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September 24, 2013
Old WAC Rivals Meet in Fort Collins For First Time Since ‘95
UTEP (1-2) and Colorado State (1-3) meet for the 35th time on Saturday afternoon. It marks the Miners' first visit to Fort Collins since 1995. UTEP has lost in its last four trips to Fort Collins (1990, 1992, 1994, 1995), and hasn't won at Colorado State since 1987, when current Director of Athletics Bob Stull was the Miners' head coach. The Miners are playing their first day game of the season and their next-to-last non-conference contest. After Saturday, seven of UTEP's final eight games will come against C-USA opponents, the exception being a matchup at Texas A&M on Nov. 2.
Colorado State leads 24-10. The Miners had lost eight consecutive games to the Rams before breaking through with a 31-17 Homecoming triumph on Oct. 22, 2011 in El Paso. Of the 34 previous meetings between the teams, 29 came as joint members of the Western Athletic Conference from 1968-1998. CSU holds a 13-3 edge in games played at Fort Collins.
UTEP vs. the MWC
UTEP has played 11 games against Mountain West Conference foes since the league's inception for the 1999 season. The Miners are 6-5 in those games, including 2-2 on the road (lost 26-6 at New Mexico in 2001, won 34-27 at San Diego State in 2006, lost 26-13 at New Mexico in 2006, won 38-20 at New Mexico in 2010).
The Last Meeting
Vernon Frazier rushed for a career-high 167 yards and UTEP piled up 340 yards on the ground in a 31-17 win over Colorado State on Oct. 22, 2011 in the Sun Bowl. The 340 rushing yards were the most for the Miners against an FBS opponent in 20 years. The UTEP defense turned in a stellar effort as well, holding the Rams to 255 yards while collecting six sacks and 11 tackles for losses. The Miners scored the game's first 14 points and didn't trail, although the Rams cut the deficit to 14-10 midway through the second quarter. But UTEP responded with 17 unanswered points, highlighted by an 83-yard scoring run by Frazier - the longest rushing play by a UTEP player in 23 years. Leilyon Myers supplemented UTEP's rushing attack by gaining a career-best 81 yards on 15 carries. Nick Lamaison scored the Miners' third rushing TD of the night on a 33-yard run early in the fourth quarter. Lamaison attempted just 15 passes and threw for 116 yards. Defensive standouts for the Miners included Greg Watkins, who had two sacks, and Adrian James, whose 74-yard interception set up Dakota Warren's 36-yard field goal shortly before halftime. Colorado State rushed for 93 yards and passed for 162, as Pete Thomas completed 19-of-33 attempts.
Colorado State's offensive coordinator, Dave Baldwin, was the head coach at San Jose State from 1997-2000 and faced the Miners four times during that span. The Rams' co-defensive coordinator Al Simmons was UTEP's safeties coach in 2011.
About Colorado State
The Rams fell to 1-3 with a 31-6 loss at top-ranked Alabama last Saturday. It marked a return to Tuscaloosa for CSU head coach Jim McElwain, who was the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator from 2008-11 and was on staff for two national championship runs. The Rams put a couple of field goals on the board in the third quarter after falling behind 17-0 at the break, but Alabama tacked on a pair of touchdowns in the final period. Colorado State was limited to 279 yards of offense, including 51 rushing. For the season, the Rams average 23.5 points and 345.5 yards per game. Junior quarterback Garrett Grayson has passed for 834 yards and four touchdowns on the year. The Rams have been exceptional on special teams. Junior kicker Jared Roberts is 8-for-8 on field goal attempts and 10-for-10 on PAT tries in 2013. He has already made two 45-yard field goals this season. Colorado State rates 22nd nationally in kickoff returns (26.2 avg.), and 24th in punt returns (14.0 avg.). Junior Thomas Coffman has averaged 25.9 yards on 12 kickoff returns (long of 84), and sophomore Joe Hansley has averaged 30.7 yards on three punt returns, including a 74-yard touchdown. The defense is led by senior linebacker Shaquil Barrett who has 8.5 tackles for losses on the year to rate fifth nationally. CSU yields 410.2 yards per game (262 passing/148.2 rushing).
