CFN Preview 2013 - UTEP Miners
UTEP WR Jordan Leslie
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By Richard Cirminiello
At long last, the disappointing Mike Price tenure in El Paso has come to an end. It's the dawn of a new era in Sun City.
Head coach: Sean Kugler
First year: 0-0
Off. 24 Def. 17, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best UTEP Players
1. RB Nathan Jeffery, Jr.
2. WR Jordan Leslie, Jr.
3. DE Horace Miller, Sr.
4. SS Richard Spencer, Sr.
5. QB Jameill Showers, Jr.
6. LT Brander Craighead, Sr.
7. NT Marcus Bagley, Sr.
8. DT Germard Reed, Sr.
9. LB A.J. Ropati, Sr.
10. LG Jerel Watkins, Jr.
8/31 OPEN DATE
9/7 New Mexico
9/14 at New Mexico State
9/28 at Colorado State
10/5 Louisiana Tech
10/19 OPEN DATE
10/26 at Rice
11/2 at Texas A&M
11/9 at North Texas
11/23 at Tulane
11/30 at Middle Tennessee
That Price overstayed his welcome at UTEP is a gross understatement. The coach started fast, but couldn't sustain, finishing with seven consecutive losing seasons. It was time for a fresh start. Enter Sean Kugler, a Class of '89 Miner who'd spent most of the past dozen years coaching offensive linemen in the NFL. He's never been a head coach. Heck, he's never been a coordinator. Kugler, though, does brings a new energy and vibe to a program that was in dire need of a jolt of enthusiasm.
Kugler is suddenly the face of UTEP football. Just take a look at the Miners' media materials, and Kugler's penetrating stare is likely to be looking right back at you. The administration is holding out hope that the intensity and youth of a new staff will breathe life back into the program at all levels, from recruits to the fan base. We'll see.
The new regime inherits a team that won just three games a year ago, and needs to begin operating with a different mentality; the kind of mentality that often comes with a history of sustained success on the field. More than anything else, Kugler & Co. wants to affect the Miners between the ears, changing the way they prepare, practice and approach the game.
As the depth slowly fleshes out, and the staff learns its personnel, UTEP will have a chance to be pretty good on offense; good enough even to deliver an upset or two along the way. The addition on Feb. 26 of QB Jameill Showers from Texas A&M could wind up being a profound transaction that impacts the 2013 and 2014 teams. He's yet to arrive, but he's expected to capture the job in the summer, teaming up with exciting RB Nathan Jeffery, go-to WR Jordan Leslie and a very deep collection of tight ends.
New coach. New quarterback. New direction for a program that's been looking for a qualified crossing guard for the past few seasons. The administration believes that Kugler is the right man for the job, a job that's going to require patience and a fair amount of heavy lifting in the early going.
What to watch for on offense: The tight ends to be busy. The Miners have to maximize all of the talent on the roster, and few positions in El Paso are deeper than at tight end. New head coach Sean Kugler has an extensive background in the NFL, where he saw a lot of terrific offensive linemen and tight ends. He inherits three upperclassmen with starting experience, Eric Tomlinson, Craig Wenrick and Kevin Perry. The trio is big and physical, and need to be utilized by the new starting quarterback.
What to watch for on defense: The tackles to generate more heat than the ends. UTEP has question marks on the outside of the D-line, but fewer worries on the interior, where seniors Germard Reed and Marcus Bagley will form a formidable tandem. At 320 pounds, Bagley is a classic run-stopper, with the low-to-ground stance to clog gaps. Reed is 45 pounds lighter, and is just quick enough to beat opposing linemen en route to the backfield. The tackles are talented enough to pick up some much-needed slack up front this fall.
The team will be far better if … it starts winning third downs. The Miners were a feeble third-down squad last year, ranking 93rd nationally on offense and 86th on D. The ramifications for such inefficiency were wide-reaching, from an inability to consistently put up points to a defense that was gassed in the second half of games. Longer drives from the offense and a few more timely stops from the D will quickly reach the bottom line for UTEP in 2013.
The Schedule: It's a new era for the Miners and it could start out with a bang getting New Mexico at home and going on the road to face New Mexico State. With the Conference USA opener against UTSA to follow, a 3-0 start is more than likely before going to Colorado State. And then comes the payback with a brutal stretch of Louisiana Tech, Tulsa and road games against Rice, Texas A&M and North Texas. While there's a week off before facing the Owls, five of the final six games are on the road closing out at Tulane and Middle Tennessee.
Best Offensive Player: Junior RB Nathan Jeffery. Hidden beneath last year's overall statistics, 897 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, were some rather revealing numbers regarding Jeffery's potential. When No. 25 was healthy, he was special, rushing for 177 yards in the opener with Oklahoma and other 175 yards against a pretty good UCF D. The 5-11, 205-pound Jeffery is a tough inside runner, with enough burst to get outside the tackles. If he can remain healthy for an entire year, the upside and raw talent are there for him to rank among Conference USA's premier backs.
Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Horace Miller. The former transfer from Louisville has been UTEP's best pass rusher for the past two years, when he was an undersized, 6-1, 240-pound defensive end. Now that he's moving back a level to strongside linebacker, the coaches feel he'll be even more disruptive roaming around in space. Miller used his quick first step and good technique around the edge to collect 31 tackles, 7.5 stops for minus yards and a team-high six sacks.
Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Jameill Showers. Although it's a lot of pressure for a newcomer, the Miners are banking on Showers quickly becoming one of the leaders of the offense. And he has the talent to fulfill those expectations. UTEP has a feature back in Nathan Jeffery, but now needs a quality passer to help balance out the attack. If Showers can reach his potential quickly, the Miners could wind up boasting one of the two or three best backfields in the conference.
The season will be a success if ... the Miners vie for a second-tier bowl game by winning at least six regular-season games. The goal is not as daunting as it might otherwise seem now that Conference USA has traded a few its tougher programs for imports from the Sun Belt and the WAC. A visit from Tulsa and a trip to Texas A&M are going to be tall tasks. In the rest of the 10 games, though, UTEP is going to come out of the locker room feeling as if it can go stride-for-stride with the other team.
Key game: Sept. 7 vs. New Mexico. Everyone wants to get off to a fast start. For a school like UTEP, which has a new coach and hasn't had a winning season since 2005, it's essential. There'll be a little more energy in the Sun Bowl crowd than usual, as the Sean Kugler era begins with a visit from the Lobos. Confidence will come at a premium in 2013, so a strong September could keep the Miners in contention for the bonus game in December that it dearly covets.
2012 Fun Stats:
- Average yards per rush: UTEP 3.9 – Opponents 4.8
- Third-down %: UTEP 36% – Opponents 43%
- Sacks: UTEP 20 - Opponents 31
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