Since spring ball started, defensive players have been talking about how fun, and effective UTEP's new 3-4 defense can be, and Friday morning that notion took center stage in the Sun Bowl.
"I'd say the defense dominated the day overall," coach Sean Kugler said. "[There was] a lot of pressure on the quarterback. I think there were five sacks. [Linebacker] Johnny Jones was active inside getting some sacks. I thought Brendan Royal really did a nice job at strong safety setting the edge. I think he had two or three tackles for losses."
In the first scrimmage, UTEP's offense was able to move the ball, and only allowed two sacks, but were only allowed three total touchdowns on Friday all coming on short runs. UTEP's offense also took a few steps back in the consistency department with drops by pass catchers, and snap issues.
Statistically, Johnny Jones compiled two sacks and a pass break-up. Nik Needham picked off a pass, Dashone Smith added two tackles for losses and Kalon Beverly was active on the outside with two pass break-ups.
Ryan Metz completed 6-of-10 passes for 59 yards. Kavika Johnson was 1-of-8 for 10 yards. Cole Freytag was the only Miner with more than one catch (he had two), while Orion Prescott (10 carries for 30 yards), Powell (six for 25 yards) and Treyvon Hughes (10 for 22 yards) set the pace in the ground game.
"I think the number one offense did some good things, and the number two offense kind of struggled mightily today," Kugler said. "[Ryan and Kavika] both moved the ball a little bit, and then they had some inconsistent plays. They dealt with some things like snap issues and there were some drops. I thought the receivers had too many drops today. There were some well-placed balls that should've come down as catches. Sometimes you've got to evaluate that and not put it on the quarterback."
Kugler also revealed some good/bad news on the injury front.
The good news, junior safety Devin Cockrell's knee injury is not serious as first thought, and senior defensive end/linebacker Nick Usher has returned to practice.
"It was good to get [Usher] back," Kugler said. "He was in there on a limited basis. He wants to be out there all the time. It's got to be a slow process for him. I'm going to have to monitor keeping him off the field more than he is on the field. Cockrell will be back. I'll probably hold him out the rest of the spring, but we got good news on his knee. It's not a major knee injury that's going to require surgery. I think right now all of our injured guys are really on track. I think we're going to get back every single one of them, which makes me happy."
Meanwhile Mack Leftwich had shoulder surgery, with recovery and rehab possibly lingering into the fall.
UTEP will host their spring game next Friday when fans get their first live looks at UTEP's new schemes on defense and offense.
"It's huge because we're implementing a new offense and defense," Kugler said of the Miners progress during spring practices. "Just the fact that these guys are getting all the terminology down so when we go to camp in the fall, they'll have a good understanding of that. They'll also be here all summer training in the weight room and those type things.
"I really think the kids on both sides of the ball have done a nice job learning the systems, I think the coaches have done an excellent job of teaching it, and the thing I like is they're having fun and playing with energy on both sides of the ball. That's what you want out of the spring ... come out of it without injuries and enjoy it." Kugler added.
In recruiting news, 2017 quarterback Alex Fernandes from Austin, Texas was on hand watching Friday's scrimmage. The senior-to-be has also visited Southern Miss. and Tulsa this spring.