Miners to Host La Tech for 82nd Homecoming Game

Miners to Host La Tech for 82nd Homecoming Game
Miners to Battle Old WAC Rival on Homecoming
UTEP (1-3, 0-1 C-USA) and La Tech (1-4, 0-1 C-USA) renew an old rivalry -- this time as members of Conference USA -- in the Miners' 82nd Homecoming game on Saturday in the Sun Bowl. Early kickoff is slated for 5:30 p.m. UTEP and La Tech were both affiliated with the Western Athletic Conference from 2001-04. The Miners are 37-43-1 all-time on Homecoming but have won five straight Homecoming games, beating Tulane in 2008 (24-21), Houston in 2009 (58-41), Rice in 2010 (44-24), Colorado State in 2011 (31-17) and Tulane in 2012 (24-20). UTEP's five-game Homecoming winning streak is its longest since a school-record string of six consecutive victories from 1937-42. Louisiana Tech has served as the Miners' Homecoming opponent once previously; the Bulldogs topped UTEP, 38-35, on Oct. 11, 2003.
The Series
La Tech leads 6-1-1. UTEP is winless (0-6-1) in its last seven games against La Tech after beating the Bulldogs, 27-0, in the first meeting between the schools on Nov. 18, 1939 in El Paso. The Miners faced the Bulldogs three teams as joint members of the Western Athletic Conference from 2001-03. UTEP is 1-3-1 versus La Tech in games played in the Sun Bowl, including a 38-35 loss in the last matchup between the teams on Oct. 11, 2003.
The Last Meeting
Louisiana Tech battled back from a 15-point second quarter deficit and edged UTEP, 38-35, on Oct. 11, 2003 in the Sun Bowl. The Bulldogs trailed 28-13 with 1:09 to go in the first half, but outscored the Miners 25-7 the rest of the way. Louisiana Tech scored the last touchdown of the first half and first of the second half to knot the contest at 28. The Bulldogs' Luke McCown, who finished with 328 yards passing, hit D.J. Curry for a 48-yard touchdown, and Josh Scobee added a 44-yard field goal for a 38-28 advantage. The Miners sliced the deficit to 38-35 on Orlando Cruz's third rushing touchdown of the night with 54 seconds remaining in the game. But Louisiana Tech recovered the onside kick and held on. UTEP's Howard Jackson finished with 297 all-purpose yards (142 rushing, 104 kickoff returns, 51 receiving). Cruz completed 18-of-33 passes for 285 yards, and Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. had 126 yards receiving. Curry (113 yards) and Chris Norwood (102) each had over 100 yards receiving for Louisiana Tech, which was outgained offensively 535-493.
UTEP DBs Jameel Erving and Nick Gathrite, UTEP OL Eric Lee, La Tech WR Jon Greenwalt and La Tech OL Richard Greenwalt all played at Riverside Community College previously. UTEP LB Trey Brown, UTEP OL Chris Thomas, UTEP WR Jaquan White, La Tech DB Kendall Hayes and La Tech OL Josh Robinson all attended Lancaster [Texas] High School. UTEP OL James Robinson and La Tech DB Josh Ross both played at the City College of San Francisco before transferring in to Division I schools. UTEP TE Craig Wenrick and La Tech RB Hunter Lee both played their prep ball at Flower Mound [Texas] High School. UTEP TE Eric Tomlinson and La Tech DL Kevin Kisseberth both graduated from Klein [Texas] High School. La Tech's Skip Holtz is 3-0 against the Miners as a head coach, including 45-42 (overtime) and 53-21 victories when he was the head coach at East Carolina in 2007 & 2008 respectively, and a 52-24 win when he was the head coach at USF in 2011.