Miners Have Won Last Two on the Road
A UTEP team that has struggled mightily on the road in recent years has now posted consecutive victories away from El Paso for the first time since 2005. The Miners knocked off Southern Miss, 34-33, in Hattiesburg on Nov. 17 of last season. They won their 2013 road opener at NM State, 42-21, on Sept. 14. UTEP hasn't registered three straight road wins since 2004. Even with their current winning streak, the Miners are 9-30 in their last 39 games outside of El Paso dating back to the 2006 season (includes a 52-24 loss to BYU in the 2010 New Mexico Bowl).
Eric Soza completed 18-of-24 passes for 204 yards as UTSA won its first-ever Conference USA game, 32-13, over UTEP last Saturday in the Sun Bowl. The Roadrunners had a big first half with 25 points and 303 yards of offense, and that held up as the Miners struggled to move the ball for most of the night. UTEP finished with season lows for yards (218) and first downs (14). The UTEP defense rallied to allow only 82 yards in the second half, but the Miners could muster only a 24-yard field goal by Jay Mattox with 39 seconds left in the third quarter that cut the lead to 25-13. The Miners' best scoring chance in the fourth quarter went by the wayside when a Jameill Showers run on fourth down came up a yard short of a first down at the Roadrunner 23-yard line. UTSA put the game away with a 10-play, 77-yard scoring drive, capped by a 17-yard touchdown run by David Glasco. Showers completed 17-of-31 passes for 119 yards. UTEP wasn't able to get the ground game going either, settling for 99 yards on 29 attempts. UTSA marched 75 yards on seven plays to take a 7-0 lead on a 29-yard run by Brandon Armstrong at the start of the game. The Miners' Autrey Golden knotted the score on a 100-yard kickoff return, but that turned out to be UTEP's last touchdown of the game. UTEP's most productive offensive drive of the first half moved 53 yards on 16 plays late in the first quarter, but the Miners were stymied at the Roadrunners 11-yard line before Mattox cashed in with the first of two field goals on the night.
Players Turned Coach
Sean Kugler is the second UTEP head coach who played for the Miners at one time. The other is Walter Milner, a three-year letterman from 1931-33 who served as head coach in 1942. Kugler is one of 12 active Division I head coaches who played at the school where they are currently coaching.
Years Played at School
Breaking Down the Coaching Staff
Of UTEP's nine full-time assistant coaches, six were not on the staff in 2012. They are offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Patrick Higgins, defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Scott Stoker, defensive line coach Andrew Browning, running backs coach Cornell Jackson, assistant head coach/offensive line Spencer Leftwich and wide receivers coach Todd Whitten. Holdovers from the 2012 staff are defensive backs coach Gabe Franklin, tight ends coach Brian Natkin and nickelbacks/safeties coach Robert Rodriguez. This group, combined with head coach Sean Kugler, has coached in 33 bowl games. Natkin and Rodriguez are former Miner players, while Higgins (1998-2003) and Whitten (1994-95) have both coached at UTEP previously.
The Miners' 2013 captains are senior DL Marcus Bagley, junior RB Nathan Jeffery, senior TE Kevin Perry, senior DL Germard Reed and junior OL Jerel Watkins.
The Miners' 98-man roster includes 17 seniors, 29 juniors, 17 sophomores and 35 freshmen (21 true/14 redshirt). UTEP has 41 returning lettermen (23 offense/17 defense/one special team) and 12 returning starters (seven offense/four defense/one special team). Senior DL Germard Reed leads the Miners with 29 starts, followed by senior OL Brander Craighead (26 starts), junior OL Jerel Watkins (24 starts), senior DL Marcus Bagley (22 starts) and senior LB Horace Miller (21 starts).
Golden Ties Longest Kickoff Return
Sophomore Autrey Golden recorded his fifth career game with 100+ kickoff return yards -- and his second in two games this season -- last week against UTSA. He finished with 111 yards on two attempts, including a school-record tying 100-yard return in the first quarter. The other UTEP players with 100-yard kickoff returns are Cedric Johnson at New Mexico in 1996, Howard Jackson versus Nevada in 2001 and Marlon McClure at Arkansas in 2010. Golden is one of 12 Conference USA players all-time with 100-yard kickoff returns.
