2008 UTEP Preview - Offense

Posted May 20, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - UTEP Miner Offense

UTEP Miners

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 UTEP Preview | 2008 UTEP Offense
2008 UTEP Defense | 2008 UTEP Depth Chart
- 2007 UTEP Preview | 2006 CFN UTEP Preview 

What you need to know:
QB Trevor Vittatoe had a sensational freshman debut for the Miners, throwing 25 touchdown passes and emerging as the new face of the program. His favorite target Jeff Moturi was equally impressive in his first significant action, catching 65 passes for 891 yards and 13 touchdowns. With a year of experience behind them, they’re poised to become the most prolific pitch-and-catch combo in Conference USA.  When UTEP runs the ball, it’ll likely go to the left side, where T Mike Aguayo, G Cameron Raschke, and C Robby Felix are returning starters. As long as the line does its job, Terrell Jackson and Donald Buckram are a pair of shifty backs capable of igniting the running attack. 

Returning Leaders
Passing: Trevor Vittatoe
224-407, 3,101 yds, 25 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Terrell Jackson
396 carries, 202 yds, 1 TD
Receiving: Jeff Moturi
65 catches, 891 yds, 13 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Trevor Vittatoe
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior RT Colby Meek
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Donald Buckram
Best pro prospect: Senior C Robby Felix
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Junior WR Jeff Moturi, 2) Felix, 3) Vittatoe
Strength of the offense: The passing attack, left side of the line
Weakness of the offense: Proven depth at wide receiver, right side of the line


Projected Starter: No freshman in the country was more prolific last year than Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford. His closest competition was UTEP’s Trevor Vittatoe, who buried the memory of Jordan Palmer, going 224-of-407 for 3,101 yards, 25 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. Always under control and mature beyond his years, he was more than just a stat-compiler, playing clutch late in tight games. While not a flame-thrower at 6-2 and 215 pounds, he has good touch on his passes and puts the ball where only the receiver can catch it. Barring an unforeseen setback, this is the sophomore’s team for the next three seasons.       

Projected Top Reserves: Vittatoe’s backup will be 6-1, 195-pound junior Kyle Wright, a former walk-on with three years of experience in the system. No threat to the starting job, he made a cameo in the rout of Texas Southern and will be used as a holder and only in the event of an emergency.

For a change-of-pace, the Miners can turn to 5-11, 185-pound sophomore James Thomas, easily the most athletic of the quarterbacks. He’s elusive in space and gets to top gear in a hurry, prompting coaches to also use him at wide receiver and wherever he can get the ball in his hands.  

Watch Out For… Thomas to be used the way Lorne Sam was the last few years, running the zone draw more than he drops back to pass. He’s too athletic to be buried on the depth chart and kept on the sidelines.
Strength: Vittatoe. The program has a luxury behind center, a young and confident leader it can build around for the next three years. In this passer-friendly offense, he’ll have a chance to be an all-star before long.                           
Weakness: Depth. Unlike last year, when Sam was No. 2, UTEP doesn’t have an experienced backup to lean on in the event Vittatoe goes down. Wright’s been around and Thomas is a dynamite athlete, but neither would make a smooth transition into the starting lineup.            
Outlook: With a year of experience behind him, there’s no reason Vittatoe won’t build on his debut and move closer to becoming Conference USA’s premier quarterback. Reaching a new level will require more consistency from the receivers and a little more time to operate in the pocket.                          
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Even after losing 1,000-yard rusher Marcus Thomas to the NFL, UTEP is confident about its situation in the backfield. The program believes it has two starters, 5-11, 195-pound senior Terrell Jackson and 5-10, 190-pound sophomore Donald Buckram, who’ll continue their spring battle for the starting job into the summer. A former blue-chip recruit of Oregon, Jackson lived in Thomas’ shadow in 2007, earning just 39 carries for 202 yards and a touchdown. With a clearer path to playing time, however, he’ll have a chance to show off his speed, cutback ability, and unexpected power.

While Jackson is fast, Buckram is a 4.4 blur, the type of back who can take a swing pass and explode through a secondary untouched. After playing in the first three games and actually starting the opener, he ended up redshirting and saving the year that was lost in 2006. A quality pass-catcher, the Miners will look for unique ways to get him the ball and get his speedy wheels in space.

Projected Top Reserves: The projected No. 3, junior Jason Williams injured his ankle and is not expected to return until 2009. Stepping up to fill the opening will be redshirt freshman Vernon Frazier, who drew rave reviews in practice and is the fastest player on the roster. While only 5-7 and 160 pounds, he’s a nifty runner who can make people miss in the open field and provide some flash as a third down back. Beyond Frazier, depth is essentially non-existent.  

Watch Out For… a running game by committee. Neither Jackson nor Buckram has been able to build separation, and the staff is confident both can make plays when given a chance. The little things, like picking up blitzes, will decide who gets the majority of the carries.                     
Strength: Playmakers. All three of the Miners’ top backs have the speed and wiggle to turn a short pass or a hint of daylight into a game-breaking dash. Jackson, Buckram, and Frazier give the program its best backfield weapons in the Mike Price era.                             
Weakness: All of the parts are the same. The three backs are eerily similar scatbacks under 200 pounds. It’s in short yardage and near the end zone that the Miners will miss the 6-1, 215-pound Thomas the most.                              
Outlook: UTEP has some exciting runners who can rip off long gainers, but does it have a workhorse? While Thomas carried 227 times a year ago, it’s unlikely Jackson or Buckram will get that much work. Expect both to play a lot, with the spotlight to shift back and forth depending on who has the hot hand.    
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: After one star left, another was born in El Paso. Junior Jeff Moturi did a brilliant job of supplanting Johnnie Lee Higgins, catching 65 passes for 891 yards and 13 touchdowns and landing on the All-Conference USA First Team. A model of consistency, the 6-0, 180-pounder caught a touchdown pass in 10 straight games, flashing tremendous quickness and the best hands on the team. His connection with Trevor Vittatoe will only grow stronger with another year together as battery mates.

