IF (big if) Aaron Jones played his final game in the Sun Bowl this past Saturday, my god.
For the sixth time in his UTEP career Jones ran for 100 yards or more in a single quarter, and might have more 50-yard plus touchdown runs in 2016 than anyone on the planet.
His 300 yard rushing game was just the second time a UTEP rusher ran for 300 yards, and he was 26 yards away from the single game rushing record after breaking the school’s all-time rushing record, and single season rushing record.
“The first time he popped that first one, you know Aaron’s hot, he just pops it and he’s in a glide mode.” Sean Kugler said. “He’s unbelievable really. He needed four yards for that 300, we probably wouldn’t have got him out of the game but anytime you got a back that close to something that special you got to get him.”
As easy as he made it look on Saturday, it only gets tougher for Jones.
In the coming months he will make a life changing decision.
NFL on Sundays? Or solidify that his UTEP records will never be touched, and give it one more shot as a Miner?
“It comes and it goes.” Jones said when asked about a timeline on his decision. “Coach Kugs knows about that level and me and my family are going sit down and talk with him. I’m going to apply for my draft grade and see how it goes.”
When asked if Saturday’s performance helped his draft stock, “Yes sir, it definitely did.” Jones replied with his signature smile.
Jones will listen to all the facts, and seems truly unsure about his decision until he speaks with his family and hears feedback from a chance at a lifetime dream.
“I’ll have to sit down with my parents, and that will have to be a decision we have to make.” Jones said on what happens after he receives his draft grade.
No matter what Jones decides to do, Saturday was a signature performance we’ve seen from Jones (and his brother) since his high school days at Burges.
Jones’ career has had its share of adversities, but the numerous highs and smile of the face of a program and now its history shined the brightest on another historic night from Aaron Jones.
UTEP’s defense puts it all together
They’ve struggled mightily the past few weeks, but shut down North Texas from the opening possession which set the tone for their best performance of the season against an FBS foe.
“They did a great job, there’s a lot of outstanding hits, breaking down on the ball, guys holding the ball carrier, people coming in cleaning up the pile.” Sean Kugler said of his defense. “It was good pressure on the quarterback to force a lot of errant throws; they got the ball out quick so it was tough to get sacked but there was a lot of pressure on the quarterback.”
UTEP’s most impressive feat after North Texas’ first scoring drive is how they swarmed to the ball against the run, and were assignment sound with their run fits.
“114 yards for a team that prides itself on running the ball, I thought our defense shut them down pretty good.” Kugler added.
Alvin Jones was once again all over the place with 12 tackles and a sack, and Nik Needham continued his all-conference bid with eight tackles, and three pass break ups.
UTEP limited North Texas’ offense until a late score in garbage time, and only allowed 4.8 yards per play in the second half.
The Miners return a big chunk of defensive depth in 2017, with four of Saturday’s top tacklers expected to return.
Linebacker is an area of immediate need, but with at least 10 productive guys, plus safety Michael Lewis who was out this year with an academic issue. The UTEP defense looks to be a positive heading into the off-season.
Kugler talks adversity
From the moment he took over the job, Sean Kugler has faced adversity, but pulled his guys together when the program needed it the most with a solid week of preparation this week amid the adversity of a bad season.
“You don’t listen to the outside noise.” Kugler said. “You don’t give up, you just believe in yourselves, pride yourself on toughness and if there's adversity in the future, we’re going to battle through that.”
Kugler feels the program is headed in the right direction and the pieces are in place despite a rough 2016 season in where expectations for UTEP were actually high.
“I told you when I took this job that I knew it wasn’t an easy job. Kugler told Miner Rush. “I knew there was going to be ups and downs, forward and back, but these kids are heading in the right direction. We’ve got a lot of really talented kids coming back. I really feel good about the foundation of this team heading into the future. I think these kids saw tonight what they can do when they put it all together and tonight, they put it all together.”
Kugler has done a lot of good things for the UTEP program by installing a culture of accountability, including earning the respect of his players which was shown after the game with the smiles, hugs, and deep, heartfelt comments Kugler received from his departing seniors.
There are legitimate questions about his job status as a third losing season in four years, and falling attendance usually puts you on a hot seat if Bob Stull is not your athletic director.