Golden Ascending Kickoff Return List
Autrey Golden now ranks eighth in school history with 1,079 kickoff return yards behind Jahmal Fenner (seventh, 1,147 yards). Golden is the only player in school history with three kickoff returns of 96 yards or more. He had returns of 96 and 98 yards at East Carolina and Southern Miss respectively last season. Golden has also tied Cedric Johnson for the school record with three kickoff returns for touchdowns. The Conference USA career record for kickoff return touchdowns, incidentally, is held by Houston's Tyron Carrier (seven).
Golden and the National Rankings
Autrey Golden ranks 10th nationally in kickoff return average this season (32.1) after rating 11th in the category as a freshman. He is tied for fourth among active FBS players with three kickoff returns for TDs in his career. Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert has five, while Kansas State's Tyler Lockett and Florida's Andre Debose have four each. Golden is second among active FBS players in kickoff return yards per game (71.9) after North Texas' Brelan Chancellor (80.5). His career average per return (29.2) rates fifth in the active FBS rankings behind Miami (Fla.)'s Duke Johnson (33.6), Lockett (32.1), Purdue's Raheem Mostert (29.8) and Middle Tennessee's Reggie Whatley (29.7). Golden's theatrics this season have helped the Miners garner a no. 6 national ranking in kickoff returns (30.9 avg.).
Still Best in the League
Despite being held to 99 rushing yards in its last outing against UTSA on Sept. 21, UTEP is still first in C-USA in the statistical category, averaging 224 yards per game. The Miners' rushing attack rates 32nd in the country. UTEP had rushed for 100+ yards in seven consecutive games, its longest streak since 2009, before failing to reach the century mark versus the Roadrunners. It also marked only the third time that the Miners have been held under 100 yards rushing in a C-USA home game since 2007.
Jones is Something Special
Although he was bottled up by UTSA last Saturday, finishing with 28 yards on 10 carries, El Paso native Aaron Jones has established himself as one of the top freshmen running backs in the nation. He ranks 49th in the FBS, averaging 84 yards per game, and fourth among freshmen behind Arkansas' Alex Collins (120.3 ypg), Pittsburgh's James Conner (108.7 ypg) and Virginia Tech's Trey Edmunds (88.0 ypg). He is fourth in C-USA in rushing average.
More on Jones
In the season opener against New Mexico, Aaron Jones compiled the first 100-yard rushing game by a UTEP freshman since another El Paso product, Matt Austin, ran for 112 yards at Kentucky on Sept. 7, 2002. His 127 yards versus UNM were the most-ever by a UTEP freshman in an opener and the fifth-most in an opener overall since 1950. It also marked the top rushing performance by a Miner freshman since Elzie Johnson compiled 203 yards against Tulsa on Nov. 16, 1996. In week two, Jones became the first freshman to score a touchdown in UTEP's first two games of the season since Mike Belew did so in 1974.
Miners Among Least Penalized
The discipline that Sean Kugler has brought to the UTEP football program shows in the national rankings for penalties and penalty yards. The Miners rate 17th in the country in penalties per game (4.0) and 21st in penalty yards per game (35.0). For the season, UTEP has been assessed 12 penalties for 105 yards in three games. It marks the fewest total penalties for the Miners through three games since 2004 (11), and ties for the second-fewest at this juncture since 1996.
UTEP's Practicing Ball Security
The Miners didn't commit their first turnover of the season until the third quarter of game two at NM State (Sept. 14). They turned in an error-free performance in weeks one (New Mexico) and three (UTSA). For the season, UTEP has a total of two giveaways (one fumble/one interception) to tie for fifth in the nation. Both turnovers occurred in the passing game. The Miners haven't fumbled once in 131 rushing plays this season. With one fumble this season, UTEP has tied the school record for fewest through three games (also achieved in 2009). UTEP's turnover margin of +3 (two giveaways/five takeaways) rates tied for 19th in the FBS.
