At season's start, a new coaching staff, highly touted transfer quarterback, and plenty of other talented pieces seemed to be the answer for an offense, and a team that struggled mightily in 2012.
Returning on offense was Nathan Jeffery, a stud running back who rushed for nearly 900 yards in just about 8 full games in 2012, as well a Biletnikoff Award Watch List receiver in Jordan Leslie, and a "pro style" quarterback in Jameill Showers ready to lead the way.
Add to the mix a trio of capable tight ends, a number of talented running backs in the stable, and a 6'5 receiver with great hands and good speed and the Miners seemed poised for a solid a season on offense. Right? Well, not exactly.
At 1-7 overall, and 0-4 in conference play, this season for UTEP football has quickly turned into a disappointment, and one with far more questions than answers.
Early on, the Miner offense was hitting on all cylinders. Despite its struggles at times, through the first five games they averaged nearly 34 points a game, and boasted a balanced 218.6 passing yards and 201.4 rushing yards per contest.
Since then though, the points per game and passing yards per game have dipped to just 11.3 and 117.6, while the rushing yards have remained about the same at 199 yards to per game. So what happened?
Well, most noticeably, and for whatever reason, the Miners have almost completely abandoned the pass. Through those first five games, they averaged roughly 31 pass attempts per contest. In the last three, just 19.
And in that drop, more than passing attempts, passing yards, and points per game have taken a hit. Actually, the Miners total plays per game, first downs, third down conversion rate, and even rushing yards per game are down. Heck even the turnover number has shot up.
The question has to be asked; why would a team that is experiencing relative success throwing the ball just completely turn away from it? Moreover, why would a team with one receiver on the Biletnikoff Award watch list and another that is 6'5 not try to get them the ball?
Its not like the the increase in run, and decrease in the pass has seen any increase in production. In the last three games, the Miners first downs per game have fallen from 22.8 to 15.6, nearly a 32% decrease.
Also through the last three contests, their third down conversion rate has fallen from 46.3% (a number that would currently rank a very respectable 29th nationally) to 34.8% ( a number that would currently rank a subpar 99th).
Now, some might argue that Jameill Showers' injury has led to the Miners throwing the ball less, but Blaire Sullivan is more than capable of throwing the football, and he has shown that. In fact, he's actually been more productive when he's been able to be the "dual threat" quarterback that he is.
But here's the thing, even in Jameill Showers' last full game under center (against Tulsa), the Miners attempted just 20 passes until the last drive of the game (with 1:41 left) where they threw the ball 10 times. Throw out that drive, and the Miners' pass attempts per game over the last three contests drops to less than 16.
Clearly, there is a trend here, and its not just about who is under center. Now, its been well noted that Sean Kugler wants to make this program a power run program. A ground and pound, punishing team. But, is that really what we are?
Again, the Miners entered 2013 as a team with all the tools to be a very productive, and well balanced team, offensively. That's what they started as, and that's where they found the most success. So, is this team really built for the ground and pound?
I have to say that I commend coach Kugler for sticking to his guns about running the program, and as far as this post is concerned running the offense, the way that he feels is best. However, the numbers don't lie. And clearly, we're not seeing what is best for this team, at least not in the short term.
I have to stress that I do believe in coach Kugler, and that I do believe he will be a very successful coach here at UTEP. I just also believe that being a great coach is more than just recruiting and x's and o's. Its about getting the most out of what you have.
Was this year's roster ideal for what Kugler wants to do in the future? Probably not. But was there the talent on it to be a team that is better than the 1-7 one we've seen thus far? Most definitely.
Obviously, with already having 7 losses, this team won't be making a bowl. But, as a fan, and one who still supports and is out there at the games, it'd be nice to see us open up the playbook. Let these guys go out there and do what they do best. What do we have to lose?
Maybe we don't win another game either way. But, who knows, maybe we win them all. The bottom line is: to write off this season for the sake of "what we want to do in the future" is not only selling your fans short, its selling a group of seniors who are there every day shedding their blood, sweat, and tears even shorter than that.