But Kugler let it be know this win wasn’t about his job status, it was about the kids.
“They weren’t playing for me.” Kugler said. “They were playing for the seniors and I was coaching for the seniors.”
This and that
- UTEP’s 52 points in the Sun Bowl are the most since pouring on 52 points against Marshall to end the 2009 season.
- UTEP ended the 2016 season with a regular-season finale victory, while it was the third consecutive regular season finale victory. UTEP ended with regular-season finale wins during the 1965-1971 seasons.
- UTEP registered a season-high 555 yards of total offense, the most in the Sean Kugler era. It’s also the fourth time the Miners have gone over 500 yards during Kugler’s time at the helm and most since tallying 546 yards in 2013 at NM State.
- UTEP rushed for 384 yards, the most during the Sean Kugler era, and most since rambling off 358 versus Weber State on Nov. 19, 1983.
- Aaron Jones finished the 2016 season with a single-season school-record 1,773 yards, while his career total is at 4,114 yards [most in program history]. Aaron Jones’s career-high 301 yards vs. North Texas are the second-most yards in single game; Fred Wendt rushed for 326 yards in 1948.
- It was Jones’s fifth 200-plus yard performance in his career and the most 200-plus yard performances in school history. Aaron Jones went over 100 yards for the 17th time in his career, a UTEP record, surpassing John Harvey’s total of 16 games.
- Aaron Jones is the fourth FBS player to rush for over 300 yards in 2016. Texas’ D’Onta Freeman rushed for 341 yards – a single-game high in 2016. He is also the eighth player in Conference USA history to go over 300 yards. Jones’s 301 yards matches East Carolina’s Chris Johnson [301 yards in 2007] and is tied for the sixth-best single game performance in C-USA history.
- Aaron Jones’s 1,773 rushing yards is the fifth-best single-season performance in Conference USA history.
- Jones rushed for a season-long 83-yard touchdown in the first quarter and added a 58-yard scoring dash in the third quarter, making it 11 rushing plays of 50-plus yards in his career.
- Aaron Jones’s 147.8 yards per game is the second-best single-season average per game in UTEP history.
- Aaron Jones rushed for 118 yards in the first quarter, making it the sixth time Jones has rushed for 100-plus yards in a single quarter.
- Aaron Jones rushed for 198 yards in the first half [career high], making it the 13th career game in which he gained over 100 yards in a single half.
- Ryan Metz tallied a career-long 72-yard touchdown pass and a career-long 42-yard rush during the fourth quarter.
- Ryan Metz threw a pair of touchdowns, giving the sophomore 14 passing scores in 2016 and most since Trevor Vittatoe tossed 22 touchdowns in 2010.
- Ryan Metz ended the 2016 season completing 64.7 percent of his passes [130-of-201], the second-best single season performance in school history.
- Hayden Plinke scored on a career-long 72-yard touchdown, while it was is eighth touchdown in 2016, the most by a UTEP tight end in program history.
- Hayden Plinke caught three passes and will conclude his UTEP career leading the Miners in receptions  in 2016. Plinke is the first tight end to lead the team in receptions since Bob Keseday led UTEP with 47 receptions in 1986.
- Cole Freytag caught his fifth touchdown of 2016 and will end the 2016 season as the team leader in receiving yards .
- Brandon Moss scored his first career touchdown as he recovered the ball in the end zone on a blocked punt attempt by Dashone Smith.
- Jay Mattox connected on a season-long 48-yard field goal in the first quarter. Mattox finishes his UTEP career with 40 career field goals, ranking no. 3 on the all-time list. Reagan Schneider connected on 50 field goals during his career, while Ricky Bishop connected on 42 in his career.
- Alvin Jones racked up 12 tackles; making it the ninth time in his career that Jones has tallied double-digit tackles. Jones added a sack, giving the junior 10.5 in his career and needing 1.5 sacks to crack the top 10 in school annals.
- UTEP’s 31 points in the first half was the most since putting up 31 at Tulane on Oct. 15, 2011. It’s also the most points in the first half in the Sun Bowl since racking up 30 points against Rice on Oct. 9 2010.