About La Tech
After a banner 2012 campaign in which it finished 9-3 and won at Illinois and Virginia while dropping a two-point decision to Texas A&M (59-57), La Tech has struggled early this season while adapting to the loss of 15 starters. The Bulldogs are 1-4 with a win over Lamar (27-14) and losses to N.C. State (40-14), Tulane (24-15), Kansas (13-10) and Army (35-16). La Tech has used two quarterbacks this season -- junior Scotty Young, a Texas Tech transfer (46-for-87, 452 yards, 2 TDs), and redshirt freshman Ryan Higgins (62-for-107, 666 yards, 3 TDs). In the loss to Army last week at Dallas, Higgins completed 20-of-36 passes for 320 yards and Andrew Guillot snared five catches for 123 yards. The Bulldogs couldn't contain Army's rushing attack (414 yards) and were dominated in the time of possession line 39:57 to 20:03. For the year, La Tech averages 24:51 of possession. The Bulldogs also have lost eight fumbles in 2013. While sophomore Kenneth Dixon (70.8 ypg) and redshirt freshman Tevin King (61.8 ypg) have headed up La Tech's ground game this season, the Bulldogs have had four different leading receivers in five contests with six players averaging between 20 and 42 yards per outing. The defense is led by linebacker Daniel Cobb's 43 tackles and eight tackles for losses. He graduated from Texas Tech and is playing his final season in Ruston. Cobb ranks 16th nationally in tackles for losses (1.6 avg.), while senior DL IK Enemkpali is 11th in the FBS in sacks (1.1 avg.).
Last Week
Colorado State scored 24 unanswered points after UTEP rallied from a 28-7 deficit to tie the game in the third quarter, catapulting the Rams past the Miners, 59-42, last Saturday at Hughes Stadium. Bidding for a third consecutive road win, UTEP cut into the 21-point halftime deficit as Jameill Showers threw a pair of long touchdown passes (75 yards and 48 yards) to Jordan Leslie and rushed for a one-yard score of his own. The Miners had a chance to take the lead after Colorado State's Jared Roberts missed a 35-yard field goal. But Showers fumbled at the two-yard line and the Rams' Joe Kawulok tackled Brander Craighead in the end zone for the safety to start the game-changing spurt. Colorado State scored touchdowns on its next three drives -- a 56-yard pass from Garrett Grayson to Rashard Higgins, a 37-yard run by Kapri Bibbs and a one-yard run by Grayson. The Miners stopped the bleeding with 3:58 remaining in the game as Showers threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Eric Tomlinson. Showers established career-highs in all passing categories, finishing 26-of-43 for 365 yards and five TDs. Leslie collected three receptions for 130 yards. Aaron Jones was the Miners' leading rusher for the third time in four games with 23 carries for 94 yards. Grayson completed 17-of-28 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns for Colorado State. Higgins reeled in six catches for 156 yards, and Kivon Cartwright matched him with two touchdown receptions. Bibbs rushed for 147 yards and three scores.
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.
Head Coach Years Played at School
Air Force
Troy Calhoun 1985-88
East Carolina
Ruffin McNeill 1976-80
Kent State
Paul Haynes 1987-91
Miami (Ohio)
Don Treadwell 1978-81
Pat Fitzgerald 1993-96
Oklahoma State
Mike Gundy 1986-89
David Shaw 1991-94
Texas Tech
Kliff Kingsbury 1999-02
Bill Blankenship 1975-79
Utah State
Matt Wells 1994-96
Sean Kugler 1985-88
Virginia Tech
Frank Beamer 1966-68
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 Roster
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 (27 starts), junior OL Jerel Watkins (25 starts), senior DL Marcus Bagley (23 starts) and senior LB Horace Miller (22 starts).
No Trouble Scoring
For the third time in four games, the Miners scored at least 35 points as they put 42 on the board -- including 35 in the second half -- at Colorado State last week. The 35 points were the most for UTEP in a half since the second half of the Houston game on Oct. 3, 2009 (41 points). UTEP is the only Conference USA school to tally 35 points or more in three games this season (East Carolina, Marshall and Middle Tennessee have achieved the feat twice). The last time the Miners opened a season with three 35-point games in their first four outings was 1965.