Showers Doing His Part Taking Care of the Football
Junior quarterback Jameill Showers has thrown one interception in 79 pass attempts this season. UTEP is tied for sixth in the country in passes intercepted (one). Clemson, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and Navy are tied for the lead with zero picks. Including his last six games at Texas A&M (2012), Showers has thrown one interception over his last 113 pass attempts.
Showers Has Been Accurate
Jameill Showers has completed 63.3 percent (50-of-79) of his passes this season, a figure that would rank third in school history. Jordan Palmer completed 65.7 percent of his attempts in 2006, and Jay Stuckey compiled a .644 completion percentage in 1999. Showers has been much sharper in the first half of games, firing at a 73.8 percent (31-of-42) clip compared to 51.4 percent (19-of-37) in the second half and overtime. He is 16-for-19 (.842) in the second quarter this season. Sixty-seven percent (330-of-491) of Showers' passing yards in 2013 have come over the first 30 minutes of games.
Showers Shows Moxie
Jameill Showers has been at his best when the Miners have tied or trailed their opponent this season. In that situation he has completed 45-of-67 passes (67.2 percent) for 434 yards, compared to 5-of-12 passes (41.7 percent) for 57 yards when UTEP was winning. He has been particularly great when the Miners were down by seven points or less, completing 13-of-14 passes (92.9 percent) for 111 yards in that scenario.
Tight Ends Step Up
UTEP tight ends combined for five catches last week against UTSA. The last time the Miners received that kind of production from the position was on Sept. 24, 2011 at USF, when Kevin Perry had five receptions by himself. Eric Tomlinson registered a career-high four catches versus the Roadrunners. He became the first UTEP tight end with four or more receptions in a game since Perry had four against Southern Miss on Oct. 29, 2011.
Hamilton & Leslie Head Up Aerial Attack
Ian Hamilton and Jordan Leslie have accounted for 58 percent (285-of-491) of UTEP's receiving yards this season. Hamilton established career-highs in catches (six) and yards (81) against NM State on Sept. 14. He is first on the squad in yardage (146) and second in catches (13). Leslie is on the Preseason Watch List for the Biletnikoff Award. He is currently ranked in the top 10 in Conference USA for catches per game (4.7), while pacing the team with 14 receptions and rating second with 139 yards. He has five career 100-yard games, tied for 11th in school history. Leslie's 218 yards versus Tulsa on Oct. 11, 2012 was the sixth most in school history.
Offense Has Shown Explosiveness
UTEP has put 90 points on the board in three games to open a season for just the third time in the last 25 years. The Miners scored 99 points in their first three games in 2005 and 97 in 2010. UTEP's 1,163 total yards over the initial three contests is its most since 2010 (1,398), and second-most since 1988.
After a difficult start to the season in which it allowed 42 points and 483 yards of offense to New Mexico, the UTEP defense has shown some character the last two weeks. In the first five and a half minutes at NM State, the Miners surrendered 163 yards on only six plays and two touchdowns to the Aggies. After that, UTEP settled down to yield 235 yards over NMSU's final 39 plays. On their last 11 offensive possessions the Aggies scored one touchdown, punted five times and had three drives end on turnovers. Last week against UTSA, the Miners rebounded from a nightmarish first half (303 yards and 25 points allowed) to surrender just 82 yards and a TD over the last 30 minutes. The Roadrunners were forced to punt on their first three possessions of the second half before putting together a game clinching 77-yard scoring drive late in the fourth quarter. UTEP has allowed less than 400 yards in consecutive games, which may not sound like much but it's the first time that's happened since October of 2011.
A True Team Effort on "D"
UTEP has had a different leading tackler in each of its first three games. In week one versus New Mexico, junior DB Traun Roberson led the way with 13 stops. In week two at NM State, sophomore DB Demarcus Kizzie had a team-high six tackles. And in week three against UTSA, junior LB Anthony Puente was credited with a career-high 10 tackles. For the year, eight Miners have 11 stops or more, with three players (senior DL Marcus Bagley, senior LB Horace Miller & Puente) sharing the team lead with 19 tackles each. At their current pace, they would finish the year with 76 takedowns, which would be the second-smallest number to lead the squad since the statistic started being kept in 1969. Current UTEP defensive graduate assistant and former linebacker Jeremy Springer was the team leader with 70 tackles in 2011.
