One week ago today, all was right in Miner Nation. Following a tough opening home loss to New Mexico, the Miners bounced back to shut down NMSU in the Battle of I-10. The offense seemed to be firing on all cylinders, and the defense, well, was improving. Things looked well heading into UTSA week.
To make things more interesting the trash talk between UTEP and UTSA fans over Twitter really heated up, turning this thing into a full fledged rivalry, despite this being the first ever matchup between the two schools on the gridiron.
On the first drive of the game, the Roadrunners did as they pleased, and flat out enforced their will on the Miners, going 75 yards on seven plays (five of which were rushes), and scored less than four minutes in on a 29 yard dash by Brandon Armstrong.
The Miners' special teams responded well, as Autrey Golden took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for the tying score. Unfortunately for the Miners, that's the last time the game would be tied, and after they took the lead at 10-7 on the next possession, they would be outscored 25-3 the rest of the game.
Its hard to say exactly what went wrong. Again, the Miner offense had looked great in their first two contests, and the defense seemed to be improving. And while the defense can't entirely be blamed for the loss, that first half, and more precisely that second quarter, was an absolute terrible showing.
The bottom was, the Miners were just flat. Overthrows, dropped passes, and missed tackles were just a few of the issues, but there was also some terrible play calls and untimely penalties as well.
Credit has to be given to UTSA for coming in with a solid gameplan, and executing that gameplan, but the Miners had their opportunities, plenty of them, and they squandered them.
The first, and in my opinion most important opportunity that was squandered, was on the Miners opening offensive possession. The Miners marched down the field on a 15 play drive, that was stalled on a personal foul penalty after reaching the UTSA seven yard line.
The Miners would be backed up to the 22, and despite making it back in side the 10, they would have to settle for a field goal. That was a prime opportunity to go up 14-7, and keep the momentum going. Instead, the Roadrunners held, a win for them, and momentum was shifted.
UTSA then went on to scored two touchdowns and a field goal their final three possessions of the half. Their counterparts, the UTEP offense, managed just 18 total yards during that stretch, and it all translated into a 25-10 halftime lead for UTSA.
But let's take a step back. The Miners also squandered a huge opportunity with 3:34 left in the first half. After the UTEP defense held UTSA to a field goal with under four minutes to play in the second quarter, the Miner offense got the ball back down eight.
That was a turning point in the game. Instead of going into a 'two minute offense', the Miners ran the ball for two yards on first down, completed a three yard pass on second down, and ran a draw on 3rd and 5 that gave the ball right back to UTSA with still better than 2:00 on the Sun Bowl clock.
The Runners then took advantage of their opportunity, taking a deep shot down the field on the first play, and connecting on it for 57 yards that put them right back in scoring position. On the ensuing play, they went right back to the air and quarterback Eric Soza hit Sam Hubble for a 17 yard score.
Just to note, the Miners got the ball back with still 1:30 remaining in the half, and three timeouts, but were unable to even pick up a single yard. The half ended there, with UTSA enjoying that 15 point lead.
The Miners next squandered opportunities came on the Roadrunners first drive of the second half. After driving the ball into Runner territory, the Miners first drive stalled, and after lining up to go on 4th and 2, a Jameill Showers pooch kick pinned UTSA back on their own two yard line.
The UTEP defense forced them into 3rd and 2 at the 10, and then 3rd and 8 at the 14, but failed to stop twice (the second coming on a tough horse collar call on Anthony Puente), and the Runners made it well out of the shadows of their own endzone before punting, keeping field position in their favor.
The final squandered opportunity came late in the fourth, on the Miners' last breath. With the score now 25-13, midway through the fourth, it was do or die time for the Miners.
The defense came out, and forced the Runners into what should have been a three and out, but the second costly personal foul penalty by Puente on a third down (this time roughing the passer) kept the drive alive, and UTSA went on to score their last touchdown of the game, making it 32-13. That's how the game would end.
The biggest issue for me, was the play calling, or lack thereof, from the UTEP offensive coaches. A week ago, the Miners came out firing in the first half against NMSU. They tossed it around and were fairly successful, but more than anything it opened things up in the run game. In the second half they pounded their way to the sound victory.
Against a suspect, at best, secondary of UTSA, one would think the Miners would bring in a similar gameplan. Especially with their starting and most veteran running back out of the game due to injury.
That wasn't the case. On the Miners' most successful drive of the first half, the were extremely balanced, passing eight times, and rushing seven. The result, a field goal that put them ahead 10-7 late in the first.
Other than that, the Miners would run the ball six times to only two passes the rest of the half. One of those rushes was also on that crucial 3rd and 5. In my opinion, poor game planning and play calling cost the Miners, at least, an opportunity to win this game.
Yes, Jameill Showers was off. But, at the same time, he was never given an opportunity to get into a rhythm. Yes, there were some costly penalties, but especially in the first case, it was just a player trying to make a play.
The bottom line is UTSA brought in a better game plan, executed that better, took advantage of their opportunities, took the shots they needed to, and knew exactly how and when to expose the Miners' weaknesses. UTEP could've done much of the same, but they didn't.
Now, they're staring up at 1-2 record, with a trip to Fort Collins ahead of them. Colorado State is coming off a pretty impressive showing that saw them put up only six points, but hold #1 Alabama's offense to only three points through three quarters.
No one in Colorado will be feeling sorry for the Miners. In fact, the Rams will be looking to build on that great defensive effort from Saturday, and push their record to 2-3. The Miners must get back to work, and must come out with a better gameplan and better execution, or they will be 1-3 coming back to El Paso.