Miners Hit 40 Twice
With a third of the season in the books, UTEP has scored 40+ points twice, putting 42 on the board at NM State and 42 at Colorado State. The number of 40+ point games ties the most for the Miners in any season since 2009. They had two 40-point games in 2009, two in 2010, two in 2011 and one in 2012. UTEP had five 40-point games in 2007 and three in 2008. The last time the Miners scored 40+ points in two road games was in 2007 when they tallied 48 at SMU (overtime) and 48 at Rice. The last time they did so in two regulation road games was in the WAC championship season of 2000 (three times overall - 40 at Tulsa, 47 at San Jose State, 45 at Nevada).
UTEP Averaging 33.0 Points Per Game
There's still a lot of football to be played, but the Miners are averaging 33 points per game and stand a reasonable chance at becoming the first UTEP team in five years -- and only the 11th overall -- to average at least 30 for a season. UTEP collected 35.9 ppg in 1967, 35.8 in 2004, 35.6 in 1988, 34.9 in 1948, 33.6 in 2007, 32.9 in 2008, 32.3 in 2000, 31.8 in 2005, 31.7 in 1965 and 30.5 in 1956.
Pretty Balanced
The Miners have totaled 856 passing yards and 804 rushing yards on the year. The 51.6/48.4 percent split is the closest for UTEP since 1991 when it compiled 2,110 yards rushing (49.2 percent) and 2,176 passing (50.8 percent). UTEP has run 178 rushing plays and 122 pass plays in 2013. The Miners have rushed for 44 first downs and passed for 40. While UTEP's offensive numbers are balanced overall, over the last two games they have been skewed in the passing direction. During that stretch Jameill Showers has attempted 74 passes (compared to 48 in the first two contests), and the Miners have thrown for 484 yards while rushing for 231. UTEP has averaged 3.0 yards per carry in the last two outings, compared to 5.6 in the first two.
Miners Dominating Time of Possession
UTEP is averaging 32:59 of possession time, a figure which rates 21st nationally and second in Conference USA. In two of the last three games, the Miners have held the ball for 35 minutes or more, including a school-record 41:53 at NM State on Sept. 14. UTEP compiled 35:55 of possession at Colorado State last week. The last time the Miners played two games in a season where they controlled the clock for 35:55 or more was in 2008 (36:41 versus Texas and 36:40 against SMU), and the last time they did so in two road games was in 1996 (36:16 at San Jose State, 37:37 at Northern Illinois). The Miners have compiled 10 offensive drives of 10 plays or more in 2013, putting them over halfway to last year's seasonal number (19).
Air Raid
UTEP racked up 365 yards passing at Colorado State last week, its second-best output versus an FBS opponent since 2010. The Miners compiled 376 passing yards at Tulsa in 2012. Jameill Showers amassed 289 yards passing in the second half versus the Rams, not far off the school record of 309 in a half by Billy Stevens against North Texas in 1965.
When it Rains ...
The Miners have shown that they can get in a real groove offensively this season. In week one against New Mexico, they scored TDs on four straight possessions during the first, second and third quarters. In week two at NM State they put together consecutive TD drives twice, in the first and fourth periods. And last week at Colorado State, they punched it in for six points on three drives in a row to start the third quarter, then on their last two possessions of the final period.
Showers Has Career Night
Jameill Showers established career-highs for passing attempts (43), completions (26), yardage (365), and passing touchdowns (five) at Colorado State. Showers is one of nine UTEP quarterbacks to throw for five TDs in a game, joining Brooks Dawson, Sammy Garza, Howard Gasser, Bob Laraba, Jordan Palmer, John Rayborn, Billy Stevens and Trevor Vittatoe. His 365 yards passing were the most by a UTEP player against an FBS opponent since Vittatoe compiled a school-record 517 in the 2009 season finale against Marshall. Showers is one of 12 UTEP quarterbacks to pass for 300+ yards in a game.
