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Beyond The Box Score: Big Play D, Mental Toughness Has UTEP One Win Away From Bowl Eligibility

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Another huge step in full improvement was conquered by the UTEP defense in the 35-14 win against Southern Miss.

Tom Gonzales-MinerRush.com

What more could a defense do a week after shutting out a respectable team on the road, while holding them to less than 100 total yards of offense?  Force turnovers and put up points of course!

UTEP forced five total turnovers leading to 21 points, scoring on a 59-yard scoop and score fumble recovery forced out by Roy Robertson-Harris and housed by Nick Gathrite, also cashing in on 51-yard a pick six by Trey Brown taking the UTEP defense to another level of momentum swinging ability last night.

Oh yeah and Alvin Jones also recorded his first interception of his career on a third down play.

Another fast start in the first half saw the Miner D force punts in their first six defended drives of the evening, and turned Southern Miss. over on downs in their last drive of the half which would make it six straight quarters of shutout football in the first thirty minutes of last night's game.

The Miners allowed just 109 yards in the first half, also allowing just three yards a play, though the offense was met by a pretty stout defensive front themselves.

Jameill Showers struggled to get into rhythm, and Aaron Jones had a target on his back as the Southern Miss. front four lead by future NFLer Rakeem Nunez-Roches really got after it and grounded the Miners run attack.

But not to worry, the UTEP Big Play D took the scoring into their own hands.

We have all followed the steps of the defensive growth from the start of camp: learning the scheme better, tackling, and overall technique improvement, and with the turnover fest the created last night, the UTEP defense is further proving their presence as a legit game breaking unit while adding consistent identities each week.

Another physical showing in where UTEP had nine quarterback hurries, forced USM into a 5 of 19 mark on third downs, and I did mention how physical they were?

Anthony Puente and the entire front seven were out there laying full speed hats on fools, Devin Cockrell was teeing off on would be blockers around or at the line of scrimmage, and Wesley Miller laid one the best hits on the Matrix 46 I've seen from a UTEP defender in quite sometime.

The overall defensive play calling was mind of a blitz guru good.   UTEP whiffed a couple times with a free blitzer, but settled down and executed in the second half.

And while they did give up yards and a few chunk plays to USM's credit, the defensive play calling particularly on third downs put guys in perfect spots to make plays late in the game when it mattered the most.

Southern Miss. had a good offensive game plan with a backup quarterback, but became too predictable towards the end of the game, and the UTEP defense turned a dream identity Sean Kugler wants out if his defense into reality with another clutch performance and top level execution when the game was on the line.

Southern Miss. kept picking on Adrian James and Traun Roberson down field, but the senior duo did a great job closing in for PBU's as did the entire secondary who were credited with nine pass breakups which I believe is a game high in the Scott Stoker era.

UTEP has now intercepted seven passes on the year, and have put together the best two game stretch of fewest points allowed since 1988.

The last time UTEP scored two defensive touchdowns in a game was in 2008,  UTEP is 5-0 this season and 7-3 overall under Sean Kugler when they score 30 or more points.

Who would have thought game management, ball control, mental toughness, and aggressive/physical big play defense could win you college football games?  Sean Kugler did.

Its getting the point in where UTEP doesn't have to dominate in every category of the game, but play well enough in certain spots inside all facets in order to come up with multiple big plays in one of them, while playing smart in all aspects to give themselves a chance to make plays, and ultimately win the game.

More than anything this past three game win streak has shown that yes, UTEP now has a legit defense, but more than that Kugler is teaching these kids how to play in situations to win football games and building a program based off mental toughness.

It's unfortunate only the true Miner, and El Paso football fans got to see a team who couldn't put it together on offense, though had their defense and special teams step up mentality and physically in the clutch to put a team away, but the UTEP bandwagon is always open.

For shits and giggles I will end with this Beyond The Box Score session with a conspiracy theory.

The Miner defensive coaches used a sheet like cover on two sticks to protect their defensive signals against USM, the first time since Kugler took over that has happened in my memory.

Nothing to look at here they were just being cautious right?

Well after the game I came home and watched the LA Tech v Western Kentucky game and LA Tech was doing it too.

Did the LA Tech coaches see something against USM to make that move, and they just kept it against WKU, and also did they leak any info to the UTEP staff as a possible tip about what Southern Miss. does pre-snap on offense from the booth?

Just thought it was interesting, or maybe just the post game beers making me think outside the Box (Score)....

Anyhow UTEP is one win away from bowling with a huge roadie test for the defense looming at Western Kentucky next week, when asked about being in the 5-3 position with four games left, Kugler simply replied "I expected us to be here".

Gameball: UTEP's practices since the LA Tech loss