Penalties: The large number of penalties continue to be a major problem. What has been the most frustrating is how many first downs have been directly reversed this season due to a penalty happening on a positive gain. UTEP’s offense has struggled way too much this season to allow so many drive killing holding penalties. We are now in the middle of the season, yet the crucial penalties are continuously happening.
My Suggestion: If I was Coach Kugler, I would go to the UTEP Tennis team this week and borrow a bucket of tennis balls. I would then make all of my Offensive Linemen and Tight Ends hold a tennis ball in both hands this entire week while they practice. Since the players will be squeezing tennis balls in both hands while they are blocking, then they won't be able to grab the defenders uniform and they can begin breaking the habit of holding while they play. After so many consecutive games with no improvement, just try something different. I was watching a European Soccer game recently and they mentioned how the soccer coach had to get his players to stop grabbing the opponents jerseys during corner kick situations. So he began forcing his players to start holding tennis balls in practice so that they couldn't grab each other's jerseys. The positive change in habit began transferring to the games, so I suggest maybe trying this in American Football as well.
Field Goals: UTEP has now gone 19 quarters since they have attempted a Field Goal. Out of all FBS teams in the entire nation, UTEP currently has the least amount of Field Goal attempts this season. And came up empty on a red zone trip with a turnover.
Defense: The defense continues to show signs of improvement. Tom Mason has been rotating and playing a lot of different players, especially at the linebacker spots, yet these different combinations have been playing relatively well together. This improvement has also been achieved without Alvin Jones, who has essentially missed the past three-and-a-half games. One noticeable area in need of improvement would be to eliminate the way that some of our guys reach/arm tackle when blitzing. This directly resulted in giving up touchdowns against LA Tech. Instead, we need them to focus on their individual gap control responsibility while they blitz and also blitz under control.
Freshmen: This game featured three freshmen who performed at a high level. I remember watching Eddie Sinegal make some plays back in the Spring Game, but this LA Tech game was the first time that we have seen him flash his potential in a real game setting. Greg Long made his very first start last week at right guard and then just seven days later he made his first start at left tackle. There were some natural growing pains, but I thought he performed very well overall and he is starting to do things that you usually don't see a freshman do. Justin Rogers had a strong game in his first start at corner, including a pass break-up which almost became a turnover. It is nearly impossible to have a good defense without having good corners and suddenly UTEP appears to have a lot of promise there, with three underclassmen who have the potential to get the job done at a high level.
Aaron Jones: With Jones having an injured ankle, he didn't have the normal burst that we have gotten used to seeing. He also appeared to hobble during most of the game. Despite being injured, he ran hard all night long and it is pretty incredible that Aaron Jones can play a game at only 75% but still gain over 100 all purpose yards.
Quarterbacks: Ryan Metz has now started a handful of games at UTEP and I thought that this was his best start to date. There were some mistakes, like the interception on 2nd & 1, but he looked like he has improved since last year. It appears that most fans want to see him continue to get the chance to play and develop, and I would agree with that as well. I still have confidence in Zack Greenlee based on his performance against NMSU, but he just hasn't looked healthy since missing the Texas game. There is now an injury uncertainty about Metz as well. For a team that doesn't pass a lot, UTEP sure does have bad luck in keeping QB's healthy.
Florida International: This upcoming home game against FIU is an absolute must win situation. A win in this game and the team can gain some confidence and positive momentum heading into both the bye week and the second half of the season. With two weeks to heal and prepare for UTSA after this game, there could potentially be some reasons for optimism again, but it needs to start with this weekend or else.....