The 2014 season has a reoccurring theme for the UTEP Miners. It's team that seems to have two different personalities. Call it a Jeykll and Hyde situation. One dominating force that plays high flying offense and suffocating defense. The other, can't find the first down marker and shy's away from contact.
This can also be described as peaks and valleys.
That's an accurate depiction for the journey of a football team throughout the course of season. The high's are sky high, the lows are way down low. For this UTEP team to maintain success, they'll need to continue to build on their strength's and find consistency where they are steadily improving.
Two weeks ago, the Miners lost to Louisiana Tech in a game that had the fan base speechless. UTEP football was completely unrecognizable from their 42-24 beat down of New Mexico State two weeks prior. After the loss against the Bulldogs, Head Coach Sean Kugler noted there needs to be adjustments
There will also be some slight personnel adjustments just to get the right players in the right spots for those plays. We've got to improve in our passing game.
It's safe to say, the adjustments are paying off for quarterback Jameill Showers and company. Showers went from the dink and dunk screen game early in the season to throwing down the field rockets, including a 75 yard dime to Jaquan White. Not going completely away from the screen play, Aaron Jones turned a pass behind the line of scrimmage into 40 yards to paydirt. It's clear to see that Offensive Coordinator Patrick Higgins has adjusted on the fly as well. The read option pass was gutting the University of Texas-San Antonio defense. A nice wrinkle highlighting Showers' mobility while capitalizing on the speed of the receivers around him.
Let's not forget in games against Kansas State and La. Tech, this squad looked helpless and hapless. In those two games they averaged 242 yards of offense and a total of 5 turnovers. Though UTEP leads the nation in time of possession, that stat has no use unless it translates into yards on the field and points on the scoreboard. When UTEP is down big, this offense isn't built like Baylor or an Oregon type where they can spread the ball and score at will. This team's bread and butter is the ground and pound. When the running game is unsuccessful, the result usually suffers.
When it comes to defense this team has shown that it has the fire to fly around and make plays. They're aggressive in tackling and in pursuit while also eager to cause turnovers. After the Texas Tech loss, it was in question whether or not UTEP could sustain that spirited play. That was answered with a yes, but in spurts. Against UTSA, the Miners played with a fury that's reflective of fiery Defensive Coordinator Scott Stoker. UTEP has launched themselves to a ranking of 60th in total defense. A season ago, they finished a lowly 91st. Another encouraging statistic is that UTEP is 23rd in the NCAA in turnover margin causing, 11 turnovers. If the defensive staff is asking for the football, they're getting it.
With the defense on the rise, let's not forget the brutal back to back blowout losses. Whether it was lack of preparation, inability to tackle, or flat out drubbing by a #11 Kansas State. It seems their fire and passion for making plays didn't make the trip from El Paso. The players looked overwhelmed and out of sorts, but a sign of a good program is coaches having accountability. The coaches shouldered the losses just as the players did themselves.
Let's credit this team for their ability as a whole to pull themselves out of a rut. To respond to criticism and 'right the ship' as they say. To quote the movie 'Remember The Titans' this fitting line embodies what Coach Kugler instills in his players when Julius says to Gary "Attitude reflects leadership. Captain."
Kugler echoed this similarly after their second consecutive blowout loss:
"Any time there's an issue, there are two routes you can go. You can start pointing figures and start doing the blame game. Or you can look in the mirror and say `What can I do better to help this program get better?' I'm at that stage. I want to see what I can do to make this team get better from a practice standpoint, a schematic standpoint and a personnel standpoint. If there's somebody who can do something better I have no problem getting that person in there, regardless of age. You're never going to see me sit up here and blame a coach or a player or a scheme. I'm not into that. That's not my philosophy. I'm more into fixing things and solving problems than I am about blaming things or boo hooing."
This season has a reoccurring theme, a team that seems to have two different personalities. It will be interesting to see who shows up against Southern Mississippi and how they'll perform.
With a bowl game in their sights, let's hope the bad guy shows up in the Sun Bowl this weekend.