Showers Getting it Done With His Feet Too
Jameill Showers is UTEP's third-leading rusher with 94 yards. He has three rushing TDs this season, tying the most by a UTEP quarterback in the last 10 seasons. Lorne Sam and James Thomas also had three in 2007 and 2008, respectively. The last UTEP signal-caller with more than three rushing TDs in a season was Orlando Cruz in 2003 (five).
A Responsible Guy
Jameill Showers rates 29th nationally in points responsible for (62), having thrown for seven touchdowns and a two-point conversion and rushing for three TDs this season. He ranks third in the statistical category among Conference USA players behind East Carolina's Shane Carden (84 points) and Marshall's Rakeem Cato (72 points). At his current pace, Showers would be responsible for 30 touchdowns this season, which would make him one of four UTEP quarterbacks to reach that number. Trevor Vittatoe was responsible for 34 TDs in 2008, Rocky Perez was responsible for 32 in 2000 and Jordan Palmer was responsible for 31 in 2005.
Showers Doing His Part Taking Care of the Football
Jameill Showers has thrown one interception in 122 pass attempts this season. UTEP is tied for fourth in the country in passes intercepted (one). Clemson, Oregon and New Mexico 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 156 pass attempts. He has a current string of 82 consecutive pass attempts without an interception.
Leslie's Warming Up
After a slow start to the season, Jordan Leslie has two 100-yard receiving games in the last three contests. He compiled 103 at NM State and 130 at Colorado State. He had a career-long 75-yard catch in the third quarter at CSU. Leslie added a 48-yard TD catch later in the third quarter to register the first multiple touchdown performance of his career. He had eight games with one score entering the contest. Leslie now has five career 100-yard receiving games, tied for the 11th-top total in school history with Bubba Garcia (1976-79) and Chris Francies (2002-05). He has 1,672 career receiving yards, leaving him 262 away from cracking the all-time UTEP top-10 list.
Jones is Something Special
El Paso native Aaron Jones has established himself as one of the top freshmen running backs in the nation. He ranks 46th in the FBS, averaging 86.5 yards per game, and third among freshmen behind Arkansas' Alex Collins (119.4 ypg) and Pittsburgh's James Conner (88.3 ypg). Jones is the first UTEP freshman to lead the team in rushing in at least three of the first four games in a season since Kevin Bogan in 1990. UTEP's all-time leading rusher, John Harvey, compiled 777 yards as a freshman in 1985. Jones is on pace for 1,038 yards in 2013, which would be a Miner rookie record.
Running Backs Have Been Involved in the Passing Game as Well
UTEP running backs Josh Bell, Nathan Jeffery, Aaron Jones and Darrin Laufasa have combined to make 16 catches for 113 yards this season and are already on the verge of surpassing last year's numbers from the position (20 catches/146 yards). Two UTEP running backs (Jeffery and Laufasa) have touchdown receptions this season. No UTEP running backs had TD catches a year ago, and the last time two did so in a season was 2008 (Terrell Jackson and Daniel Palmer one each).
Big Day for the Tight Ends
Tight ends combined for 11 catches and 116 yards in the Colorado State game last week. The last time the Miners received that kind of production from the position was during the 2000 season. On Nov. 11, 2000 versus Rice -- the night UTEP clinched at least a share of the WAC title -- Brian Natkin and Joey Knapp combined for nine catches for 141 yards. They totaled a season-high 11 receptions earlier in the year (Sept. 23) versus Hawaii. Natkin is currently the Miners' tight ends coach. Eric Tomlinson set career-highs for catches (eight) and yards (75) at CSU last week. His eight receptions were the most by a UTEP tight end since Jamar Hunt had 10 versus UAB in 2005. This year, UTEP tight ends have combined for 20 catches totaling 191 yards. The tight ends had 23 receptions for 252 yards in all of 2012.
