On Monday, UTEP coach Mike Price had his second press conference of the year with members of the El Paso media. Most of the talk had to do with Saturday's contest against #4 Oklahoma, and as always some of the comments were taken a bit out of context. In this piece here will give you a few quotes from that Monday presser, and some thoughts on the comments as well.
Overall thoughts on Oklahoma:
"Oklahoma has no weaknesses. We have not found a soft spot in the team where we think 'we can exploit this'. They're just solid, across the board....Their QB threw for 4,400 yards last year, and they can still run the ball. They're a running football team, but they make their big plays with the pass."
"They had a couple receivers that were suspended, and immediately recruited an outstanding community college player from Eastern Mississippi Community College, and one of the best receivers in the country in the kid from Penn State."
While its tough to disagree with Coach's comments here, I'd like to point out a few "weaknesses", if I may. As talked about in the game preview yesterday, the Sooners have found a way to silence, or at least quiet the concerns at the wide receiver position.
The additions of Justin Brown, and Lacoltan Bester undoubtedly give that corp a boost, but neither of those guys have had much time to develop chemistry with quarterback Landry Jones. So, we can't exactly say that the team doesn't have concerns at wideout.
On top of that, as far as we know, Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders has not been cleared by the NCAA to play. Additionally, juco transfer Courtney Gardner will not play this year, and Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks remain suspended from game action. This means that the Sooners will enter Saturday's contest with only one receiver who has caught a ball Jones in game action, Kenny Stills.
Granted, Stills was the second leading receiver a year ago, but the lack of depth at the position is certainly a chink in the armor. In fact the depth not only at wide receiver, but on offensive line, and at areas on the defense are also in question. So, this Oklahoma team is not invincible, as they might seem.
What to hope for in game one:
"This sounds a little simple, but I'm hoping to see us align properly. Play with 11 players on the field all the times. Not 10, not 12. For us to come off the ball all together, with no offsides. To line up, and know who we have to cover. I want us to have minimal mental errors."
"If we get run over, we get run over by a guy. If some guy outruns us, because he's faster, he outruns us. There's nothing we can do about that. But we better know who has him, and we better be covering the right guys...I know they will play with emotion. I know they will play with [enthusiasm, toughness, and desire]. I want to make sure that we do the things that got us here, and that's basic, fundamental football."
I think this is exactly the mentality that we should have heading into a game like this. There's no questioning who the favorite is, and in order for us to give ourselves a chance, we need to play perfect, or as close to perfect football as we possibly can.
That starts with eliminating the small errors like unnecessary penalties, as well as alignment and coverage issues. If we've got those things straight, then we can at least focus on making it a game. If we don't, this thing could get ugly. In a hurry.
"I think a way to stay healthy is to rotate players early, rather than late. Once you lose your energy or wind, it takes a while to regain it, and get that momentum going back...We're going to do a lot of early substitutions, that are planned."
"Yes, I'm going to play Carson Meger, that's going to be a great example. Yes he's going to play in this game, and not late."
I've said it a hundred times throughout the offseason, so why would I stop now? The biggest concern for this week is for this team to stay healthy, and coach Price understands that. Of course we all want to see the Miners win the game, but we have to look at the big picture.
This season is not about the opener against Oklahoma. In fact, its not even about the non-conference slate. Its about improving, and staying healthy through those first games, in order to prepare yourselves for an opportunity to make a run at the conference crown. With a non-conference slate like this, any wins are just icing on the cake.
Coach's comments about Meger were some that in a way were taken completely out of context. Price was asked about playing Meger immediately after his speech about rotating players in and out to keep people healthy. Thus he answered; "Yes, I'm going to play Carson Meger".
I wouldn't read too much into this. Yes Meger is a talented guy who has shown that he can come in and lead this team should his services be needed. But, there is absolutely no question who is the starting quarterback, and its not even that close of race to consider a timeshare.
Maybe coach Price and his staff have figured out, or think they have figure out a way to throw in a wrinkle, and get Carson some snaps. Maybe, they're planning on running some trick plays. Who knows? But I certainly don't think it will take more than one hand to count the amount of snaps Meger gets under center on Saturday.
Running back situation:
"Nate Jeffery is our starting running back. I want him carrying the ball more than he did last year. I'd like to see him carrying the ball 20 times a game, every game, for the rest of the season. But we have very good backs that will spell him. So we will get the ball to those backs in other ways, but I'd like to see Nathan Jeffery get the ball 20 times a game. He's that kind of running back."
Of course, its tough to judge exactly where your team is at, at any position, when you've only been playing against yourselves. Thus, its hard to say that the running backs this year for the Miners, can even come close to matching the production of the backs from 2011.
But, even though it may be hard, I'll step out on a limb and say that that will be the case. And, Nathan Jeffery will outperform any of the three featured backs from last year's team. That may be because he'll get more touches, but its also because he simply has more raw talent. And in no way is that taking away from Banyard, Frazier, or Myers.
What's most promising, for the future, is that the Miners don't have a single guy in the backfield with less than three years of eligibility remaining. In all, we have two sophomores, and six freshman that will occupy the UTEP backfield this season.
We are now only three days away from the 2012 season kickoff! Make sure to stay tuned to MinerRush for more game coverage the rest of the week, and for the gameday open comment thread on Saturday. Go Miners!