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2007 UTEP Preview
Posted Jul 24, 2007

Preview 2007 UTEP Miners

UTEP Miners

Preview 2007

By Richard Cirminiello    

- 2007 UTEP Offense Preview | 2007 UTEP Defense Preview
2007 UTEP Depth Chart | 2006 CFN UTEP Preview 

After three late season collapses (or chokes, if you prefer) in a row, has Mike Price taken the Miners as far as they can go? 

He was a magician in his first season, coaxing eight wins and a bowl berth from a team that won just two games a year earlier, but then UTEP quickly turned into one of the league’s biggest underachievers.  Last year’s squad was built for a Conference USA championship, but instead finished a disappointing 5-7.  According to Price, the status quo will no longer cut it in El Paso. While that’s a great attitude to have, his team was gutted by graduation losses, so the task is challenging. 

Head coach: Mike Price
4th year: 21-15
26th year overall: 150-137
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 20, Def. 18, ST 0
Lettermen Lost: 26
Ten Best Miner Players
1. FS Quintin Demps, Sr.
2. RB Marcus Thomas, Sr.
3. LB Jeremy Jones, Sr.
4. C Robby Felix, Jr.
5. OT Tyler Ribitzki, Jr.
6. WR Joe West, Sr.
7. CB Josh Ferguson, Sr.
8. WR Fred Rouse, Soph.
9. SS Braxton Amy, Soph.
10. WR/QB Lorne Sam, Sr.

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 5-7

Sept. 1

New Mexico

Sept. 8

at Texas Tech

Sept. 15

at New Mexico St

Sept. 22

Texas Southern

Sept. 29

at SMU

Oct. 6


Oct. 13

East Carolina

Oct. 27


Nov. 3

at Rice

Nov. 10

at Tulane

Nov. 17

Southern Miss

Nov. 24

at UCF

2006 Schedule
2006 Record: 5-7

8/31 at San Diego St W 34-27
9/9 Texas Tech L 38-35 OT
9/23 at New Mexico L 26-13
9/30 New Mexico St W 44-38
10/7 SMU W 24-21
10/14 Tulane W 34-20
10/21 at Houston L 34-17
10/27 at Tulsa L 30-20
11/4 Rice L 37-31
11/10 at UAB W 36-17
11/18 at Marshall L 49-21
11/25 Memphis L 38-19

In an attempt to stimulate the program, Price put it through a mini-makeover, reshuffling the staff, tweaking the way it recruits and completely changing the practice routine.  It might help, but then again, it’s not going to matter much if last year’s backups aren’t ready to slide into the lineup, or if some of this year’s 29 new recruits can’t soften the blow of losing 27 seniors.

Heading the list of departures is the entire defensive line and the prolific pitch-and-catch combo of Jordan Palmer to Johnnie Lee Higgins, which connected for 32 touchdown passes over the last three seasons.  Palmer made way too many bad decisions in his career, but he had a big arm and enough knowledge of the offense to keep churning out points.  The six contenders to succeed the school’s all-time leading passer have completed just seven passes between them.

Three years ago, Price took Gary Nord’s players and promptly whipped them into winners.  Now he has to do it with his own recruits, or lose more traction.              

What to watch on offense …For the Miners’ one-back offense to succeed, it must have a reliable hurler, making the race to supplant Palmer critical and super tight.  No fewer than five contenders exited spring with a shot at winning the job, although redshirt freshman Trevor Vittatoe and versatile senior Lorne Sam appeared to distinguish themselves in April.  Whether or not he wins the job, Sam, a Florida State transfer who’s also listed as a first-team receiver, will fit in somewhere this year.  Before injuring his knee in 2006, he was a huge hit running the zone draw.

What to watch on defense …UTEP lost eight starters from a group that was 104th nationally in total defense a year ago, so it’s major rebuilding time in El Paso this fall.  The Miners are counting on six junior college transfers to provide immediate help, especially on a depleted line that’s going to be powerless against opposing ground games.  The one nugget of good news is the return of linebacker Jeremy Jones, the Miners’ best defender before breaking his leg last September.         

The team will be far better if …the offensive line makes massive strides from last season.  Palmer took way too many hits and a couple of capable backs, Marcus Thomas and Donald Buckram, saw zero daylight.  If the Miners are to get back to the postseason, they’ll have to win a lot of shootouts, but that won’t be possible if the young line hasn’t learned from last year’s apprenticeship.

The Schedule: UTEP will get its fill of the southwest, facing New Mexico, Texas Tech, New Mexico State and Texas Southern before dealing with Conference USA play. If nothing else, the games against the Red Raiders and Aggies should be some of the wildest shootouts of the year. While the Miners play four of the league's best teams (Tulsa, East Carolina, Houston and Southern Miss), they get them all at home. Three of the final four games are on the road.

Best Offensive Player: Senior RB Marcus Thomas. Expected to explode onto the scene when he arrived in El Paso, the former Parade All-American has been merely average, finding little room to run and being under utilized in the Miner passing offense. Now he needs to be the key cog in the offense, providing the speed and power to be the focal point of both the running game and the short passing attack.     

Best Defensive Player: Senior FS Quintin Demps. The league’s best ball-hawk, Demps made seven interceptions last season to go along with five broken up passes. The team’s leader in the secondary since an all-star freshman season, he should be a lock for the All-Conference USA team if he uses his experience to make even more big plays.     

Key player to a successful season: The starting quarterback. Whether it turns out to be Lorne Sam, Brandis Dew, James Thomas II, Trevor Vittatoe or Kyle Wright, someone will have to match the production of Jordan Palmer. Vittatoe is probably a year away, Wright has a little bit of experience, Sam can play receiver and has the best all-around skills, Thomas is great on the move, and Dew, who’s coming back from a shoulder injury, has all the talent to be a star if he can stay healthy.

The season will be a success if ... the Miners get back to a bowl game. The schedule is a bit difficult and just enough key spots remain unsettled for UTEP to win the West, but there’s no reason they can’t go bowling for the third time in four years. Not crashing and burning late in the year would be nice.

Key game: Sept. 29 at SMU. The next three games are in El Paso against Tulsa, East Carolina and Houston, so UTEP could take a huge step forward in the West race with a win over the Mustangs. The Miners have won three of the last four in the series.

2006 Fun Stats: 
- Punt return average: UTEP 20 yards per attempt; Opponents 3.5 yards per attempt
- UTEP opponent scoring by quarter: 1st 51, 2nd 112, 3rd 101, 4th 108
- Fourth down conversions: UTEP 3 of 13 (23%); Opponents 10 of 19 (53%)



Related Stories
2007 UTEP Preview - Offense
 -by  Jul 24, 2007
2007 UTEP Preview - Defense
 -by  Jul 24, 2007
2007 UTEP Preview - Depth Chart
 -by  Jul 24, 2007

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