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UTEP football: Gained defensive identities must show in bowl game

The pass rush and defensive strengths that were non-existent in the first two games of the year has been UTEP's MO on defense down the stretch of the season, The need for it and other defensive improvement marks to continue in the bowl game is a must if any trophy hoisting becomes a reality.

Tom Gonzales-www.minerrush.com

There is getting on a streak of good fortune in sports like a ten-game or plus winning streak in the MLB and NBA, you have Jeremy Lin, NCAA Tourney runs, a golfer has a good Saturday and Sunday to close out a tourney going away by a number of strokes.

But what do you call a hot streak during part of a season that turns into an identity for a team or aspect of a team the rest of the way?

Playing in the backfield is one of the main keys of the UTEP defensive scheme that has developed into something expected down the stretch of the season.

Starting with New Mexico back on August 30th the Miners did just that with 9.0 TFL's that took 26 yards away from UNM's ground and pound attack.

From that point on, UTEP steadily improved on getting back there more often, but still faced some struggles particularly in stopping the run.

Through the first five games, the Miners had only 2.0 sacks, and 21 TFL's.

Then over the last seven games, UTEP racked up 19 sacks, 47 TFL's, while holding three opponents to less than 17 points, and four to less than 100 yards rushing.

What changed?

Simply put, the depth developed, and Scott Stoker is one hell of a defensive coordinator with a blitz heavy scheme that if you don't prepare your offense for any consistent outlets, it's going to be a rough night if you're an offensive coordinator and offensive unit.

Through the struggles early in the year, it was solely Roy Robertson-Harris, and Nick Usher bringing in the production, and havoc, although their good starts to the season seemed to energize others along the defensive line.

The defensive turnaround was a group effort, with a number of guys stepping in to increase production on the stat sheets once the defense began rolling after a 34-0 shutout of UTSA.

Senior defensive end Cooper Brock and fellow senior defensive tackle Maurice Chavis provided UTEP with some much needed depth in certain packages up front, while also bringing senior leadership, and a fire to turn things around before their college careers ended.

But it wasn't just the front four that got after it.

UTEP had five different players with at least two sacks and twelve total defensive players with at least one sack this season.

The Miner defense is deeply personnel predicated so much that you can't just worry about one or two players, and the entire key is to get behind the scrimmage on the first two downs with looks from about almost everywhere to force third and forever.

In UTEP wins this season, teams are only converting 32 percent of their down conversion tries against the Miners.  In comparison to Utah State's offense where the Aggies average a 21.5 percent conversion rate on their third down conversion attempts in losses.

The same formula of forcing and getting off the field on third downs will have to hold true against Utah State, as the Aggies have allowed 91 tackles for loss, and 24 sacks to go along with those poor third conversion numbers in four losses this season.

A hot streak of defensive play has turned into a reality of an identity for the UTEP defense, and will be a key is containing the Aggie offense.

But just stopping Utah State behind the line of scrimmage hasn't necessarily lead to wins for their 2014 opponents.

In Utah State's nine wins this year, the Aggies have allowed 17 sacks, and 65 TFL's.

WTF right?

But in UTEP's case, they have the personnel, scheme, and aggressive play caller that take advantage of negative plays, and will be key in balancing the time of possession, and the overall scoreboard battle.

As consistent as this part of the UTEP defense has been this season, no reason why they can't give Utah State's fourth string quarterback trouble in the ever evolving unit that is the UTEP big play defense.