The fact is that Saturday's loss at the hands of New Mexico was an absolute heartbreaker. The Miners played hard, made some big plays in crucial situations, and in the end just came up a couple of inches short, literally. But, there's still plenty to take away from the loss.
Offensively, the Miners performed almost exactly how most had expected. The first two drives were a bit sluggish, and produced only 25 yards and two punts. From there though, the Miners really got going, scoring touchdowns on each of their next four possessions.
Through those possessions, we were introduced to a few names, and a style of football that we should expect to get used to under Sean Kugler. The first introduction was that of Jameill Showers. There were many questions surrounding the transfer QB, but those were answered quickly as he showed his ability to effectively manage the Miner offense, both with his feet and his arm.
The next introduction, was that of local star Aaron Jones. So much hype surrounded the kid through fall camp as he made big plays in practice on a daily basis. There was still the question of how soon he would arrive as a true contributor for the Miners. The answer to that was: immediately.
After carrying the ball only twice for 10 yards in the first half, Jones was given his opportunity in the second half, and he made the most of it. On the Miners first possession of the third quarter, with the game tied at 21, Jones carried three straight times for 4, 11, then 65 yards, the third of course being for his first collegiate touchdown. He would finish the night with 119 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 11 carries.
As a team, the Miners carried the ball a total of 46 times, split up between five different ball carriers. That amounted to about 70% of their offensive plays, as they only threw the ball 20 times.
That, for me, is probably my only gripe with the offensive gameplan. Perhaps I've just grown used to the days of slinging the ball around 40+ times, but I really felt the Miners relied too much on the run.
Of course, I understand; If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The Miners offense surely wasn't broke. They accumulated 399 total yards, 280 coming on the ground. They were 5-11 on third down, and they took care of the football.
Still though, Jameill Showers is very capable of throwing the football. He showed that in his limited attempts, making sound decisions, and showing great precision in completing 75% of his throws.
The fact is that the Miners cannot afford to become a completely one dimensional team. There will be much better defenses than New Mexico on the slate, and we won't always be able to get six yards a carry. Its clear that this offense will rely heavily on its stable of talented running backs, but we can't forget about our equally talented quarterback, wide receivers, and tight ends.
As far as the defense goes, there's no way to sugarcoat it. It was atrocious. The Lobos only attempted seven passes on the night, because frankly, they didn't need to throw the ball. Kasey Carrier, who managed only 50 yards in week one, torched the Miner defense for 291 yards and 4 touchdowns.
The Lobos as a team managed 395 yards on the ground, and scored all of their six touchdowns rushing the ball. Despite the fact that the Miners knew exactly where the ball was going, they just couldn't find an answer.
That said, there were still a few bright spots. Horace Miller, who was playing his first game at his new position, played a solid game, coming up with nine total tackles. Marcus Bagley picked up another nine of his own, and Traun Roberson stepped up big, leading the team with 13 tackles.
Those three will have to continue to play well, and help to lead this fairly inexperienced group as the season progresses. Roberson especially. The secondary is extremely young as a group, and he'll be relied upon heavily in the new five man scheme.
Again, as a whole, the defensive effort was poor. But, its not time to write this unit off. That kind of performance simply cannot be turned in again if this team wants to have a successful season, but let's not forget that UNM was a top 5 rushing team a year ago, and they averaged better than 300 yards a game.
As the season goes on, and these guys get more starts, and more snaps under their belts, they will improve. They have to improve. I have a feeling we'll see a step forward as soon as this week.
Special teams, which was a huge question mark coming into the season, turned out to be just fine Saturday night. Yes, there was the one miscue, and it turned out to be a very costly one, but overall, both punting and kicking turned out to be just fine.
Mike Ruggles punted four times for an average of about 34.8 yards a kick. While the number doesn't seem Ian Campbell-esque, it is skewed by the one hiccup that was an 8 yard punt. Toss that one out, and his average jumps to a very respectable 43.66. He should continue to get better as the season goes on, and could turn out to be a nice asset.
Jay Mattox converted on all five of his extra point attempts, without any issue, but went untested beyond that as he didn't attempt a single field goal. Hopefully the Miners are scoring touchdowns all season long, but if there is a time or two that we'll have to settle for a field goal...well we'll find out more about Mattox then.
Saturday's loss was an extremely tough one to swallow. It was a game that most Miner fans probably feel we should've won. But, it is what it is. There are a ton of bright spots for this UTEP football team, and they will continue to improve as the season goes on.
Showers is looking like a great leader for an offense with a ton of weapons and potential. They will keep us in a ton of games. The defense just has to continue to work hard, and they'll eventually make the plays necessary for us to pick up some wins.
All is not lost. In fact, this new era and new season has just begun. I have no doubt that very soon, this team will get things going. Hopefully that starts this weekend.