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UTEP vs. #11 Texas Game Preview: Kavika Johnson faces tall task in first career start

UTEP will go up against the nationally resurgent Texas Longhorns in Austin on Saturday.

UTEP Miners @ #11 Texas Longhorns

Series Record: Texas leads 2-0

Kickoff: 5:05 p.m. Mountain Time

TV: Longhorn Network, Watch ESPN

Vegas says: Texas -29.5, O/U 59

UTEP comes in riding high off a season opening win against rival NMSU, meanwhile the Longhorns come in on another level of confidence after their major win against Notre Dame.

The Miners were dealt with their first significant injury to a starter, as Sean Kugler said Zack Greenlee will probably miss two weeks with three injuries he is currently nursing.

So enter Kavika Johnson, and maybe even a little Ryan Metz as the Miners’ signal callers.

Johnson will take the first snap inside DKR on Saturday, but expect to see Metz in some sort of capacity as UTEP could still move Johnson around the offense like they did in week one to create some diversity.

Johnson only attempted one pass last week, but did catch two passes for 26 yards including an 18-yard reception. Metz also lined up at wide receiver once in the Miners wildcat package.

Miners’ senior wide receiver Cole Freytag had a career day against the Aggies, racking up 95-yards receiving and a touchdown, leading five Miners who had at least two receptions or more last Saturday.

Freytag, and slot receiver Jaquan White played like seasoned seniors, and were very encouraging in week one. UTEP’s wideouts will be challenged to create separation against Texas’ man coverage, and the outstanding athletes that run those coverage's.

Aaron Jones, was well...very Aaron Jones like in the season opener, even after missing an entire calendar year.

UTEP’s offensive line once again dominated NMSU upfront, particularly in the fourth quarter as the Miners size and physical nature wore down on the Aggies.

Texas did allow 200 yards rushing to the Irish, and Aaron Jones has shown he can do his thing no matter what the level of competition is lined up across the line of scrimmage.

Jones’ best attribute on Saturday was as a decoy in Brent Pease’s offense which opened up a few things at times.

Twice Jones was used as a decoy either in motion or just being on the field that led to big yards through the air like Freytag’s 46-yard touchdown catch off a pump fake from Zack Greenlee while Jones was swung out to the flats.

Expect more of that, as most defenses will expect more Jones without Greenlee.

Defensively, UTEP will have their hands full to say the least.

Texas is now using a warp speed tempo, and will test UTEP’s new zone coverage via the vertical pass game.

UTEP’s corners Kalon Beverly and Nik Needham will tested by John Burt and other talented, and tall wideouts. Burt who went for 100-yards receiving against Notre Dame is a big matchup problem on the outside.

The Miners pass rush is also a major concern as UTEP struggled with angle technique on blitzes, but did drop eight in coverage at a very high percentage last Saturday.

Alvin Jones looked like he was in mid-season form piling up 12 tackles, a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage and also dished out a few big hits against the Aggies.

Jones and his fellow linebackers will have the daunting task in trying to bring down a pair of 250-pound running backs in D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren III. You rarely see 250-pound running backs in C-USA, let a lone two in a single game plan. This will be a major tackling, and physical test for UTEP’s front seven.

One of the biggest advantages Texas has against the Miner defense is the 18-wheeler package with Tyrone Swoopes.

At 6’4, 250 pounds and possessing wide receiver type speed, Swoopes will test UTEP’s discipline in containing the read-option. Something UTEP struggled with in the second half of the NMSU win.

Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele looks like the real deal, and how UTEP employs pressure on him will be key. The Texas offensive line was stout against Notre Dame, and the Miners will have to rely on zone blitz looks to get some sort of pass rush.

Of course, Sean Kugler’s teams don’t back down and always play with their typical physical edge, but the talent disparity will be a factor as the game moves on.

Five things we want to see UTEP execute

Control the clock, no negative yards in the run game

These two come hand-in-hand with the UTEP offense. As long as UTEP is not losing rushing yards due to allowing TFL’s, UTEP will be able to control the clock and keep Texas’ offense off the field. 3rd-and-long, and 2nd and more than seven are situations that will doom UTEP in this one.

Open Field Tackling

UTEP will go up against some of the biggest, and fastest group of skill players they may ever face, and tackling could either be a big issue for UTEP, or a positive mark going forward. Guys like Foreman, Warren, and Swoopes are naturally hard to bring down, and if UTEP is struggling in this department, expect the Horns to grab major chunk yards after contact.

Utilize play action more often

Something UTEP did in other ways against the Aggies, but against Texas play action using Aaron Jones could open things up in a big way. Without Greenlee, the Horns’ gameplan of stopping Aaron Jones inside the first level will be their main key. Texas has the athletes to stack the box with 7 or 8 and protect against the pass at the same time. Play action could help distract the eyes of Texas’ defenders in man coverage, thus possibly giving UTEP some matchups they could win via play action.

Don’t get beat deep

For some, this could be the Miners most important key. Texas showed they are not scared to let Shane Buechele chuck it deep, and he has the weapons to do so at a high succession rate. UTEP only allowed one big play down field against the pass when NMSU split a UTEP cover-2 look due to a late UTEP substitution at strong safety. Safety help will be key, but UTEP’s corners will be tested like they’ve never been tested before. The main play calling or gameplan question is does UTEP drop eight in coverage again at a high percentage to play it safe or sacrifices coverage with a havoc style pass rushing approach.

Take care of the ball

UTEP’s biggest offensive mistakes came in the form of fumbles last Saturday. UTEP only lost one, but Aaron Jones put the ball on the ground twice, something Sean Kugler said would be stressed all week in preparation for Texas. Kavika Johnson also has to avoid giving up the rock, but his running ability out of the pocket could help that area. UTEP needs to control every possession they get, and giving the Horns extra possessions in this game could be football suicide.

Three matchups were closely watching

Aaron Jones vs. Malik Jefferson

Two NFL level talents will be going at it, this one should be fun. Jones always plays with a respectful chip on his shoulder, and should be chomping at the bit for a chance to put Jefferson on a highlight.

Kalon Beverly vs. John Burt

Beverly figures to draw Burt, and will certainly test how far Beverly has came since the Arkansas game last year. UTEP’s highest rated defensive recruit in the class of 2015 goes up against a future NFL draft pick.

Brent Pease vs. Vance Bedford

Texas’ defense is nasty, fast, and overall good. Brent Pease showed he can mix things up, and confuse a defense at times with formations and motion. The adjustments Pease makes against Texas’ man coverage and the athletes behind it will be very interesting to watch, especially if UTEP struggles early.


UTEP quiets DKR early with a nice and early TD drive, but Texas’ playmakers and talent becomes too much.

Texas 45 UTEP 17