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UTEP 38 NMSU 22: Thoughts and X’s & O’s observations

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I thought that UTEP pretty much controlled this game from start-to-finish, with a few second half signs-of-life from the Aggies appearing in-between.

UTEP never trailed at any point of this game and after they took the lead on their second possession, the game was never really in doubt.

The defense only gave up 16 points and the offense put up an impressive 518 yards of offense and they scored the most points that UTEP has scored in a season opening game, against a D-1 opponent, since 1965.....and UTEP did this despite spending the 4th quarter just trying to run the clock out.

After taking a 7-3 lead at the end of the first quarter, UTEP then dominated the second quarter 17-0, to take a commanding 24-3 lead into halftime.

After halftime, NMSU was able to find a better rhythm yet they were only able to shave five points off the lead in the second half and even that number was somewhat fortunate as UTEP ended the game by kneeling the ball inside 10-yard line, instead of adding more points.

In what has become a strong and positive trend under Kugler, the UTEP coaches did another good job of game management by controlling the game and tempo, ensuring that this game would end in victory.

This is the type of control that can only be done with physicality and I love having a coaching staff that understands the value of this.

This was UTEP’s first game with two new coordinators and the overall results for a first game were very good. The defense only gave up 16 points and two touchdowns and the offense scored 38 points with 518 yards of offense.

The offense also had more passing touchdowns than rushing touchdowns, which might surprise some.

I have read some concerns that people are still having about UTEP’s offense. Naturally, there are plenty of areas where we can improve and the concern about giving Aaron Jones too many carries is warranted.

But I do find it interesting how some people still don't appear to be fully embracing Sean Kugler's offense yet. You never heard people questioning Mike Price's offenses, the way that they have questioned Kugler.

Why is this becoming odd?

Because even though Mike Price is remembered as having great offenses. In his nine seasons here at UTEP, Mike Price never scored more points in a season opening game than Kugler's offense scored Saturday, and this is only Kugler's fourth year.

Also Mike Price lost to a bad NMSU team during his fourth season at UTEP, while Kugler handled an arguably better NMSU team relatively easily during his fourth year.

You guys who are questioning Kugler's style can continue to focus on the glimmer and flash, but I will continue to take the results.

If the team can continue to get better running these new systems as the season goes on, then this game definitely represented a good place to start to growth.

Additionally, Kugler's physical systems continue to appear to be the type that will be oriented towards sustaining success for once the weather changes.

UTEP has now beaten it's biggest rival for eight straight years, which means that there is currently a streak of five straight recruiting classes for NMSU, who arrived in Las Cruces and graduated without ever beating UTEP.

Below are a few random thoughts and possible areas that could be polished:

  • Punt Snapping - I was really concerned with both the speed and delivery of our punt snaps. If I am noticing this, then others surely will.
  • Fumbles- RB's put the ball on the ground three times, with one resulting in a touchdown for NMSU. Ball security will need to be reinforced this week.
  • Short Yardage/Goal Line Running- UTEP struggled to run the ball in short yardage situations. From my view, it appeared that the O-Line spacing might have been a little too wide for goal line situations. Cutting down that spacing might help eliminate some of those gaps and penetration that NMSU was able to create trouble with.
  • Zack Greenlee - I was very impressed with Greenlee, especially for a first game. For a guy that has been here less than three months, I was very impressed with both how he runs the team and his accuracy. I think that it should also be pointed out that during both the 2nd and 3rd quarters, that Greenlee had to throw into a relatively tough wind, as the flags were pointed directly at him. That wind was tough at times and without that wind, he might have hit a few more throws and his night could have been even more impressive.
  • Starters on Special Teams - Yes, I know that special teams are one-third of the game and I know that placing our starters on special teams sets a great example for the rest of the team, regarding how serious we take these units. I also know that our special teams played very well against NMSU, including Jones downing two punts inside the 5. But I just don't feel comfortable watching valuable players like Cockrell running down on kick-offs and Jones covering punts. I also think that in the fourth year of your program, it would say something if we had the depth to keep these starters on the side-line, especially when we were told in the pre-season that we now have this depth of players who can play effectively on special teams.
  • QB Option/Bootleg - Our defense really needs to work on staying home and reading the QB option/bootleg. Our outside collapsed inside way too many times during this game, leaving the QB completely unmarked. One of NMSU's 2 TD's came from this.
  • Place a QB Spy - Keeping on this same theme, NMSU's QB was their leading rusher tonight and a lot of that came in late situations when UTEP dropped into coverage and the QB just tucked it and ran. In those situations we really need to place one athletic player in the middle (possibly Alvin Jones), whose responsibility is to spy the QB in case he decides to run. We did a poor job in this area tonight.
  • Pass Rush - I know that we dropped seven and even eight guys at time, but we rarely got a pass rush and the pass rush from only our front three was almost non existent. When we did get pressure, we struggled to keep contain and Rogers rolled out.
  • DB's - I continue to be impressed with both Nik Needham and Kalon Beverly and I am excited about those two sophomores holding down on our corner spots for the next three years. Then our safeties did a great job behind them, by legally hitting and making our zone coverage's effective. In this age of college football, it is so difficult to hit hard in the secondary without getting penalized or ejected, yet our guys attacked the body and did it legally. They broke up numerous passes with their hits and I would expect this pass coverage to continue to get better as the season goes on and these guys continue to get more experienced with these new zone coverages.
  • WR's - I was impressed with Jaquan White, he played really well and caught the ball with good hand strength on a couple of different plays. Cole Freytag obviously had a good game as well. These two guys both played like the seniors that they are and our wide out group as whole looks to be improving.
  • Kavika Johnson - I wouldn't mind seeing Johnson take a red shirt year at some point, but the guy is just proving to be too talented to do that. Saturday he hit the trifecta, as he passed once, rushed three times, and even had two receptions. It appears that his role will continue to grow and his talent is becoming fun to watch.
  • Redshirts & Gray Shirts - TK Powell and Tiano Tialavea were on the sidelines tonight but not suited. These two might be candidates to redshirt this season. Dylan Parsee and Broderick Harrell were in the stands and are likely also redshirting/gray Shirting this year.
  • Back-Up RB's - UTEP really could have used Treyvon Hughes tonight to take some of those fourth quarter carries away from Jones. It will be important for UTEP to develop a dependable back-up back who can fill that role without a fear of turning the ball over.
  • Offensive Line - The O-line had some sketchy moments, but they played well overall, and they did begin to establish themselves and take over during the fourth quarter.
  • Aaron Jones - Not much needs to be said here. The guy is special!

In summary, this was the first game with two new coordinators and the end results were good on both sides of the ball. One would expect that both sides will continue to improve as they keep getting more game experience and as the season progresses.