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Beyond the Boxscore: Correctable Mistakes

A few randomly quick thoughts on UTEP's opening season loss.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In the first half I shot out this Tweet after UTEP had shown some good special teams play, and two very good punts by Alan Luna, including a 60-yard bouncer at the end of the first half.

Nick Dooley is usually ultra consistent, but made the two biggest mistakes of the young season in the opening minutes of the second half, and cost UTEP a small chance at making things a little more respectable on the scoreboard.

In the first half, protection was spot on, pursuit and tackling angles were perfect on kickoff and punt coverage, but the wheels fell off for the entire unit after those two miscues.

Then Freshman Nik Needham fumbled Arkansas' lone punt of the day late in the third quarter in his first punt return attempt of his career.

UTEP has a number of options behind him, so maybe a change could be made as the staff has shown they are not afraid to do on special teams.

Although Needham showed he can explode in camp, UTEP has other options until Terry Juniel returns that have a little more overall game experience.

Jay Mattox was also pretty damn good.

It got mucho feo on three special plays, and should be corrected this week.

Secondary learns lessons, gains valuable experience

UTEP started three freshman in the secondary, and Arkansas took advantage from the first play of the game.

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said earlier in the week he was interested in how UTEP would line up against the Hogs, and two things probably stood out to him and Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos.

UTEP loaded the box early, and left a true freshman corner out on a island.

While it's a great concern, UTEP appeared to be all in on stopping the run, and the secondary struggled with their eyes in man coverage, which is correctable.

Let's call it a game plan anomaly since it's just week one, but still an early weakness of great concern.

"I was surprised, I didn't think they'd throw it that much, they usually come out in different formations and go downhill," said safety Dashone Smith told the El Paso Times.

It was a tough draw match up wise for Kalon Beverly in his first game as a Miner.  Keon Hatcher is one of the better, and more consistent wideouts in the SEC, and no where to go but up for KB.  He had a strong camp, and is a hard worker, he will learn from this valuable experience.

The secondary will be a work in progress for UTEP with three projected top level starters out for most of the season.

The bigger test for this young unit will be in how they respond to a week of preparations for an air raid.

The pass rush should be better prepared next week versus a pass oriented scheme, but Texas Tech has a pretty good offensive line as well, and of course always have plenty of speed to cover.

Like Sean Kugler said on his post game interview with Tiech, UTEP is going from preparing for a "tank" last week, to preparing for a "Ferrari" this week.

There were tackling issues too, but the Miners gang tackled more overall than they missed tackles IMO, so there's that for a crack in the door positive ray of light.

UTEP's defensive coaches have a tall task at hand in sharpening the youth in secondary before the Miners face some improved C-USA passing attacks shown in action around week one.

Run defense was respectable

UTEP was obviously fully prepared for the run, as they did a very respectable job against Arkansas' world renowned biggest offensive line in the planet, and those Hogs are A-1 blockers.

Take away that 70-yard run at the end of that first half.....confusion....we'll call it and UTEP only allowed 3.4 yards per carry minus that long gain.

Big props to Roy Robertson-Harris for being a leader and pushing his guys to keep fighting even when the score got away.

UTEP was able to use their speed, technique, and agility to make things tough for the Arkansas offensive in a few sequences.

A concern going in, maybe a strength to our keep our eye on this season.

New defensive look

Not sure if this its a one week only thing, but UTEP used some big bodied offensive lineman in defensive goal line, and short yardage packages.

Offensive lineman Josh Silvas, and Chris Misaalefua were plugged in the middle on a goal line package.

Smart move by the staff, it will be a surprisingly strong package if C-USA teams don't prepare for it.

Quarterback talk

Outside of the great play Henre' Toliver made on that tip-pick, Mack Leftwich executed the game plan.

He had a couple of bad throws, one was a great catch by Jaquan White, but Leftwich showed he could be that guy.

UTEP's lone scoring drive was a prime example.  Leftwich was 2/2 for 49 yards, and his final completion to Hayden Plinke that set up Autrey Golden's score was his fifth completion in a row in that second quarter stretch.

Leftwich looked comfortable, and did not look overwhelmed, maybe that could help the staff open up the vertical pass more against lesser defensive fronts.

Kavika Johnson is going to be electric out of the Wild Miner with more game reps, would love to see him pass more, Arkansas had him keyed on and didn't let get him loose with his legs.

The threat of a consistent pass attempt on third or second downs could keep future opponents out of the box giving the talented freshman athlete some space to work with.

UTEP Debuts

John De La Rosa, Michael Lewis, Kalon Beverly, Nik Needham, Ryan Metz, Kavika Johnson, Treyvon Hughes, Adrian Hynson, Mookie Carlile, Hayden Plinke, Stephen Forester, Sky Logan, Cedrick Lang, Derron Gatewood, Trent Trammell, Alan Luna, Chris Misaalefua, Sloan Spiller, Warren Redix, Mike Sota, and Anthony Kyles all made their UTEP debuts against Arkansas.

The travel roster versus Arkansas featured 18 seniors, 22 juniors, 13 sophomores, 13 red shirt freshmen and eight true freshman.

Random notes

Autrey Golden has found the end zone 10 times during his career. He has six kickoff returns for TDs, two rushing scores and two receiving. Golden returned six kickoffs for 130 yards vs. Arkansas. He now has 2,469 yards in his UTEP career, ranking second behind Cedric Johnson's 2,757 yards.

Aaron Jones' six-yard gain during the third quarter moved him into ninth all-time on the UTEP career rushing list. Jones finished the day with 70 yards. He now has 2,202 yards in his career, surpassing Fred Wendt's 2,166. Pub Gabrel is ranked No. 8 with 2,321 yards.

Dashone Smith led the Miners with seven tackles. It was the first time leading the defense in that category since last season versus Old Dominion on Oct. 11.

Defensive end Luke Elsner registered a career-best four tackles.

Former Arkansas transfer Kelvin Fisher Jr. established a career high with three tackles.

Defensive lineman Alex Villarreal and Silas Firstley tied their career high with four tackles.

Three UTEP QBs completed passes (Mack Leftwich, 9-14; Ryan Metz, 3-3; Kavika Johnson, 2-2) for the first time since Oct. 27, 2012 at Houston (Nick Lamaison, 8-18; Carson Meger, 5-8; Blaire Sullivan, 6-10).