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UTEP football: A look inside UTEP’s three main statistical weaknesses

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Sean Kugler pointed out three things he wants to see improved after a bye week evaluation; we take a deep look inside of those numbers.

UTEP has a number of across the board things to improve on if they want to even sniff another win in 2015.

Sean Kugler talked about three of those things on Monday.

"Really, we've got to improve on three things in my mind." Kugler said. "Number one is red zone on both sides of the ball. We have been extremely poor in the red zone on defense and offensively." We can't come away with field goals offensively and we've got to hold teams to field goals or get them out of the red zone defensively.

"Third downs, we've got to be more productive in that area, getting off the field on third downs on defense and maintaining drives and putting together sustained drives on offense and not getting knocked out of that situation."

"Explosive plays, chunk plays as you call them, a +10 yard run or +20 yard pass, we have been extremely lacking that on the offensive side of the ball and we have given up way too many explosive plays on the defensive side of the ball."

All three of those aspects were winning marks UTEP hung their hat on in 2014 and were integral parts that led to seven wins.

Here is a look at why those numbers have been lacking in 2015.

Third downs

Consistent third down conversions on offense have been sparse all season.

The Miners are 37% for the year, and have faced 69 third down tries in their four losses.

UTEP has faced eighteen third-and-ten or longer situations, and UTEP's quarterbacks are 37/65 passing for just 380 yards on third downs.

The mark of a good quarterback should be heavily judged on how he handles third downs, and the uncertainly at quarterback plays a huge role in this struggle.

Third down rushing stats are actually pretty good, but the fact that UTEP is only averaging 3.5 yards per rush on first and second down can be another main factor in UTEP's third down struggles.

While the Miners have struggled on third downs, they have more first downs on third down than any other down this season with 22.  Effective, and creative play calling usually doesn't lead to more first downs piled up on third down situations, but again another internal coaching issue for another day.

Four of UTEP's seven interceptions have occurred on third downs which helped bring the percentage to where it sits now.

Effective play calling on early downs to give the offense a better look at third down should cut down the third and long situations going forward.

On the defensive side of the ball, the lack of pass rush, and chunk plays allowed on third down are the main issues.

The Miner defense has allowed 11 passing plays of 15-yards or more on third downs, and have allowed four running plays over 10-yards on third down situations.

The problem to me is not the actual third down play, it's the first and second down plays that seem to wear the defense out.

UTEP has allowed 29 run plays to go for more than 10-yards on first down this season, and have allowed 34 pass plays to tally up over 15-yards on first down situations.

Bend but don't break was part of the defensive mantra last  year, but allowing those chunk plays early on in drives seems to wear on a young defense later in drive, thus allowing teams to continue their drives with back breaking plays on third down.

Opposing quarterbacks are 19/36 for 372 yards and three touchdowns with longs of 60 and 38-yards allowed on third-and-seven or longer situations.  That's a QB rating of 199 in those situations and one of the main reasons UTEP is struggling on the defensive side in 2015.

Red-zone

Last season when UTEP was in the red-zone, six was the result most of the time, but this year the Miners have dipped well below their 2014 average.

UTEP was scoring TD's in the red-zone on 57% of their trips in 2014, compared to 39% this year.

Blame the missing Aaron Jones factor if you want to since UTEP Is only averaging 2.3 yards per carry in the red-zone this season, but play calling without AJ is another issue in itself.

Another telling stat is the quarterback struggles in the red-zone.

UTEP is 5/18 passing in the red-zone for 32 yards, and a touchdown.

The Wild Miner was thought to be an addition to the Miners red-zone success, but again play calling has a big part in this underachieving part of the offense. The Miners have not had any marginal success once they reach the opponents 40-yard line with an average of 4.27 points per trip inside the 40 which ranks 100th in the nation.

On the defensive side, things don't get prettier.

UTEP is allowing teams to score touchdowns on 62% of their red-zone opportunities, and allowing 5.6 points per trip inside their own 40-yard line which ranks 121st in the nation.

This goes back to the third down percentage points, UTEP spends so much energy on early downs chasing down runners, and by the time teams enter the red-zone UTEP just hasn't recovered for a late stop to end a drive.

UTEP's blitzing effectiveness just hasn't been there from a scheme standpoint, and blown coverage's on zone blitzes, or getting beat in man-to-man has been a regular norm no matter where the ball is spotted.

Explosive plays

The biggest defensive issue all season has been allowing big plays.

UTEP has allowed 101 plays over 10-yards, and is one of 11-teams in the nation that has allowed a 90-yard plus play from scrimmage.

The Miners have also allowed the second most 30-yard or more plays in the nation with a whopping 23 allowed, with majority coming on first or second down.

Teams are averaging 6.1 yards per carry on first down, and 11.5 per pass attempt through the air on first downs.

Tackling, poor pursuit angles and communication can be main factors in why this could be the most eye opening stat of all.

Another factor is UTEP's poor havoc rate which measures how much a defense is playing in the opponents back field that ranks in the mid-80's nationally.  Last season the Miners were able to stymie teams on early downs with effective pressure, but the execution level in those important early downs just hasn't been there at a consistent rate this season.

It's hard to improve all these marks in just a week of practice, but minus injuries, a tough two game start to the schedule, these stats tell the juicy story of a struggling 2-4 football team.