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Beyond the Box Score: Play calling, penalties doom Miners

Something UTEP doesn't do very often became an issue, while doing what they normally do on offense was ineffective against an elite defense.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There is one thing Sean Kugler is trying to instill in his program: don't beat ourselves.

The Miners did just that in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl as they were flagged eight times for 75 yards which marks the highest penalty yards in a game during the two year Sean Kugler era.  70 of those penalty yards came during opportune times in the first half for UTEP to grab a lead.

The offensive line had multiple false starts yesterday which I don't think has happened in the final six games.

Two momentum changing, forced turnovers in the first half saw penalties kill the ensuing drive while down a score.

John Taylor broke through for a sack on Showers to open the drive after Damian Payne's interception, then a false start gave UTEP a 2nd-and-20 trailing 7-3 with less than seven minutes left till half time.

UTEP would go three and out, and not give themselves a chance to play keep away, or either cut into the lead, or grab the lead themselves.

Four plays later Adrian James came untouched on a corner blitz and drilled Kent Myers who coughed it up, with Alvin Jones coming up with gold, and another chance to kick the door down.

The Miners only needed to go 24 yards to change the tide again, but a yellow hanky stopped those thoughts.

Ziere Banner took an end around to the six yard line to give UTEP a second-and-one from the six yard line with under three minutes and running to play.

What appeared to be an Aaron Jones first down inside the five on the very next play, turned into a 10 yard walk off due to a hold, and Mike Ruggles couldn't handle Nick Dooley's snap on a 25 yard field goal try from Jay Mattox.

UTEP came away empty twice in the final ten minutes of the first half, and left important points on the field, and Utah State led 7-3 at the half.

Needing something different to help jump start the offense overcome the first half penalty woes, UTEP ran seven times on their first 12 plays for only 24 yards in the second half.  Some sort of creativity was needed in trying to keep Utah State's front seven off balance, and out of the box.

Utah State's defensive line was the MVP of the game, though Patrick Higgins never gave his offense or quarterback a chance to make the big play they needed to get back into the game, and help the hard fighting defense.

UTEP's longest offensive play was a broken scramble that Showers magically hit Ian Hamilton for 53 yards leading to UTEP's first points of the game.  Take that gain away, and UTEP is just a few clips above 200 yards of total offense.

Despite Utah State's dominance of the predictable UTEP game plan, the Miners still had a shot making things interesting.

With 9:58 left in the fourth quarter and down 14-3, UTEP started what should have been a quick, but efficient drive to give the defense a chance to make one last stand to set up the Miners with possession on hopefully a game ending drive.

You figure, try to gash them early on in this drive, so you can pound them out in the red-zone to reverse what you have doing the entire game right?

Although UTEP ran eight straight runs to open the drive, and granted the Miners and Aaron Jones drove inside the Utah State 20 yard line. Then all of a sudden UTEP went to the pass on the next set of downs after Jameill Showers scrambled for nine yards to put them in the red-zone.

Three fails, and a field goal.

What was the whole purpose of that drive?

Getting Aaron Jones in space across the middle int the passing game, or the same with Autrey Golden is something that when UTEP does it, its pretty effective.

Though instead eight runs, followed by called passes that Showers nor the receivers were in rhythm to make plays lead to only three points after 6:56 ran off the clock.

They tried a quick slant pattern for Ian Hamilton across the middle in the red-zone, but no rhythm was built for that to just open like it was called, Hamilton who is usually consistent had a rough day.

When you're a run first team, isn't hard to get into a rhythm late in an opening drive when you finally establish the run?

Point is, UTEP's best play makers were not put in position to do something UTEP needed to do there which was shorten the clock a bit, but make sure you finish the drive with six via a big play to get the crowd going, and Utah State's defense thinking.

UTEP was still down a score with 3:02 left, but Jay Mattox kicked the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, and another penalty this time via special teams killed the defense's chances to make one final stop with two timeouts left.

This was a game I felt UTEP would try to do what they do in the run ball, but also felt there was a needed plan B in case Utah State limited the run.

You have to give Utah State's defense a lot of credit for being just flat out raw, and nasty, but the players were setup for failure if the run game was not a factor.

Hard to put this one on Jameill Showers, and the offensive line, UTEP was out coached on the offensive end, and maybe with another full off-season the Miners will sharpen the passing game to where its an efficient weapon that finishes drives.

All in all, it was a good season, it was a great effort yesterday with guys showing no quit.  No one expected to be watching a UTEP football game in December, but Sean Kugler and his staff did a great job of getting these guys to buy in and the future does look extremely bright.

But when will UTEP turn that corner?

I feel it will happen under Sean Kugler, and yes he is the guy what will turn this thing fully around with a few more recruiting classes and more experiences like yesterday and certain winnable games this season.

As much as 2014 was an improvement year, it was a bigger learning year of growth for all the coaches, and players.

They learned how to win, they learned how to play together, now they also might have learned the consistency needed to put that together for 12 games going forward from here on out.

Gameball: The Vigil Brothers