Wildcats look to bounce back Friday against UTEP
Arizona players run out before the start of the UA-Houston football game Saturday, Sept. 9 at Arizona Stadium.
Sean Kugler’s return to his alma mater has gone from a dream come true to an endless nightmare. The University of Texas at El Paso has reached one bowl game during his four-year tenure, and are projected to spend the postseason at home yet again. Kugler’s 18-33 record has him squarely on the hot seat and it doesn’t appear that his team will be competitive in an improved Conference USA.
The Miners have struggled in the early going, losing to Oklahoma and Rice. In both losses, UTEP was dominated at the line of scrimmage and were unable to overcome early deficits. Friday’s game represents an opportunity for the Miners to collect a significant victory and save what is quickly becoming a disastrous season.
UTEP’s offense is ranked near the bottom in most statistical categories. Quarterback Ryan Metz is one of the least efficient quarterbacks in the nation as evidenced by his 54.9 completion percentage.
Metz is mobile and can throw on the run, but occasionally makes questionable decisions. His pass catchers aren’t gamebreakers, leading receiver Kavika Johnson has caught six passes in two games. The passing game has struggled throughout the early going, forcing offensive coordinator Brent Pease to rely on an underrated run game.
Tailbacks Kevin Dove and Walter Dawn are a potent combo. Dove is a prototypical power back weighing at 250 pounds. Dawn is the lightning to Dove’s thunder, he is dangerous in the open field.
Both backs run behind a offensive line. Guard, Will Hernandez, was a 3rd Team All-American last year and is the focal point. The senior plodder is UTEPs best player, and has drawn rave reviews from NFL scouts. Hernandez is joined by athletic center Derron Gatewood and mauler Derek Elmendorff.
The Miners’ defense is an experienced group with seven returning starters. Despite having a surplus of long time contributors, breakdowns have been a frequent problem this season. Tackling has been sloppy and as a result UTEP is one of the least successful defenses in the country.
Linebackers Alvin Jones and Dante Lovilotte are two names to watch. Jones and Lovilotte are physical backers that run to the football. They were the top two tacklers in 2016 and have gotten off to a hot start this year.
While the linebacker corps is a strength the defensive front is a glaring weakness. Mike Sota is the lone returning starter and he has been unable to create a pass rush. That lack of pressure has led to UTEP allowing 303 passing yards per game this year.
The Miners aren’t much better on the ground, and that is because of their undersized defensive front. In the secondary, Nik Needham leads what is a physical group. Needham recorded a team high eleven pass breakups last year. Safety Devin Cockrell made 58 tackles last season, but can be a bit slow in coverage.
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