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Beyond the Boxscore: Wounded Miners will have to scrap the rest of the way

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UTEP avoided disaster Saturday night in the Sun Bowl.

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Sean Kugler didn't mince any words after Saturday's win, the wounded Miners are struggling and will have to scrap their way for wins the rest of the season.

"We're a banged up team right now." Sean Kugler said after Saturday's game. "I told the players get used to it, because that's probably how it's going to look all year. We're going to have to scratch, and claw and fight to win every game because right now we're not a full strength team, but we are a team."

"I really feel our season is going to be like that, we're going to have to fight to even have an attempt to win every game."

UTEP's offense struggled early and a telling sequence was when UTEP's first four drives averaged their own 44 as a starting point, but only managed 3.5 yards per play, and only put up three points after three UIW turnovers in the first half.

A big issue the offense faced was a horrible first half game plan in where UTEP's average 3rd down situation was at 9.4 yards.  The Miners were 0-for-5 on third and longs and 3/7 passing for 18 yards on third down.

UTEP finished the night 3-of-12 on their third down conversion attempts.

The UTEP defense also struggled once again.

Incarnate Word reeled off eight chunk plays, including 6 passes of 15 yards or more, but the Cardinals also missed on five opportunities for more big plays.

Schematically, the Miners have struggled defending screens all season, allowing a 90-yard touchdown off a delayed wide receiver screen, and a key 20-yard running back screen last night.

"Whenever we call man pressures there's always a guy who has flare control."  Kugler said about defending the screen. "We lost that flare control sometimes.  It was frustrating, and again we got to get that cleaned up because its out there, its on film."

The Cardinals averaged 18.5 yards per carry on 3rd down, and allowed 17.2 yards per completion on third down.

Probably the most alarming struggle for UTEP was in the run game.

UTEP had 32 rushing yards at the half with a 1.8 yard per carry average, finishing with 81 yards and a 2.6 per carry average for the game.

The depth at running back is rail thin for the Miners and is a huge concern going forward as Darrin Laufasa left the game after his lone carry of the day, causing UTEP to make major adjustments in the game.

"We really got in disarray in our run game, we lost Darrin Laufasa on the second play of the game." Kugler said.  "We had to shuffle guys in positions they hadn't practiced. We're really thin at that position and it really put us in disarray."

Kugler added: "I hope we get Darrin back. We're down at running back, it's a position where we are not loaded."

Kavika Johnson took a few carries as a running back and could be another option going forward if Laufasa misses an extend period of time.

Metz was again magical in the second half

UTEP went with the Mack Leftwich game plan in the first half, and the result was only 64 passing yards on 11 attempts, but once things opened up in the second half Metz did his thing.

Metz went 13-out of-17 in the second half for 211 yards adding two touchdowns, and was an efficient 7/9 for 61 yards on the 12 play, 75 yard drive that ended in the 10-yard touchdown hook up with Autrey Golden.

"Ryan Metz has a knack, he's a little better when he's in control." Sean Kugler said. "We'll probably have to move in that direction in many ways and mix in the run in other ways.  When he has options, he makes good decisions, he was pretty much flawless tonight."

"You gotta find out who you are, and what you can do. I think we're figuring it out." Kugler said about opening the pass more like in the second half.

Metz set a career high with 275 yards passing in his first career start.

Kalon Beverly continues his growth

It was a rough start to the season for true freshman corner Kalon Beverly.

He was picked on and torched in his first career game against Arkansas, but has steadily improved each week.

Sitting back in a zone, Beverly delivered UTEP's first defensive touchdown of the season with his 24-yard pick six to give UTEP an early 7-3 lead and hustled on the early fumble out of bounds that could have easily been another six points on the board for UIW.

"Kalon is really progressing week-to-week." Sean Kugler said. " He's a very, what I guess you would call a cool character.  He doesn't get rattled or phased.  This guy is going to be a quality corner. He loves playing football, hard part is going through growing pains sometimes to reap the rewards."

Batson, White emerge again

When a player or player(s) have a strong game, it always about how they respond the next week, and its safe to say Tyler Batson and Jaquan White have fully emerged as a major threats in the UTEP passing game.

Batson entered Saturday's game with an 100% catch rate, and added four big catches for 69 yards on Saturday.

At 6'2, 200 pounds, Batson was a key 2012 signee that cam with high expectations, and is now finding his niche as a reliable big play receiver.

"Its time now, and It's great."  Batson said of his emergence.  "You take advantage of opportunities so I just had to stay patient. I'm just glad they are here so I just got keep taking advantage of it."

But it's not just Batson.

Jaquan White had a career high seven catches for 73 yards against UIW, and it was Batson who had a 36-yard reception that set up White's 46-yard catch for a score on a beautiful wheel route that put the game away.

IF UTEP actually does change up their offensive identity, Batson and White have proven they are ready to help Ryan Metz lead the offense.

"It's crazy man, he's a heck of a player." Batson said about Metz.  "Just his positivity, I wouldn't say he came out of nowhere because at camp he as making those same plays."

"He just needed an opportunity." Batson added.  "The day before we went home from break he told me when he gets in and has an opportunity that we're going to make a lot plays together."

On to UTSA/Conference Play

UTEP has found out what they are and who they are not, which is somewhat of a positive heading into conference play, but UTEP's issues are glaring heading into the most important part of the schedule.

"I just told the team we are what we are." Sean Kugler said.  "We're 2-2, we're headed into conference.  It wasn't a work of art, but every win is pretty to me.  We have a very good UT-San Antonio team coming in.  Regardless of their record I think they had the toughest schedule in the country."

"We got to get healthy as we can." Kugler continued on.  "We just have to go out and fight.  We're not going to make false illusions of what we are . We're a beat up team that's just going to have to scrap to win.  We know that, we're going to acknowledge that and try to embrace that."

Random notes

Traun Roberson intercepted his pass of his career.

Ryan Metz led UTEP in rushing with 46 yards on the ground, and was the first quarterback in the Kugler era to lead the team in rushing in a game.

Jay Mattox's 50-yard field goal was the longest of his career, he has made 13 field goals in a row since November 8th, 2014.

Nick Usher set a career high with two sacks.

UTEP had nine quarterback hurries.

JUCO transfer Sky Logan recorded his first career sack.

UTEP has won the time of possession in each game this season, and have won the time of possession 16 times in thier last 17 games.