The Marshall game was full of errors, gaffes, and mistakes. Somewhere in there, the defense gave us a performance that needs to be applauded. But, no matter what, when we look back at this season.... that's being generous.... when we look back at Mike Price's career at UTEP and Trevor VIttatoe's career as UTEP's quarterback, this game will be remembered as encapsulating just how frustrating the last four seasons have been for the Miner Nation.
This was the game that turned the tide. This was the game that forced the fiercest of Mike Price's supporters, myself included, to seriously wonder if he's taken this program as far as he can.
This Picks Up/Picks Down is a long one. It has to be because of "Spike TV;" a play that will live in Miner infamy for years to come, has to be chronicled properly. In fact, it's so long, that I am going to post "Picks Down" separately from "Picks Up." Picks Up, which highlights the good from the game (and there was good) will be posted later.
So, here goes:
"Spike TV." A Play That Defines UTEP Football During the Price/Vittatoe Era.
The Infamous Spike on Third and Nineteen: First of all, let's go back to the end of the first half because it highlights the monumental blunder that we couldn't believe we were watching.
UTEP received the ball at their own 33 after the defense stopped Marshall on a huge 4th and 4 with 1:09 on the clock. The Miners moved the ball to about midfield before, predictably, the wheels fell off. UTEP got the ball to the Marshall 45 after a Trevor Vittatoe 12 yard run with 34 seconds on the clock. No way UTEP is going to score a touchdown so you have to think the coaches are hoping to hit a field goal and go into the half down 7-6 instead of 7-3.
1st and 10: Screen pass to Buckram loses 9 yards. Even worse, Buckram is tackled in bounds so UTEP burns their final timeout with 27 seconds to go.
2nd and 19: Another screen pass, this one goes for only 5 yards before Donald is captured from behind by linebacker Kellen Harris, again, in bounds. There are about 15 seconds on the clock when UTEP gets up to the line. It's now third and 14 from UTEP's own 46 with 15 seconds to go. What do we do?
3rd and 14: Trevor SPIKES the ball. The spike here leaves UTEP with a fourth and fourteen with 15 seconds on the clock in our own territory. So, UTEP now has spiked the ball to set up a punt. Or, UTEP has spiked the ball to run a play that, if it doesn't gain 14 yards which isn't like out of the question, gives Marshall the ball with 10 seconds left to go needing only 12-15 yards to set up a field goal of their own.
4th and 14: Incomplete pass. Luckily, Marshall's passing offense struggled so much that they couldn't get into field goal range even though UTEP spotted them the ball at the 46 with 10 seconds to go. But, why did UTEP spike it on third down? The coaches surely told Trevor, or realized themselves, that the smart play would have been to go for it on third and 14 and then UTEP could squib up a punt to end the half or toss a hail mary on fourth and end the half, right? Nope, instead, UTEP's QB and coaching staff repeated the same gaffe two quarters later.
Zoom ahead. Fourth quarter, now. UTEP gets the ball with 1:47 to play down 16-12. Vittatoe rushes for 9 yards. Then, he hits Kris Adams for 17 with 1:14 to play. All of a sudden there's 1:14 to play and UTEP has the ball first and 10 at the Marshall 33.
1st and 10: Penalty, not shocking at all- 5 yard for the false start.
1st and 15: 1:14 on the clock, TV hits Marlon McClure for a 7, he gets out of bounds.
2nd and 8: Trevor gets hit while throwing a pass, fumbles, and UTEP loses 9 yards. UTEP couldn't challenge the play because... well see below under "Mind Numbingly Awful Coaching Decision #2." UTEP recovers the fumble on the 40.
3rd and 19 (0:42 on the clock): Trevor SPIKES THE BALL stopping the clock, yes, but forcing a 4th and 19 with 40 seconds left in the game. Fourth and 19 and the rest is history.
The same exact mistake. A senior quarterback. A four year starter. Who was it? Did the coaches signal the spike? Did Trevor call it? Regardless of whatever explanation we get tomorrow, that play will define the last several years of Mike Price's tenure at UTEP. It will define Trevor Vittatoe's legacy as UTEP's quarterback. He has the numbers. He has the records. But when the chips were down, when UTEP needed a big play to become bowl eligible, we didn't get heroics. We got a mental error that was one of the most ridiculous game time decisions in UTEP history. And that my friends, is saying something. Picks Down.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: Errors, Mistakes, Lack of Focus, Oh My!
I've tried to put the maddening way the UTEP Miners imploded against Marshall once already. But, as I've reflected more and more on the game the only way I can truly describe it is to say that it was the kind of game that could get a coach fired. UTEP's performance was marred by mental errors, lack of discipline, lack of leadership, sloppy fundamentals, and terrible coaching decisions.
