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UTEP Football: Final Report Card

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Improvement is the key component of a college football program (hell of any football team), where do the Miners grade out now at the end of the regular season compared to the mid-season grades I red inked them with in October?

Tom Gonzales-www.minerrush.com

Through the first six games, it was Jekyll and Hyde, win some and lose some, 3-3 football.

Over the last six games, UTEP formed identities, and developed play makers for now, and the future.

Here is how I feel every position group graded out, plus a quick look into the future.

Quarterbacks: B,  Mid-season Grade: C+

Actually its quarterback, since Jameill Showers took every meaningful snap of the season.

You maybe thinking, wait.......B?

Showers only had 12 touchdowns, completed 55 percent of his passes, and didn't even reach 2,000 yards passing.

Well my Miner Rush friends we all know the UTEP offense will probably not have gaudy passing numbers under Kugler going forward.

What Showers did was keep the chains moving on third downs with his legs, and found a niche on the implemented run-pass option out of the shotgun to steal some yards on the pass.

Showers was also a fierce no-nonsense leader who just knows how to win football games in Sean Kugler's system.

Going forward, a 3,000 yard, 30 touchdown passer is nice, though game management, and protecting the ball are the more important marks of a UTEP QB from now on.

Showers took care of the ball, made some plays with his legs, took care of the clock, and was the perfect stop gap fit the past two seasons for UTEP.  Hate to bring it up again, but that pick six against Western Kentucky was no way on him.

The Future

Beginning the first practice of the spring, UTEP will have an interesting quarterback battle for starting honors.

We've seen Mack Leftwich, we've kinda sorta seen Garrett Simpson, though I feel Ryan Metz is the best of them all in practice.

Metz has the best pocket presence of all of the younger QB's and can really move in and out of the pocket with smooth fluidity.

One guy to not count out in making some sort of noise is Hunter McEachern who is presumably being red-shirted with Leftwich, and Metz.

There are also talks and grumblings of UTEP bringing in a JUCO quarterback to compete for the job next year.

Can't remember the last time UTEP did not have a clear cut choice for a quarterback heading into the spring.  Lots to keep an eye here until the 2015 season opener.

Running Backs A+, Midseason Grade: A

The total yardage gained by regular ball carriers this season which include Aaron Jones, Nathan Jeffery, Josh Bell, David Hamm, Jeremiah Laufasa,  and Darrin Laufasa was 2,191 yards combined.

A+ not only because Aaron Jones is the most complete running back in the conference, but because the depth, and chemistry they complimented each other with.

Josh Bell really emerged has an important part of the running game when UTEP had a lead and bleeding clock.  Bell saw most of his carries on early downs, and set the tone on so many of those long scoring drives.

Nathan Jeffery brought another physical punch, and was just consistent all year as were his fellow backs lead by the offensive line in front of them.

The Future

Wanna talk about a for sure thing going forward, the running backs is where its at.

UTEP graduates Bell, and Jeffery, though David Hamm returns, as does Jones and both Laufasas'.

Treyvon Hughes will start practicing in the spring, and I really can see preferred walk-on freshman Noah Siegrist becoming a reliable and versatile slash player in his career.

With the depth UTEP is building along the offensive line, the UTEP running backs will have some very talented road pavers in the next few seasons.

The only drop off will be the experience factor brought from Jeffery and Bell.

But there is no question guys like Hamm, and Hughes can fill in from a physical running standpoint, just gotta have the system down pat in phases to see some touches.

Receivers: B-, Midseason Grade: C+

Same song and dance scheme wise with the receiving corps as it is the quarterbacks, duh.

Big numbers are definitely welcome, but it's the little things that help you earn your keep on the depth chart.

I think Ian Hamilton may have shown some NFL scouts that he deserves at least a look, and Eric Tomlinson could possibly become a NFL offensive lineman down the road.

This group may have been one of the best blocking groups of wide receivers and tight ends in the conference.

With the addition of Autrey Golden, production in the pass game did raise itself a notch, but the run blocking on the outside garners the improvement grade.

The Future

UTEP played a lot of young receivers who saw plenty of meaningful game snaps this season.

Tyler Batson, Jaquan White, Donovan Walker, and Ziere Banner are names Miner fans should get used too.

Golden will be the presumed number one of the group mixed with the aforementioned freshman who brought energy, and speed to the Miners blocking attack on the outside.

Now they will have a new quarterback and more route running responsibilities in 2015.

The Miners also have a commit from 6'4 JUCO receiver Elliot Oldham who figures to fight for reps, and had another JUCO receiver Antonio Kanonu visit during the Middle Tennessee game.

Just like the quarterbacks, this group will be a continued work in progress throughout the spring and beginning of 2015 fall camp.

Offensive line: A, Midseason Grade: A-

Down the latter half of the year, the offensive line suffered some key losses due to injury, though didn't skip a beat in run blocking.

As I mentioned the running back rush numbers, UTEP rushed for 2,573 yards as a team.

Maybe it was the youth and some inexperience, but improvement during the bowl and spring practice's has to be on pass protection, namely picking up blitzes.  But to their credit, they only allowed 12 sacks in 246 pass attempts.

Not that is was a consistent weak point, but it was something teams could mentally break down with blitzes once in a while.

Derek Elemendorrf emerged as an All-Conference candidate, and Eric Lee was the unsung hero of the entire offense with his leadership, and athleticism.

The Future

Another roster spot that is a sure thing in the future.

With four of the five starters returning UTEP will only be better next year, but it's the depth that should have fans fired up.

The coaches are very high on freshmen Chris Masaalefua, Jerrod Brooks, and Derron Gatewood.

Those guys will be red-shirt freshman next year along with sophomore Erik Ramirez who saw time at center this year.

