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UTEP football: Mid-Season Report Card

Nothing is pretty, nothing.

A pile of unfortunate injuries, uncertainty at quarterback, and a vanilla offensive game plan leads to some very poor mid-season grades at the halfway point of the 2015 season.

Quarterbacks: C

A lot of the position grades at least on the offensive side coincide with some coaching issues that many have touched on, and the quarterback spot is where it holds true the most.

After Aaron Jones went down, the offensive identity was lost and so has the idea of what UTEP wants to do in order to recover.

Ryan Metz flourished against two of the weakest defense's UTEP will see all season, and struggled against two legit defense's once C-USA play started.

Mack Leftwich did what he was told.   Hand it off to #29, don't turn it over, and don't try to do too much out of your realm of skills, which he wasn't too bad in doing, nor warranting a quarterback change before he went out with a concussion.

Kavika Johnson looked solid against FIU's two's and three's and what was thought to be a new wrinkle in the Wild Miner has been a disaster that doesn't fall squarely on the talented freshman.

Patrick Higgins' inability to develop a reliable passing game in two and a half seasons is a main reason why the quarterbacks have such a low grade despite everyone completing more than 60% of their passes.

UTEP's passing success rate is at 40.3% which ranks 69th in the nation, but UTEP has not fully unleashed their pass game with proven weapons who can stretch the field and change a game in a consistent manner,

Running Backs: D

Two advanced stats, and one regular stat line will justify this grade.

UTEP's rushing S&P+ ranks 126th with a 75.3 average, and UTEP's rushing success rate is 31.9% which ranks 124th in the nation.

Also, Aaron Jones is still UTEP's leading rusher, and is still second on the team in rushes with 32.

Those three things are not going equal success from an overall running game standpoint.

Darrin Laufasa was a player who showed the ability to replace some of the projected #AJ29 production, but has dealt with injury since the Incarnate Word game.

LaQuintus Dowell is averaging 5.0 yards per carry, and has a 30% opportunity rate for big plays rate, although has only had 15 carries since his 11 carry, 76 yard output at NMSU which is puzzling.

This is another mark on the coaching staff in not knowing how to adjust to life without Aaron Jones which has made offense hard to come by this season.

Wide Receivers: B

UTEP's wide receivers have been targeted a combined 101 times in the total 187 pass attempts with a combined catch rate of 56.2%.

By far, Tyler Batson is UTEP's most efficient big play wide receiver with a 11.9 yards per target average, and a 75% catch rate and has 17 catches for 202 yards.

The biggest example of the recurring identity crisis is in Cole Freytag's stats.

Freytag has been targeted 12 times, and has four catches, two of which are touchdowns.

Jaquan White has emerged as UTEP's most consistent wideout and is having a career, and you can almost say a banner year.

When UTEP has used their wideouts, they have delivered and have surprised a lot of folks who though this wasn't the strongest position group on the depth chart, but is proving to be a reliable part for the next couple of seasons.

Tight ends: B-

Hayden Plinke is a baller, and has led this group, and the overall offense in receiving yards.

Both of his longest receptions are over 40-yards, and has shown he has NFL talent when it come to pass catching and what he does after the catch.

Cedrick Lang had one of the biggest plays of his entire UTEP sports career against NMSU, and has been reliable target as well.

Outside of those two, injuries in the backfield has shuffled around main blocking tight end Sterling Napier to fullback which has hurt the run blocking aspect of the tight ends.

They have been solid in the passing game which deserves a B, but the run blocking hasn't been up to par as it was last season.

Offensive line: C

There has been moments of consistency, but also moments were speed rushers have created havoc.

Pass blocking has been almost flawless outside of the UTSA game, as the Miners own a 1.8% sack rate on passing downs which ranks 9th in the nation.

On the run game side of things, according to advanced stats the UTEP o-line is creating 2.3 yards per carry in standard down runs which ranks 120th in the nation.

Another advanced stat that shows this unit is struggling is the 24.1% stuff rate on run plays which ranks 115th in the country.

Defensive line: C

UTEP's edge rushers in Nick Usher, and Roy Robertson-Harris have had solid seasons so far, but the guys in the middle have not held up their end of the bargain so far.

Usher has six tackles for loss, two sacks, and a fumble recovery, and accounts for 7.4% of UTEP's solo tackles.

UTEP has a defensive line rate havoc rate of 1.3%, and teams are succeeding on run plays at a 55.6 percentage on standard downs.

One pleasant surprise is the recent play of defensive tackle Sky Logan who has accounted for 3.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks in extended action in the past three games.

Stopping the run hasn't been an issue as the Miners boast a 19.6% stuff rate which is above the national average.

Getting to the passer and consistently playing behind the line of scrimmage has been the biggest issue as the defensive line has combined for only five sacks, and 13.5 tackles for loss.

Linebackers B+

Alvin Jones and Jimmy Musgrave have been solid and have kept the production going from a year ago.

The linebackers have a 1.8% havoc rate (90th in the nation), while Jones and Musgrave have combined for 6.5 sacks, and 12 tackles for loss.

Production outside of Jones and Musgrave have been minimal, and it seems like a senior Trey Brown has took major strides backwards.

Last season the Miners utilized four linebackers who all produced, if Brown can turn it on in the second half of the season, this could be a nice bright spot at the end of the season.

Secondary: F

The most ragged on position group since the first half of the Arkansas game has been the young secondary.

One of the biggest injury losses was the season ending injury to Devin Cockrell before camp starter. DC was a big part of UTEP's secondary in coverage communication, and more importantly in the department of tackling.

UTEP is defending passes and forcing incomplete passes in 21.5% of opponents passing attempts on the season, while the national average is at 32.5%.

Opposing quarterbacks have a 169.9 passer rating and have 103 completions. The secondary is allowing an average of 18.4 yards per completion.

Good thing is most of these guys are young, and will get better, but so far its been the most glaring weakness of 2015.

Special Teams: B+

Punter Alan Luna and Jay Mattox have had all-conference type production, and are solid kickers UTEP will have the next two seasons.

Jaquan White had the first punt return for a touchdown in the Sean Kugler era,  although muffed a key punt against UTSA.  Otherwise it looks like UTEP has some nice options going forward with a rehabbing Terry Juniel expected back next season.

Kick coverage has been outstanding, as has protection in the punt game, and field goal crew.

Where the disappointment lies is in the kick off return unit.

Autrey Golden has not broke a big one, and is only averaging 21 yards per return compared to the 24 yards per return last year.

The kickoff return blocking schemes just haven't been executed enough for what should be a factor in scoring points and producing field position for this team.

Golden still has six games to tie or break the NCAA record for kickoff returns in a career, and I still feel it will happen.

Coaching: F

This grade is ugly and not indicative of the entire Sean Kugler era, but is being graded by the way things have been handled this season.

From the lack of offensive balance, to the handling of Aaron Jones carries in the first two games, and even the physical camp UTEP went through before the season, things just haven't panned out in 2015 in the coaching staff's favor.

UTEP's recruiting strategy will be effective down the road, but when most of the depth is being red-shirted or gray-shirted injuries will affect your depth chart like this season.

The underdevelopment of quarterbacks and a threat of a versatile passing game, and lack of depth at running back falls squarely on the coaching staff.

Scott Stoker has actually done a good job as far as game planning and scheme, the execution from the players just hasn't been there at a level like last season.

Sean Kugler is still the right guy for this program, and should not be anywhere near the hot seat, but this has been a year where things out of his current control have gone array, and the lack of a true offensive plan B or C is one of the main reasons UTEP is staring at a losing season.