Sloppy play, turnovers, special teams gaffes, and injuries couldn't keep the UTEP Miners from grabbing their first win in Albuquerque since 1998. First, Vernon Frazier fumbled on the Miners second play from scrimmage. Four plays later, New Mexico quarterback Tarean Austin ran in a four yard score.
UTEP of course answered shortly after when Trevor Vittatoe connected with Kris Adams on a 49 yard bomb. Then, Miner Greg Watkins had his first career interception, which was followed shortly thereafter with his first fumble. Luckily, Adam Ayala was on the spot and recovered the fumble. Joe Banyard then punched it in from 10 yards out and the Miners jumped back ahead 14-7.
After another defensive stop, Travaun Nixon had a blockbuster 46 yard punt return to the UNM 43. The Miners looked set to put it in cruise control Well, maybe they did. After the Miners drive stalled, Dakota Warren's 52 yard field goal attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown by Anthony Hooks. 14-14. Had the Miners given UNM hope? Were the Lobos setting the stage for the "Buzzsaw" I feared possible last week?
No. And UTEP's defense was the reason why.
UTEP's offense was good, don't get me wrong. It was the offense after all, that orchestrated a backbreaking a backbreaking 96 yard touchdown drive that ate up a chunk of the second quarter and probably broke the will of the UNM defense. But, the Miners defense, after giving up the early Tarean Austin touchdown that was set up by Frazier's fumble, killed 10 consecutive UNM drives to finish out the game.
10 consecutive UNM drives ended in a punt, interception, or turnover on downs. Again, I don't want to take anything away from Kris Adams (a disgusting 5 grabs for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns), Joe Banyard (15 carries for 95 yards, TD), or 'Must See' TV himself (20/37, 264 yards, 3 TD's, no INT's), but when is the last time a UTEP defense held an opposing team to 237 total offensive yards?
237 yards. I realize UNM had one of the nation's worst offenses in the country, statistically, coming in to the game. I realize UNM has been ranked #117 in the nation by ESPN for most of this season. I realize that Lobo fans are more excited about guessing who their next coach will be than they are about their upcoming "Pillow Fight" against NMSU. I don't care about that. It's hard to keep anybody, even an FCS school, to 237 yards of offense at the D-1 level. Lobo quartebacks were held to a staggering 4.3 yards per attempt. Lobo rushers, led by Kasey Carrier, were held to 3.2 yards per rush.
For a second straight week, we saw UTEP's defense make plays in the backfield which no doubt had been their biggest problem three weeks into this season. Miner defenders had 5 tackles for loss and Eastwood High grad Ruben Munoz had a sack. As mentioned, Watkins had an interception. Drew Thomas had one too. Germard Reed and Bernard Obi both had quarterback hurries.
Two of New Mexico's three touchdowns came on special teams mistakes. The first, of course, being the blocked kick. The second, a 100 yard kickoff return by Miles Daughtry that came in garbage time, after UTEP was up 38-14 with just over 3 minutes to go. If anything, the special teams errors might be one of those things the coaches can emphasize this week to keep Miner players level headed.
UTEP was 1-9 in their last 10 road games going into Albuquerque. Coming in to the season, we all knew that the Miners would have to shake off some past demons if they were going to have a successful 2010 campaign. Winning games on the road is a huge part of that. Unfortunately, UTEP lost some key contributors to injuries. Defensive tackle Isaac Tauaefa has been lost for the season to an ACL injury. Tanner Cullumber, our stalwart center, injured his MCL and will be out for an extended period of time.
At 4-1, this is UTEP's best start since the 2005 season, the Miners need to stay focused on the task at hand. Now, that's gearing up for Rice at the Sun Bowl.
MVP's & Post-Game Awards Will Be Up Later on Monday....