With all the odds stacked against them after an ugly 0-4 start, things will get tougher from here on out for the UTEP football team with the next seven opponents having bowl rings from last year.
Not only has UTEP not held a lead this year, they’ll make a long road trip to the Eastern Time zone where UTEP is 0-20-1 all-time, and will face Army who put up 66 point last year on the UTEP defense in the Sun Bowl.
UTEP had tons of questions heading into the season, and through four games even more questions have been raised, and job security is thin among the entire coaching staff.
Starting at the quarterback spot where Ryan Metz is looking to bounce back from a rough performance against NMSU.
Part of Metz’s struggle has been the lack of help from his pass catchers as his top four major targets have catch rates lower than 53.3 percent on the season.
NMSU’s Shad Lomax had three interceptions, while no UTEP receiver had more than two catches last Saturday.
UTEP got a small offensive boost with Quardraiz Wadley’s return as the sophomore ran for a season high 77 yards last week against the Aggies.
Sean Kugler has moved Walter Dawn over from running back to wide receiver in efforts to help UTEP’s passing game.
UTEP ranks 107th nationally in rushing success rate, and outside of Will Hernandez things have been absolutely atrocious inside UTEP’s run game.
Defensively, it doesn’t get better as the Miners troubles are numerous starting with defending the run. Teams have a rushing success rate of 54.4 percent, while the national average is 41.7 percent.
Army’s rushing attack is one of the most efficient led by quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, and fullback Andy Davidson.
The Black Knights power success rate ranks 12th nationally, while UTEP’s defense gives up success against the power rush 84.6 percent of the time.
Davidson averages 5.3 yards per carry as the first option at fullback, and Darnell Woolfolk who is 235 pounds has a 5.7 yard per carry average.
Kell Walker is an athletic slot back who is averaging 8.7 yards per rush, and will be a major factor on the pitch, or some of their motion runs in where he is very dangerous in space.
Army has only completed four passes on the season, and attempted 23 total passes, so stopping the run is the obvious major key for the UTEP defense.
Using a 3-4 odd scheme, Army could give UTEP the same problems NMSU did with their odd-blitzing scheme.
Senior linebacker Alex Aukerman leads the team with 5.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks. Aukerman leads a solid linebacker corps that has compiled the 30th best havoc rate among linebackers across the nation.
The odds are stacked up against the struggling Miners, but can they break the Eastern Time streak, or does Army run away with it once again?
Three competitive keys for UTEP
Keep the power run looks out of the spread
UTEP had major success on their lone scoring drive against NMSU when the Miners went spread, albeit with tight ends, but they had NMSU off balance with the run/pass mix on that drive. Metz works well out of the shotgun, and it’s time for UTEP to play to their personnel strengths, rather than jamming the square peg in the round hole.
Assignments sound defense
Tom Mason’s defenses have struggled defending the triple option, and UTEP can’t afford to be sloppy on their assignments like last season. Slamming the fullback is always key in disrupting the triple-option, but UTEP’s linebackers and safeties will be tested in being sound in their run fits.
Play with nothing to lose
Go for it on fourth and short, take deep shots downfield, and throw in a trick play or two, or three. This team needs life, and the coaching staff can ignite it, but imagination has not been a strong point under Sean Kugler.
Hard to see any positive from a 0-4 start, and the negatives could continue to pile up if the Miners show up flat once again.
Army controls the clock, the score, and sends UTEP back home wondering when the bleeding will stop.
Army 42 UTEP 10