Chris Thomas was also in the mix this season and will be a senior next year.

Watching this group grow its depth, and nastiness is probably not the funnest of groups to watch, but we all should be keeping an eye on the talent UTEP is stocking in the trenches because these guys will lead us to bigger and better things.

Defensive line: B+, Mid-season Grade: C+

One of the most improved units over the final six games was the defensive line.

At the midway point, there were only two main producers in Roy Robertson-Harris, and Nick Usher.

The emergence of Cooper Brock, Geno Bresolin, Maurice Chavis helped this unit become greatly effective, and its not all about stats.

For seniors' Brock, and Chavis it was all heart, and coming up with the big play in a big time situation, and sometimes it was the little things in certain situations that garnered a huge improvement mark from this group.

The unit piled up 10.5 sacks this season, largely contributing to 19 of the team's 21 total sacks coming in the final seven games.

One of the proving factors of upward growth was the nine quarterback hurries during the Southern Miss. game that showed this unit's arrival as a force within the scheme.

The Future

Another young group that will only lose Chavis, and Brock, with plenty of returning guys who have seen action, or are on the scout team.

Next year will be an important year for Robertson-Harris as I feel his NFL draft stock will go up with another solid year.

Usher will return, along with defensive tackles Alex Villarreal, and hybrid D-lineman Silas Firstley.

The Miners will also boast some depth in their pass rush attack with sophomore to be Luke Elsner, and freshmen Joey Kraemer, and Augie Touris who will provide depth chart help off the edge. While Vince Czerniewski, Devante Richardson, and Brian Madunzim have a few downs under their belt and will see a lot more time in the middle.

Linebackers A-, Mid-season Grade: C

THE Most improved group was the turnover, sack, and pick six crazed linebackers.

Two quotes from the mid-season report came true:

"For UTEP to be more successful on defense, these guys have to rack up numbers over the final six games, and be catalysts in continuing to get off the field on third downs."

One thing I've been looking for and that effected the grade is the lack of forcing turnovers from the athletic group."

Both statements came true as the linebackers accounted for 17.5 of the 68 TFL's this season, 4 sacks, and two defensive touchdowns, both coming off game clinching pix sixes.

Coming into the year I felt this group would be a strong point along the defense, but not to the extent where you could argue that all four have a strong case for some type of All-Conference honors, or Honorable mentions.

Anthony Puente battled through some injuries through the latter part of the season, though Jimmy Musgrave, and Trey Brown didn't allow any drop offs.

Alvin Jones is going to be star, and with his growth this year its way early to say, but did have some possible NFL prospect moments this season.

The Future

Jones still has plenty of work to do before we can actually crown him that three letter honor, but he will have some help in the next few seasons.

Brown, and Musgrave will both be senior leaders next year, and UTEP has a few guys who I really like waiting in the wings.

Justen Tatum will be a red-shirt freshman next season and will fight for a depth chart spot as well, Miner fans get to know this kid's name he has tackling machine potential.

You could also see fellow RS freshman Nathan Stukes in the mix, along with another 2014 freshman Lawrence Montegut.

I like the class staggering at linebacker, Musgrave, Jones, and Brown will all see most of the snaps, with the other three freshman right there as backups, getting hands on experience in the rotation and possibly on special teams in their first year's on the field.

Secondary: B,  Mid-season Grade: B-

The mixture of veterans and young proven parts parlayed into the great success for the secondary this season.

Minus the Rice game, this unit held three of their last four opponents to under 101 yards passing.

The UTEP defense ranks 32nd in the nation in passing yards allowed, as the secondary accounted for seven of UTEP's ten total interceptions on the year.

Not only were they defending the pass well, guys like Nick Gathrite, Devin Cockrell, Wesley Miller, Dashone Smith, and Jameel Erving became the best tacklers on the team.

Erving made that monumental interception against Middle Tennessee as the icing on the Miner cake of defensive improvement.

The Future

UTEP brought in a number of defensive back prospects last class that could see all or majority of them see some sort of playing time next year.

Most notably safety Mookie Carlile was working with the 3's in camp, and guys like Adrian Hynson, and Kionce Roberts will see time at corner and even possibly safety.

We also will see highly touted 2014 corner Nik Needham fight for a job.

Laquintus Dowell, and Da'Carlos Renfro will be seniors and should also be main stays in the secondary next season.  Also can't forget about Arkansas transfer Kelvin Fisher Jr. who also saw snaps this season.

Just like the trenches, UTEP is expected to sign a few defensive backs every year, although a huge blow to the class of 2015 took place a few days ago with three-star Jarius Hall de-committing and re-opening his recruitment.

Special Teams: C, Mid-season grade: F

The coaching staff shored up the main issues that led to baaaadddd back-to-back losses though at times certain teams were able to expose some weak areas in the special teams unit.

Most notably the kicking game where opponents blocked five kicks, with one resulting in a house call the other way.

Damian Payne had some nice punt returns during the final stretch of the season, and Autrey Golden maybe the best returner in college football history after next season.

UTEP found a weapon in the punt game with Jay Mattox, though it appears UTEP will be trying to evolve their specials teams unit into a strong point, instead of any area coming into the game teams can feel they can change things with a big play.

The Future

All of the kickers return, along with long snapper Nick Dooley.

Payne will graduate and could get an NFL look at corner or returner, so does Autrey Golden return punts next year as well?

Overall: B+

I've documented the growth of this team and program as being more than X's and O's.   Its pretty obvious now how the hard work, and off field culture has helped UTEP sit at 7-5, waiting for their bowling lane to be announced.

Kudos to Sean Kugler and his staff, because its just wasn't a turnaround from last year, but also mid-season adjustments and tweaks that pushed UTEP over .500 for the first time since 2005.