MinerRush: La Tech is off to a 2-3 start, but has had a very tough opening stretch. Talk about some of the things you've seen that you've liked about the team, as well as the areas that need improvement.
Jason Jones: Most Tech fans were hopeful that the team would start 2-3 but didn't expect to get there this way. The team has more weapons on offense and a new quarterback that allows the offense to be more balanced.
The team is much better on offense than a year ago but the offensive line took a step back against Northwestern State. Shoring up the line and cutting out turnovers are the immediate needs of the team.
MR: Cody Sokol has stepped in as the starter under center in his first year and has done fairly well. What's your take on the impact he's had on this team?
JJ: Sokol has the ability to make the big play with is arm. Some of that is because of his talent, and some of that is because if the improvement on the offensive line and at receiver.
Sokol has stepped in as a leader and given the team more confidence on offense. They are also doing a good job of spreading the ball around and getting everyone involved.
MR: Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is considered by many to be one of the best in the nation. What can we expect out of his defense this weekend?
JJ: They are going to bring a lot of run pressure. They do this a lot to begin with and they will do it even more with UTEP being such a dominant run team.
They trust their secondary a lot and also depend on Houston Bates to contain on the end. Since they bring so much pressure, it forces everyone else to stay in position.
MR: After an opening stretch that featured two top ten teams on the road, where is this team at physically? Any significant injuries or players who are questionable?
JJ: The Bulldogs were able to line up against Auburn and not get overwhelmed physically. The tigers actually had more guys coming out of the game than Tech did.
Kenneth Dixon did seem to get dinged in the first half and it took a while for him to re-enter the game. He should be fine going forward, but the bye week next week will certainly help. The is so without DE Vontarrius Dora and hope to get him back after the bye.
MR: Following the blowouts of Lafayette and North Texas, many expected this team to be the class of C-USA West. Did the loss to Northwestern St. derail those hopes in any way?
JJ: Those two wins certainly raised expectations. The loss showed that the bulldogs aren't good enough to simply walk out on the field and expect to win. 5 turnovers will usually get you beaten by any team. They know they can still make it to the CUSA Championship Game and it all starts with these next two home games against UTEP and UTSA.
MR: How has this team improved or regressed throughout the non-conference slate?
JJ: The entire team showed improvement from last year. The offensive line looked better, the receivers looked faster, and the defense tackled better. The offensive line took a step back in the loss to Northwestern State and the Demons were able to withstand the pressure from Tech's defense. Then obviously the turnover but hit in the last 6 quarters of play, so they have plenty of issues to address.
MR: Keys to the game this weekend?
JJ: Who can stop the run? If one team's run gets shut down and they are forced to throw too much; it could lead to mistakes that may cost them the game.
MR: Final thoughts/prediction?
JJ: UTEP is not going to make mistakes. The Miners want to get off to a good start in the conference and also make up for last season's loss. Tech has to protect the ball and keep their intensity up for four quarters.
I feel like Tech wants to make up for that last home loss and they will clean up some of the mistakes.
I'm going with Tech 35, UTEP 31.
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