To say UTEP's defensive personnel is largely inexperienced would be quite the understatement. Freshman safety Dashone Smith became the 11th Miner in three games to make his first start on defense last week versus UTSA. Smith is one of seven freshmen that UTEP has utilized on defense this season, along with DB Devin Cockrell, DL Silas Firstley, DB Leon Hayes, LB Cooper Foster, DB Quinton Tezeno and DL Nick Usher. Cockrell, Tezeno and Usher are all true freshmen. On Sept. 14 at NM State, Smith became the first UTEP freshman to record two interceptions in a game since D.J. Walker in 1999.
Defense Runs Through Miller
After accumulating 11 sacks in his first two years with the Miners after transferring from Louisville, senior Horace Miller was moved from defensive end to Mike linebacker. Last season Miller picked up six sacks, most by a UTEP player in seven years, while adding 7.5 tackles for losses. Two of his sacks came versus Big Ten power Wisconsin. He is one sack away from tying four players (Joe Terry, Ross Puritty, Ricky Massey, Barron Wortham) for 10th place on the all-time UTEP list.
Heck of a Night on Special Teams
UTEP turned in its most complete performance of the season on special teams last week against UTSA. Besides Autrey Golden accounting for the Miners' only touchdown on a 100-yard kickoff return, Jay Mattox became the first UTEP freshman since Logan Barrett in 2009 to make two field goals in a game. It marked the first time in 10 years that the Miners didn't score their first field goal until the third game of the season. Three different players -- including quarterback Jameill Showers on a pooch kick -- punted against UTSA and all averaged 41 yards or better. And Jim Jones compiled 12 punt return yards, eclipsing his previous career high (11) by one.
The biggest feel-good story on the team this season is the return of free safety Traun Roberson, who has undergone three knee surgeries since coming to UTEP. He injured his wrist two weeks prior to the season opener but played with a brace against New Mexico and flourished. He was credited with a game-high 13 tackles and forced the Lobo fumble that led to UTEP's first touchdown late in the first quarter. He has 15 tackles in three games this season. Roberson was limited to three games total (two in 2010, one in 2012) in his first three years in El Paso.
Seventeen Division I schools have at least one Canadian on their 2013 roster, including UTEP in starting left tackle Brander Craighead. The other programs, with a combined 31 Canadian products, are Michigan State (4), Iowa (3), UNLV (3), Virginia (3), Boston College (2), Buffalo (2), Connecticut (2), Eastern Michigan (2), Rice (2), Arizona State (1), Mississippi State (1), North Carolina (1), Northern Illinois (1), Penn State (1), Utah State (1) and Virginia Tech (1). Craighead is in his third year as a starter. He was selected by the Calgary Stampeders with the seventh pick in the first round of the 2013 CFL Draft. Under CFL rules, the Stampeders can redshirt Craighead this season while he completes his college eligiblity.
Two years after completing an eight-year run with the U.S. Army, Michael Kelly is a 27-year old linebacker hoping to make the most of his senior year with the Miners. He was in for special teams duty in the opener against New Mexico. Kelly's service dates were from October, 2003 to June, 2011. He was stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C. (2004-05), Darmstadt Germany (2005-07) and Fort Bliss, Texas (2007-11). He worked in communications including as a switching system operator. His highest title was platoon sergeant (2009-11). He and his wife, Denise, have two sons, Kenneth (six years old) and Michael Jr., who will turn two years old on Oct. 14.
Up Next: La Tech
UTEP will renew an old Western Athletic Conference rivalry with La Tech in its 82nd Homecoming game on Oct. 5 at 5:30 p.m. The Miners will play seven of their final eight games versus C-USA competition, the exception being a Nov. 2 matchup at perennial national power Texas A&M. The Miners are 37-43-1 all-time in Homecoming games and have won five in a row. The last time the Bulldogs served as UTEP's Homecoming opponent was in 2003.