The staff is banking on 6-2, 190-pound junior Tufick Shadrawy stepping up and becoming the No. 2 option in the passing game. He’s long and fleet-footed, giving Vittatoe another option on the outside who can stretch a secondary. A breakthrough spring aside, he’s accomplished little as a receiver in El Paso, but that’s about to change in 2008.

Filling out the three-wide set is sophomore Kris Adams, a 6-3, 190-pounder who caught five passes for 49 yards and contributed on special teams in his first year. Yet another tall and fast Miner receiver, he has the potential to be a big-play receiver once Vittatoe develops a rapport with him.

Replacing Jake Sears at tight end will be senior Jamar Hunt, who caught 12 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown as a part-time player a year ago. At 6-7 and 260 pounds, he’s built like a tackle, yet has the hands and the athleticism to be on the radar of NFL scouts.           

Projected Top Reserves: Bolstering depth will be the responsibility of a gaggle of untested players, namely sophomores Pierce Hunter and Evan Davis. Hunter’s calling card is his 6-5, 220-pound frame and ability to elevate well above defenders. As a rookie, he caught four balls for 23 yards and a touchdown, also spending time on special teams.

The 6-1, 190-pound Davis will be trying to wrest playing time away from Adams when camp resumes in August. After catching a single pass in 10 games, his role is expected to increase markedly in his second year. He has a good burst and the leaping ability to elevate well above most defensive backs.

Watch Out For… a big year from Hunt. With so much attention being given to the outside receivers, he has the size and confidence of the quarterbacks to pad his 60 career receptions.               
Strength: Athleticism. Mike Price and his staff love recruiting big and dynamic receivers who can frustrate opposing secondaries with their athletic ability. From top to bottom, this is a group of thoroughbreds with considerable upside potential.                   
Weakness: Sure-things after Moturi. Moturi is one of the league’s elite pass-catchers, but he can’t get it done by himself. There’s uncertainty everywhere, and not a single wide receiver who caught more than five passes last year.                        
Outlook: The success of the unit hinges on how well Shadrawy and Adams adapt to significantly bigger roles. If they’re ready for the promotion, the corps will be borderline dangerous. If not, Moturi will spend the season trying to navigate constant double-teams.  
Rating: 6

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Until the rebuilt right side of the line gels, the Miners will spend a lot of time running to the left of senior 6-3, 295-pound C Robby Felix, an All-Conference USA selection. One of the best in the league at his position, he’s started every game over the last three seasons and has the best combination of power and quickness among the linemen.  

Returning to left tackle is 6-4, 290-pound junior Mike Aguayo, an honorable mention all-conference selection in his first season as a full-timer. A good athlete with untapped potential, he’ll inch closer to being a complete lineman when he improves his strength and punch as a run blocker.

At left guard will be 6-4, 315-pound junior Cameron Raschke, one of the strongest members of the offensive line. He showed no ill-effects from ACL surgery in 2006, starting all 12 games and helping pave the way for an improved running attack.

Things get tricky on the right side, beginning with O’Neil Cousins’ replacement at tackle, 6-4, 305-pound junior Colby Meek. One of the keys to the offense this fall, he’s lettered each of the last two seasons, but has no starting experience and spent last year as a backup guard. Although the adjustment looked smooth in the spring, that guarantees little once live games begin.

The coaching staff is excited about sophomore Rod Huntley, the new starter at right guard.  At 6-3 and 310 pounds, he combines excellent power in his base with light feet, which should help overcome an obvious lack of experience. If he can the rough spots and continue learning in 2008, he’ll have a bright future with the program.   

Projected Top Reserves: Challenging Meek at right tackle is 6-8, 315-pound sophomore Alex Solot, who’ll begin the season in better shape than a year ago. While still raw as a pass protector and probably a year away, the Miners feel he has the frame and the footwork to be molded into a starter before he graduates.

At guard, behemoth sophomore Anthony McNac is back after sitting out all of last season. Forced into action as a true freshman, he started four games as a true freshman, a baptism by fire that’ll serve him well going forward. At 6-4 and 345 pounds, he’s the biggest lineman, needing to control his weight to be more effective on the move.

Watch Out For… the pass protection to suffer badly from the absence of Cousins, who’s now with the Baltimore Ravens. As if replacing a starter isn’t rough enough, Meek will be trying to fill the shoes of one of the top 100 NFL selections taken in April.         
Strength: The left side. From Felix over to Aguayo, UTEP has three blockers capable of finishing the season with all-conference honors. Felix, in particular, is one of the most polished centers around this season.              
Weakness: Pass protection. After being average in this area last year, the Miners will suffer from not having Cousins to shut down pass rushers from the right side any longer. If Meek isn’t up to the challenge, Trevor Vittatoe doesn’t have the speed to out run the league’s quicker defenders.            
Outlook: Until Meek and Huntley prove they belong in the every-day lineup, the glass will only be half filled for the offensive line. Comfort, however, can be taken from the left side of the unit, which will keep Vittatoe upright and help spring the team’s shifty backs.                   
Rating: 5.5