nursing that hamstring.

Jameill Showers and Jordan Leslie had an off night on Saturday. After the game, both were clearly upset at their performance, and I expect that game to be a lesson for them. They both will be tested, but will have their opportunities as the Rams are talented, but they don't flash deep depth in the secondary.

SEAN KUGLER ON JAMEILL SHOWERS:

"What I'd really like to see from Jameill is just relax and play ball and not press so much. I think he wants to do such a good job that he presses. At that position, sometimes if you just go out there and just let it hang out you have a better chance. He'll get experience. With every game I think he is going to get better and better, better."

If the Miners can get creative and use their speed in the correct spots, they can exploit some match-ups in the 3-4, both in the run and in the pass to get some yards.

Ian Hamilton needs to be involved. Its going to be tough to run on the outside with Barrett, so I think the Miners will try to pound it in between the tackles. They could run the ball 30+ times this game again, controlling the clock and forcing to Colorado State to make adjustments to open the pass.

Special teams will once again be a factor this week. The Miners have been solid in return coverage and special teams in general, but Jay Mattox will be tested on the road, even though he came through with his first two field goals of his career last week. We'll really see how far he's come along.

This game is going to be about what Miner and what Ram team comes out. Both have played very good and very poor at times, and both teams need a W to keep momentum going into conference

Should be a close game but without Jeffery 100% I don't like the Miners chances. Drives need to be finished 6 instead of 3, as Mattox hasn't been tested past 31 yards.

CSU has been solid on 3rd downs the past two games, and the Miners were their best on third downs the first two games but couldn't get it together vs UTSA.

Defensively, getting off the field on 3rd down is again huge. The Miners need to come out fast and look for turnovers, though the Rams haven't given it up much this year.

If Jeffery plays and is a factor, and if the Miners can have everything that's been said, seen and talked about so far corrected and consistently efficient, I like their chances a lot, but.....

Like always in football, the team that executes in close, competitive games wins.

CSU: 34 UTEP: 24

CSU STAT LEADERS

PASSING: Garrett Grayson: 79 att, 166 comp 843 YDS 4 TD 2 INT

Rushing: Chris Nwoke: 59 carries 263 yds 1 TD; Kapri Bibbs: 40 carries 213 YDS 3 TD

Receiving: Rashard Higgins: 16 catches 171 YDS 1 TD; Joe Hansley: 13 Catches 172 YDS




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