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UTEP 27 FAU 17: A Few Game Thoughts

UTEPDefense gives us his insightful, and important thoughts from Saturday's win.

Nik Needham picks off his first career interception
Nik Needham picks off his first career interception

  • There were a lot of noticeable changes for UTEP tonight.  The offensive game plan looked better tonight than probably any time during Patrick Higgins second tenure here.  We threw balls deep to good one-on-one situations, we were very effective with Play Action (and actually ran a lot of Play Action effectively on first down).  We finally got out of just playing inside of that 10-yard box and it worked!
  • There were also some position adjustments where some different guys were given chances to play and previous long time starters got benched (I.E.Derek Elmendorff), and the defense also made their adjustments by staying more based on third down and they didn't run so many crazy blitzes (I.E. For the first time all year, I don't think we ran one of our ridiculous late Safety Blitzes.). As a long-time Miner fan, it has frustrated me for so many years to see our coaching staff's rarely make serious in-season adjustments.  Kugler said that he required self-evaluations from everyone in the program during the bye week and what they changed worked, so I give them credit for making so many major adjustments....which worked!
  • Mack Leftwich played well.  He was sharp and calm.  I also don't believe that he had any passes knocked down tonight at the line of scrimmage (which would be the first time that this has happened).  I believe that everybody has always felt good about his mental ability to play the position, tonight he also proved to me that he also has the arm strength to play this position.  During the second quarter, the wind was at it's worst and this wind was strong enough that it completely knocked down Jay Mattox's field goal attempt.   Yet Leftwich's passes remained relatively strong and accurate despite going directly into that strong wind.  Leftwich played really well and deserves a lot of credit, so I hate to bring this up now, but he still leaves me a bit uneasy by seeing how many hits his 5'8" body took tonight.  The normal hits on him just seem worse than hits against other players.  He took a lot of shots tonight that most people probably didn't see.   In fact I believe that the final roughing the passer penalty was more of an accumulation penalty of so many near late hits, instead of just that one specific hit.  If he is going to be our long term starter for the next two years, then we will need to continually have a back-up QB prepared and ready.
  • How strong was the wind last night?  FAU had a 76-yard punt, a 56-yard Punt and a 53-Yard Punt.  UTEP had a 60-yard punt.
  • For the first time all season, we did not run the Wild Miner.  Leftwich took every snap.
  • Kugler was a pit bull on the sideline tonight.  I am not saying this as good or bad, simply that tonight he was more aggressive than he has been in the past.  He tore into Hayden Plinke after missing a block on a sweep play.  He took his head phones off and cursed out Jaquan White after his bone headed punt fumble.  At one point after half-time, Leftwich even went over to talk to him and Kugler dismissed him and pointed him in the direction of one of the assistant coaches.  Not sure that this was important, just an observation.
  • I saw Commit Ritchie Rodriguez at the game.
  • Tonight's game was very similar to many of UTEP's victories last year when they made their bowl run.  Just like most of last year's conference victories; UTEP held a team to 21 points or less, controlled clock, had a long second half drive, and slugged out a victory.  Last year UTEP got better as the season went on, and that is something that has rarely happened historically with UTEP Football.  And after so many dismal November's for UTEP Football over the past decades, it would be a feather in Coach Kugler's Hat if he is able to have November improvement in back-to-back years.  The Kugler style of tonight's victory, which matches the same as many of last year's victories, seems to be a good football model to follow for when the second half of the season, cold weather games come along.
  • Nick Needham played really well tonight and I am not talking just about his big Interception, he played a really good game.  Michael Lewis is another freshman who played almost the entire game tonight and he also made a couple of plays and had his best game in a UTEP uniform.  If you take away the fumbled punt, our defense only gave up 10 points tonight, that becomes even more impressive when you realize that almost half our defense (5 players) were freshman or sophomores (Alvin Jones, Kalon Beverly, Nik Needham, Micheal Lewis, Sky Logan).
  • We finally were able to run the ball in short yardage situations.  Our RB's ran hard and were physical.
  • Tyler Batson obviously had a really big game and is becoming our star wide receiver.  The wide receiver group made some big plays tonight, but they also had too many big drops.
  • Darren Gatewood was another freshman who got his chance to play tonight and he performed really well.  Unfortunately he then sustained what looked like it might be a major knee injury (after getting him to the sideline and evaluating him, they then brought the cart over and took him back to the locker room).
  • I have to question FAU's game plan or ability to watch film, as they did not once run the tight end under route, which has been open when run against us all season long.  They then flared the back out for an easy third down conversion on the first series of the game, but then didn't utilize that as much as they probably should have for the remainder of the game.  UTEP has struggled with these simple plays in every game this year, so I can't understand why FAU would not utilize them.
  • Treyvon Hughes and Chris Misaalefua are two more Freshman with solid potential, yet both were in street clothes tonight due to injury.  I am curious if Hughes might be able to get a red-shirt for this year, since he grey-shirted last year?
  • Kugler's Program was at an extremely low point after the FIU game.  Many people, myself included, rightfully stated our serious concerns about him after that pitiful FIU performance.  It was so bad that he even apologized to everyone for it.  But he now deserves some credit for picking his team up from such a low point.  Normally when past UTEP Football teams hit such a low point, the players will quit and the season will be completely lost (see some of our 2 win seasons from the past for evidence of this).  Some people were speculating that he had already lost this team and questioned how he was running his program in general.  Yet, since that FIU game, his program received notice that it had been awarded the highest APR Score in program history.  And he regrouped his team and prepared them for tonight's quality performance, which resulted in a victory.  So the questions about Kuger will rightfully still remain, but for tonight, he deserves credit for the way that he regrouped his team and got them ready to play.  Suddenly, maybe winning two more games this year doesn't seem so impossible.