Good coaches have been fired for far less. I don't know if this game will cost Coach Price his job. The late season collapses of the last 5 seasons are reason enough. I figured that a bowl berth, any bowl berth, and a 6-6 or 7-5 season would show Miner fans that Price could in fact get UTEP back to the level they were at in his first two years. After the Marshall meltdown, it's no longer practical to discuss bowl possibilities.
It's no longer possible to pretend that coach Price isn't coaching for his career at UTEP in the next three weeks. If UTEP finds a way to lose their last six ball games, after starting 5-1, I don't see any scenario where Mike Price returns as UTEP's head coach in 2011. Maybe he'll retire or be asked to retire, I don't know. I do know that after UAB and Tulane, the Miner Nation demanded that UTEP show up to fight in Huntington. Instead, we got a total lack of mental toughness down the stretch and we saw win #6 slip away due to self inflicted stupidity. Picks Down.
THE "HESITANT OUT": Mind Numbingly Awful Coaching Decision #1
The Play Call on the 2 Point Conversion: After Kris Adams rambled in for a 23 yard score, the game should have been over. Marshall was done. UTEP, up 12-7, had finally broken the spirit of a Marshall team desperate to get the heck out of the stadium. I don't think the decision to go for two was a bad one. Being up 6 there does nothing for UTEP mathematically speaking. Being up 7 was the logical move. But, the play call? Remember Tulane? Remember Trevor hand a pick six over to the Wave on a silver platter? Why do it again?
This is why we have fade patterns. This is why we have James Thomas and the option attack. This is why you always see teams that pass the ball in similar situations to the back of the end zone. Those are high reward, low risk plays. Not UTEP. What was Eric Price thinking?
Did UTEP's coaches forget that Kris Adams is 6'3 and was having an absolutely monster game? Throw our best receiver a fade in the end zone. If its intercepted, Adams is there for the tackle. In all likelihood, a fade is caught for a TD, knocked away by a defender, or overthrown out of the end zone. Not returned for a touchdown. Picks Down.
THE "IMPOSSIBLE CHALLENGE": Mind Numbingly Awful Ridiculous Coaching Decision #2
The Challenge on The Field Goal: Even after the game, UTEP players and coaches seemed confused as to whether the kick was tipped. "A player said he tipped it," Coach Price said, indicating Wiston Jeune. "It was hard to get correct information, that's why I called the timeout (to challenge). Very seldom are you going to get those (calls)." Antwon Blake wasn't even sure he tipped it. Said Blake, "I'm not sure if I (tipped it) or not. I tried my hardest to get the ball. I'm not sure if I tipped it, but everybody was going their hardest to get the kick."
Did Jeune tell Price he tipped it? Did Coach Price see it tipped? Did a coach in the box see a replay that gave him the idea it was tipped? We need answers here. Because the loss of that timeout came back to haunt the coaches on the final drive when Trevor fumbled the ball on that pass that forced the infamous 3rd and 19. On the fumble, Trevor said "It was going forward," Vittatoe said, meaning he thought it should have been an incomplete pass instead of a fumble. "But we had no timeouts and we couldn't challenge."
No way does the C-USA have camera angles capable of determining whether that field goal was tipped. That challenge had zero chance of succeeding. Not even Antwon Blake knows if the ball was tipped. The blunder cost UTEP a chance to make a challenge on the fumble that might have actually had a chance of being overturned. Picks Down.
MORE THAN MERE COINCIDENCE: Late Season Collapses:
Last week, I took a long, hard look at Mike Price's tenure at UTEP. I noted this:
In 2006 the Miners lost 5 of their last 6. In 2007, the Miners lost 6 straight to end the season. in 2008, the Miners lost 4 of their last 6., In 2009, the Miners lost 4 of their last 5.
I decided to clean this up a bit and just focus on the last 1/2 of the season. This is Mike Price's seventh season at UTEP. His record in the last six games (including bowl appearances) of each season is 12-27. That's including his 4-2 run in 2004 and UTEP's 0-3 set here in 2010. 12-27 in UTEP's final six over the Price era. Picks Down.
The Running Game
36 rushes. 87 yards. 2.4 yards per carry: Why is Joseph Banyard only getting 2 carries a game now? Donald Buckram, sadly, is a shell of his former self. On the screen passes at the end of the first half, we saw that he can no longer outrun linebackers with his speed. He just doesn't have that consistent burst that helped him explode to 1600 rushing yards last season. This offensive line is playing more than adequately. Trevor has time to throw (for the most part). Our play makers simply aren't making plays, including Buckram.
Check back later for a post highlighting the good performances we saw Saturday; A post I promise that will not mention any discussion of Mike Price's job security, "Spike TV," fumbles, or failed 2 point conversions.