KNOW THE FOE (RIVALRY EDITION): UTEP Miners

UTEPMiners

  • LOCATION: El Paso, Texas
  • HOME FIELD: Sun Bowl Stadium (capacity 51,500)
  • CONFERENCE: Conference USA (West Division)
  • 2015 RECORD: 5-7, 3-5 in C-USA
  • PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Aaron Jones, WR Jaquan White, TE Hayden Plinke, OL Derek Elmendorff, OL Will Hernandez, LB Nick Usher, LB Alvin Jones, K Jay Mattox
  • HEAD COACH: Sean Kugler (4th season, 14-23)
  • OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Brent Pease (1st season)
  • DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Tom Mason (1st season)
  • ASSISTANT COACHES:
    • Brent Pease, Quarterbacks (1st season)
    • Tom Mason, Linebackers (1st season)
    • Brian Natkin, Tight Ends/Special Teams Coordinator (5th season)
    • Cornell Jackson, Running Backs (4th season)
    • Spencer Leftwich, Offensive Line (4th season)
    • Andrew Browning, Defensive Line (4th season)
    • Derrius Bell, Cornerbacks (1st season)
    • Don Yanowsky, Safeties/Recruiting Coordinator (1st season)
    • Theron Aych, Wide Receivers (1st season)

2016 SCHEDULE

  • 9/3 – New Mexico State
  • 9/10 – at Texas
  • 9/17 – Army
  • 9/24 – Southern Miss*
  • 10/1 – at Louisiana Tech*
  • 10/8 – Florida International*
  • 10/22 – at UTSA*
  • 10/29 – Old Dominion*
  • 11/5 – Houston Baptist
  • 11/12 – at Florida Atlantic*
  • 11/19 – at Rice*
  • 11/26 – North Texas*

*Conference game

CLASS OF 2016

  1. Keith Sullivan, DE (Houston, TX)
  2. Antonio Dupree, RB (Baltimore, MD)
  3. Quardraiz Wadley, RB (Kennedale, TX)
  4. Joseph Pickney, S (Crosby, TX)
  5. Walter Dawn, RB (Mesquite, TX)
  6. Amorama Noel, TE (Houston, TX)
  7. Brannon Bullitt, WR (El Paso, TX)
  8. Kolbi McGary, LB (Cedar Hill, TX)
  9. Tiano Tialavea, DT (Seattle, WA)
  10. Richie Rodriguez, WR (El Paso, TX)
  11. Christian Johnson, DE (El Paso, TX)
  12. Justin Rogers, CB (Los Angeles, CA)
  13. Bobby Deharo, OL (El Paso, TX)
  14. Mark Torrez, QB (El Paso, TX)
  15. Broderick Harrell, CB (Wolfforth, TX)
  16. Tanner Stallings, OL* (Sterling, KS)
  17. Josh Ortega, DT (El Paso, TX)
  18. Dedrick Simpson, LB (Houston, TX)
  19. Kevin Dove, FB (El Campo, TX)
  20. Jared Goldwire, OL (Covington, WA)
  21. Dylan Parsee, LB (San Angelo, TX)
  22. Eric Foster, CB (El Paso, TX)
  23. Sione Tupou, LB (Allen, TX)
  24. Ronald Awatt, RB (Wolfforth, TX)
  25. Peytton Pickett, RB (Arlington, TX)

*Junior college transfer

Bold indicates early enrollee.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP – OFFENSE

  • QB – Zack Greenlee (Jr., Stockton, CA)
  • RB – Aaron Jones (R-Jr., El Paso, TX)
  • FB – Darrin Laufasa (Sr., Bothell, WA)
  • WR – Jaquan White (Sr., Lancaster, TX)
  • WR – Tyler Batson (Jr., Spring, TX)
  • TE – Hayden Plinke (Sr., Hillsboro, OR)
  • LT – Jerome Daniels (Sr., Little Elm, TX)
  • LG – Will Hernandez (Jr., Las Vegas, NV)
  • C – Derron Gatewood (So., Odessa, TX)
  • RG – Derek Elmendorff (Jr., El Paso, TX)
  • RT – John De La Rosa (Sr., Bay City, TX)

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP – DEFENSE

  • DE – Luke Elsner (Jr., Seymour, WI)
  • NT – Christian Harper (Sr., Houston, TX)
  • DE – Mike Sota (So., Placentia, CA)
  • LB – Nick Usher (Sr., Los Angeles, CA)
  • LB – Cooper Foster (Sr., Cedar Park, TX)
  • LB – Silas Firstley (Sr., Mesquite, TX)
  • LB – Alvin Jones (Jr., El Paso, TX)
  • CB – Kalon Beverly (So., New Orleans, LA)
  • CB – Nik Needham (So., Buena Park, CA)
  • SS – Dashone Smith (Sr., Spring, TX)
  • FS – Devin Cockrell (R-Jr., Port Arthur, TX)

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP – SPECIAL TEAMS

  • K – Jay Mattox (Sr., Las Vegas, NV)
  • P – Alan Luna (Sr., El Paso, TX)

GOOD NEWS

  • New offensive coordinator Brent Pease brings experience and enthusiasm as he attempts to breathe life into a sluggish Miners offense. Four starters return on a big, physical offensive line, and running back Aaron Jones is back after a knee injury wiped out almost all of his 2015 season.
  • The Miners have the makings of a quality defensive line, recording multiple sacks in spring scrimmages. UTEP is transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 front under new coordinator Tom Mason, but the adjustments have been relatively smooth. Mason, most recently the DC at Hawaii, adheres to a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy that emphasizes speed.
  • The Miners have both continuity and consistency on special teams. Placekicker Jay Mattox and punter Alan Luna, both seniors, could push for all-conference honors.

BAD NEWS

  • Who is the quarterback? The Miners lost their presumed starter, junior Mack Leftwich, to a season-ending shoulder injury in spring practice. Sophomores Ryan Metz and Kavika Johnson, both of whom split time with Leftwich in 2015, battled in the spring without an obvious winner. The 6’4″ Metz has a strong arm and led UTEP to a few victories last fall, but Johnson is more athletic. However, neither QB impressed in the spring game, and the job will remain open until Fresno State graduate transfer Zack Greenlee arrives in the fall. Greenlee will have two years of eligibility remaining at UTEP.
  • There’s not much depth at linebacker, and in a new 3-4 scheme, that could be troublesome. Leading returning tackler Alvin Jones (twin brother of Aaron Jones) is talented and experienced, but he needs help.
  • The Miners were vulnerable to the pass last season and need to create more turnovers. Depth and experience could be concerns at cornerback. Sophomores Kalon Beverly and Nik Needham were picked on as true freshmen, but they’ll be key cogs in the rotation again.

VERDICT

The Miners have a friendly schedule – they only leave the state of Texas twice – and there’s a good mix of talent and experience on the roster. As usual with Sean Kugler-coached teams, there’s a lot of talent and size in the trenches, and running the ball should be a strength if Jones stays healthy.

Questions remain at quarterback and in the secondary. A group of undersized receivers also needs to take a step forward. Six new assistant coaches will bring with them new philosophies, and it all needs to mesh well in order for UTEP to go bowling again.

PREDICTION

6-6 (4-4 in C-USA)

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