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UTEP Football: Three Key Defensive Improvement Marks

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The UTEP defensive unit has improved with every practice since the opening of camp, where are the biggest improvements? I'll show you....

Tom Gonzales-MinerRush.com

A lot of the talk during camp and through the first couple of games said that the UTEP defense was an improved unit, though still a unit desperately searching for consistency.

Last Saturday that same unit set a standard no other defense in school history can even come close to bragging about.

Coming into last week the defense was ranked in the 90's in terms of overall yards allowed, but this unit has been a quiet strength this season, and even more now after the blanking of UTSA.

Here are three marks of improvement that may change the identity of the UTEP defense for years to come.

Third Down Defense

What was the Achilles heel among other issues under previous UTEP defense's had been the inability to get off the field on third downs.

In 2014 those third down situations are the main ingredients inside the improvement of the defense.

In UTEP's four wins this year the Miner D is forcing teams into a 13 out of 47 clip on third downs for a 27 percent mark, while limiting conference opponents to a 10 out of 35 conversion mark since the conference schedule began.

This can also be attributed to UTEP's 25 tackles for loss numbers inside those four wins, in contrast UTEP has only six TFL's in the three losses.

Forcing third and long is always the key in any defense, but UTEP has done it as good as anyone in the conference this year.

UTEP has only allowed nine third down conversions in their last 35 third down situations, while forcing at least 10 third down conversions tries for the opponents in every game other than the Kansas State game.

With the way this stat has been improving, getting off the field on third downs is no longer something UTEP struggles with, it's now a proven identity.

Improved Pursuit Techniques and Tackling

I've read on some UTEP boards, and even here on MinerRush that this is the best tackling team any of us has seen in UTEP history.  It's hard to go back and watch over 90 years of film but that could be a very valid assessment.

Improved tackling also comes from the angle techniques in pursuit you have to learn down pat in a new scheme to be in the right place to make a play on every call.  So many times last year a UTEP defender was able to break free in the back field, but their technique in where to angle their feet was horrible, leading to failed attempts in arm tackles and a huge gain going the other way.

This year, guys are flying around using blitz and angle lanes perfectly without much thought of where to be or shoot with their feet under them.   But it's not just one guy who is doing it; UTEP is better at gang tackling as well.

I swear there was less than three missed tackles against UTSA with guys following their pursuit assignments perfectly, and were able to tee off on UTSA ball carriers and quarterback Austin Robinson in groups.

UTEP has eight starters who have 10 solo tackles, and at least every guy in the rotation has at least two assisted tackles or more. This tells me everyone is on the same page, and that UTEP Is employing a true team defensive attack which is what the system calls for.

From an eye test standpoint, UTEP's top six leading tacklers are the same main numbers flying around the ball on most plays, while UTEP's rotation depth has not allowed a drop off on certain packages.

Next step is what Nick Gathrite stepped up and did forcing two balls to hit the ground, which I can see becoming another identity form this every evolving and improving defensive unit.

Experience and Depth In The System

The third point is really stating obvious remarks the defensive guys have talked about all year.

Having a full spring, and fall camp has allowed UTEP to able to fine tune things like technique, and help Scott Stoker open up the playbook to another level.  Meaning the players have fully bought into the scheme.

Listening to the coaches show the other night, Stoker talked about throwing in different coverage's behind the blitz that helped UTEP dominate the UTSA offense during the bye week.  He said last season he was scared to call a blitz because he didn't know what to expect.

Not this year.

UTEP dialed up a number exotic blitzes last week that the 4-2-5 defense is capable of bringing, while mixing in some tough zone, and man looks behind it that had Austin Robinson way off target and crossed up his eyes from the start.

Not only does UTEP have the scheme down mentally, and physically, there is some depth for Stoker to use in his various packages.

Alvin Jones, and Jimmy Musgrave have provided UTEP with two dynamic defenders, who can blitz and cover, while also bringing the physicality and speed needed from a linebacker.  The defensive line has seen new faces emerge over the past couple of weeks as well, and have had their best games of the year in back-to-back outings.

The additions of Damian Payne and Kelvin Fisher Jr. in the secondary allows UTEP to match up better with a pass oriented offense along with the other talented returning parts, and not losing any faith or drop off in their cover guys by sending blitzes from the weak safety and linebacker spots.

Historically Stoker's defenses makes the huge stat and overall improvement jump in the second season, and I think its safe to say that is what we are seeing.

All these points have been huge in the consistency the defense has shown, only place to go now further is up, and the stock of the UTEP defense leading the way to a bowl game is rising.