Kickoff Returns are Golden
Only a sophomore with 16 games under his UTEP belt, Autrey Golden passed Jahmal Fenner into seventh place on UTEP's all-time kickoff return yardage list with 86 yards at Colorado State last week. Golden now has 1,165 yards and is targeting Sam Rogers, who stands in sixth place with 1,252 yards. He and Cedric Johnson are tied for first place in UTEP annals with three kickoff returns for scores.
Golden and the National Rankings
Autrey Golden ranks 19th nationally in kickoff return average (28.6), and tied for first in kickoff returns for TDs (one). Golden's 28.4 career kickoff return average ranks sixth among active FBS players behind Miami (Fla.)'s Duke Johnson (32.8), Kansas State's Tyler Lockett (32.1), Middle Tennessee's Reggie Whatley (29.3), Purdue's Raheem Mostert (29.2) and Texas State's Jafus Gaines (28.9). Golden is tied for fifth 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, Florida's Andre Debose and Northern Illinois' Tommylee Lewis have four each. Golden is second among active FBS players in kickoff return yards per game (72.8) after North Texas' Brelan Chancellor (80.5). Golden's theatrics this season have helped the Miners garner a no. 17 national ranking in kickoff returns (26.1 avg.).
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 24th in the country in penalties per game (4.5) and 23rd in penalty yards per game (38.0). For the season, UTEP has been assessed 18 penalties for 152 yards in four games. It marks the fewest total penalties for the Miners through four games since 1996 (17).
Ball Security is in Play
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 three giveaways (two fumbles/one interception) to tie for fourth in the nation. Clemson, Louisville and Oregon are tied for the top spot with two turnovers. The fumble lost by Aaron Jones in the third quarter at Colorado State was the first for the Miners in 163 rushing plays this season.
In Defense of the "D"
While the Miners have yielded 38.5 points and 464.2 yards per game this season, keep in mind that coordinator Scott Stoker came on board after spring ball and couldn't start implementing his 4-2-5 scheme until practice began in early August. Complicating matters even further is the fact that UTEP's defensive personnel is largely new, particularly in the secondary. In only four games this season, 13 Miners have made their first starts on defense, including cornerbacks Nick Gathrite, Ishmael Harrison (moved from wide receiver this season), Adrian James and Da'Carlos Renfro, and safeties Devin Cockrell, Jameel Erving, Leon Hayes, Demarcus Kizzie, Traun Roberson and Dashone Smith. Erving and Gathrite are junior college transfers, while Cockrell, Hayes and Smith are freshmen. The Miners faced Colorado State last week without two players who started each of the first three games -- senior DL Adam Ayala and junior DB Adrian James -- who were both nursing ankle injuries. And the Miners' most seasoned performer in the secondary, Richard Spencer, is finally starting to look like himself after blowing out his knee in the fourth game of 2012. He was credited with seven tackles, two tackles for losses, a sack and a forced fumble last week at CSU.
One of These Days, We'll Win One
UTEP and Colorado State combined for 101 points last week, the fifth-most scored in a UTEP game (both teams). Unfortunately, of the five highest scoring games in school history, the Miners have come up on the short end of every one of them. The breakdown is as follows: 112 points at Tulsa in 2008 (77-35 loss), 110 points versus San Jose State in 2003 (69-41 loss), 104 points at Rice in 2007 (56-48 loss), 102 points at Air Force in 1995 (56-46 loss), and 101 points at Colorado State in 2013 (59-42 loss). The most combined points in a UTEP victory (100) came in 1986 when the Miners knocked off Utah in El Paso, 55-45.
Oh Canada
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.
Kelly's Cause
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: Tulsa
The Miners will close out a two-game homestand on Oct. 12 when they face defending C-USA champion Tulsa. The game time is expected to be announced this week. Fox Sports Network will have national coverage. Following a bye week, UTEP will play five of its final six regular season games on the road, starting with an Oct. 26 matchup at Rice.