The Miners were dominated in every aspect of the game from start to finish. But, that doesn't mean positives can't be taken away after a blowout. Here are some thoughts I have after digesting the loss:
1. K-State was flat out better
Kansas State came into this matchup ranked #25 and reeling from a loss last week against #5 Auburn. This Wildcat team was looking to put a hurting on UTEP and they did exactly that. The Miners were dominated in every facet of the game. K-State running back Charles Jones carved up the UTEP defense rushing for 3 touchdowns on the day. UTEP averages 314 yards per game on the ground and were held to a season low 59 yards rushing. Special teams wise, Wildcat receiver Tyler Lockett took a punt return 58 yards for a score and blocked one of two punts for K-State. One thing I did not foresee was a defense being able to shut down Aaron Jones and the run game in general. 7 yards rushing at halftime for UTEP was a shocking statistic. UTEP also didn't earn a first down until 5 minutes before the end of the first half. Hats off to K-State Defensive Coordinator Tom Hayes for his teams defensive preparation.
2 This team is gritty and has some fight
UTEP could have easily packed their bags and head into Manhattan expecting to get blown out and leave nothing on the field. I saw a team that left everything out there and in reality, finished very strong. Yes, there were blown assignments, poor tackling, and not enough holes to run through. Blocked kicks could be an issue down the road but it's one that can easily be fixed.
There are plenty of takeaways from this game. Zero turnovers are big in a matchup like this. This team finished strong and put up some some numbers in garbage time, which goes miles for confidence and reps.
UTEP Head Coach Sean Kugler summed up his teams toughness in the post-game presser:
"We dug ourselves a hole in the first half. We could not move the ball, and they were a big part of that. What we talked about at halftime was coming back and fighting, and I was proud of the way those kids came back in the second half and fought. I like this team. It is a different feeling with this team. They fought until the end, and I am proud of that. Kansas State has an excellent football team, and we just did not matchup. We are going to put this one behind us quickly and get ready for conference play."
3. What happens when the run game gets shut down?
When reading related tweets and Miner message boards, UTEP fans have a problem with Kugler's response when asked at halftime whether he was going to change the game plan offensively. Kugler said "we know who we are, we're going to stay the course". Now, I don't have a problem with this response. What I do see that's an issue, is the Miner offense not expanding the passing game much earlier in the game. Jameill Showers can throw the ball, and UTEP has capable receivers to change the game. So why not mix in more of the pass in the offense? Running the ball is Kugler's bread and butter, but what happens when there is no more butter? Going forward, it will be interesting to see how this offense can mix up the play calling to help distribute the ball in other players hands. Play action is a running team's best friend when it comes to passing. When the run gets shut down, it's time to look at other options.
UTEP tight end Eric Tomlinson is a massive 6 foot 7 target with rare athletic gifts for his size. So why did he only have 3 catches in this game? Understandably, UTEP is a run first team with the weapons they have on the ground. But why not run quick routes or use spacing routes for him? At times, he was clearly a mismatch for linebackers and defensive backs to cover. Tomlinson got most of his yards and a touchdown near the end of the blowout. UTEP is not utilizing his ability as another target for Showers in the passing game which could be very beneficial for the offense. Think of Julius Thomas for Peyton Manning, Jason Witten for Tony Romo, or Antonio Gates for Phillip Rivers. Showers has a more than capable safety blanket option in Tomlinson.
5. Time for C-USA play
Now that non-conference play is over, it's time for this team to shift gears and focus on winning their conference. Some will argue this team should be 3-1, other feel 2-2 is right where they should be. Regardless, this is the perfect opportunity to get rid of the sting from a bad K-State loss and that starts with Monday's practice, heading into the game with Louisiana Tech. Now these games really matter. We saw a fired up and intense UTEP team after the Texas Tech loss, lets see how this team responds with crucial games upcoming.
What observations did you have or issues that need to be mentioned about Saturday's game? Let's hear it.