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UTEP football: Defense dominates spring scrimmage, QB competition will head into the fall

Defense stole the show in the "spring game".

Tom Gonzales (MinerRush)

Once the clock stuck zeros in the 2015 New Mexico Bowl, the focus immediately shifted from a memorable, unexpected successful season, to an open quarterback competition to determine the 2015 starter.

The 2015 UTEP "spring game" was a huge opportunity to maybe answer that huge question, but the defense would have none of that Friday night in front of an estimated 2,000 fans and family of players.

"Very competitive in all aspects," Head Coach Sean Kugler said of the overall work done in the spring, "I just told the group now it starts for real.   They've done some great prep, but we don't play games in the spring, we play them in the fall, now starts the preparation for our 2015 season."

During the move the ball portion where the offense started their drive from their own 25 yard line, the defense only allowed 261 yards on 39 plays.

Sophomore Alvin Jones got the defense off to a quick start with a sack, forced fumble and recovery on Garrett Simpson early in the scrimmage.

"They've been great all spring," Kugler said of the defense, "Really since the mid-point of last year the light has really gone on for those guys. They play with energy, they practice with energy, I would say for the most part they got the best of the offense tonight."

Devin Simmons also recorded a sack in the move the ball portion, Dashone Smith was in mid-season from leading the scrimmage with three tackles including back-to-back crowd pleasing hits including a TFL, Lawrence Montegut also had three stops.

"We came out to play, and had good energy," safety Dashone Smith said.

Feeding off the mid-season form fire from defensive coordinator Scott Stoker who was flagged for a sideline infraction, senior linebacker Trey Brown came up with a huge tackle for loss on a 4th and short play, and senior transfer defensive back Trent Trammell broke up Simpson's first pass attempt of the night.

Junior safety Devin Cockrell forced a fumble in red-zone work, giving Alvin Jones his second fumble recovery of the day.

Both sides dished out some good hits in the very physical, hard hitting workout.

"We were out there hitting people, that was probably the best hitting scrimmage we had all spring," senior defensive back Kelvin Fisher said, "There was a little bit of mistakes, but we are way farther than what I think we were last year coming out of fall camp.  That's a great sign, this fall camp it will be more of just cleaning things up."

The defense displayed heavy depth all around, most notably in the secondary, searching for someone to make some plays and freshman corner back Nik Needham did just that.

After giving up a 45 yard connection from Hunter McEachern to Warren Reddix, Needham came up with an interception in the end-zone on the following play, and added another interception in the end-zone during goal line situation work.

"I just been working everyday," Needham said, "I feel confident in what I did today, I was reading the quarterback eyes, last year being in the shadows I was just watching trying to learn, but this year I'm getting in the mix and making plays."

Kelvin Fisher also had an interception that came off a Simpson toss in a two minute drill situation.

Ryan Metz provided the lone highlight touchdown for the offense via a 63 yard run off a zone read where he ran up the middle untouched.  Metz re-tweaked a hamstring on the touchdown run and did not return in the scrimmage, and was 1/3 for 9 yards in the move the ball work.

The offense would punch in a few touchdowns during the goal line sessions, and had few drives cross the 50 in the move the ball sessions by both Leftwich and Simpson.

Freshman running back Noah Siegrist lead all rushers during the move the ball portion with 41 yards on six carries.

Fellow freshman running back Treyvon Hughes busted a 36 yard run in the same drill, making something out nothing with a nice up field cut to spring him for an impressive first down gaining highlight.

Quarterbacks combined to go 8/17 for 95 yards in the move the ball portion.  After a slow start Simpson would finish 8/18 for 57 yards with a touchdown and interception throughout all of the scrimmage work as the most productive passing quarterback during the defensive domination.

Simpson found Brandon Moss for a nice 18 yard run and catch touchdown in  red-zone work, McEachern's long pass to Reddix came on a move the ball drill.

"They all did something well," Kugler said of the quarterbacks, "They all effectively moved the ball, too many fumbles, we can't lay balls on the ground."

Kugler went on to say despite a productive spring, the competition is too close to call as spring ball breaks.

"The good news is all the quarterbacks performed well this spring," Kugler said, "Its not a situation where I'm comfortable naming a starter because they are so close in competition, I think that competition is going to go into the fall and rightfully so."

The scrimmage ends a very productive spring for almost every position group searching for productive depth, and unsung play makers who can improve their depth chart stock with solid fall camps.

Overall depth has developed and emerged, now we wait till September when the real lights flip on to see who has really came around.