So here's where you're hiding your pieces eh, Miners? I'm quick to bemoan the recruiting of most first year coaches (I'm a defense guy personally) but every real addition to this squad was added at the O's skill positions. Every single first year coach goes offense first. The aforementioned Showers at QB, 6'2", has good speed for the size (230) and a good arm. The double back (RB) combo had 1300+ yards through 10 games and a near thousand yard individual season too. UTEP has TWO (count them) TWO TE's that are 6'7" 270. The simple fact that some of them look like vikings is just a perk. Texan Vikings? That's a first. It's not even cold. This has to be ploy just to give up bathing. You're sure Mr. Viking couldn't play defense though guys? No? Just a thought? I might as well ask.
But Kugler's claim to fame as an O-line coach can't back away from giving the hosses something to hit. He's a traditionalist for sure in a modern CFB world of offensive squad manipulation (tempo, air attacks, spreads and ugly chrome helmets). Okay, some of the helmets are passable but let's get on with the show: Wait! Stop! Is that what I think it is?!
THEY USE A FULLBACK?!
There he is! We're on FULLBACK ALERT PEOPLE! Fullbacks! I just can't help myself. Finding a fullback on a roster is like finding an arrowhead (the artifact) on your morning jog. It's so old! So familiar! Occasionally it's a pain in the ass (er, foot) but you're still surprised and delighted. If the fullback position was a piece of construction equipment it'd be a cinder block Jerry-rigged to a broomstick. Heavy, awkward and maybe surprisingly effective...it'd still be awesome to swing though. Slightly endangered....always "disappearing" on the roster...hardly rewarded. This fullback sighting is in honor of young Sloan Spiller: FULLBACK ALERT! I love me some fullbacks. You get the ball three times a year and still have to practice. You're practically the team mascot in pads. Never forget your impeding doom UTEP but good show for signing one.
You can't hide them on the roster from me.
Finding a fullback on a roster is like finding an arrowhead (the artifact) on your morning jog
UTEP carries a traditional outlook on the offense. NFL stints and former Big 10 coordinators give this notion legs. Tight ends run three deep on both sides of the line and go at 240-270 a piece.
They get a lot of grunt out and bail out the QB over the middle with minimum 6-4 height. Side note: The only New Mexico player on the UTEP roster is Sterling Napier, care of Cleveland High School. He's also a tight end @ 6'4; 245. Later on in life, he can blame being young (and needing the recruitment trip) for his strange, early life adventures on the way back home to Albuquerque. You live and learn. It's okay. There's still time to heal and detox. UTEP's formation spectrum ranges from tight double TE formations (under center) to the shotgun on obvious pass downs. UTEP tends to keep the beef on the field more often than not. You're not going to run into a lot of these set ups with these guys (but they're still in there)
This is a red zone look with two backs. Everybody did a vanilla post pattern toward the end zone and the backs both outlet straight towards the sideline. Nothing fancy. UTEP tops out at 3 WR's without direct need...their love affair with tight ends just continues on and on. There's a joke in there somewhere but I'll leave it alone. Here's another rare three WR set (close) with Showers under center
RB sets up behind the QB and goes in motion; he's now behind the tackle, pointed out with the arrow. Showers hikes the ball. Let's watch how this close set develops. They keep the defense compact but then S T R E T C H the man coverage on the field for an outlet.
Jameil has the ball in a three step drop (circled). The slot (Y) receiver pulls the linebacker (man) out of the box with a streak route. The outside receivers (X, Z) curl in the middle and set a pick on the middle linebacker...who gets caught by the Z receiver and put behind the play. The RB in motion is now getting picked up by the corner, who also leaves the box on the RB's wheel route. Showers doesn't have a lot of time. The left tackle (DAMN IT JEREL!) completely whiffs on his block (circled). Showers hits the picked receiver (X) just as he's hit to the ground. The box is open for X to pick up ten yards underneath after a short three yard pass to the strong side. The defense has gone from close to spread out in three seconds flat, kinda like an accordion, all while being picked to the point of being out of position.
These examples are a little less traditional... although I'm pretty sure that short stretch pass play has been around forever. Note: The other RB also could have been hit for a possible scamper on the weak side too. The free safety was closing fast before the ball went the other way though. Showers didn't have time to see him anyway. Jerel. I'm looking at you. UTEP's most flexible disguise is a TE's role in their ground and pound offense. Characteristics of UTEP's offense: Traditional: Relies on a pocket more than other types of offense. TE role masking from lots of time on the field. Multiple. Match up problem. Lots of guard pulling and lead blockers, RB's can lead block. Convoy, power football Can use tight, sizable run formations to mask pass. Less formation combos; more blockers; less ambiguous in style balance. Secondary friendly with a four player cover set up.
One weakness of UTEP's traditional set is the less subtle ways it uses personnel. There's very little go-between players stature and the roles on the field. They're very defined. Because of that the plays become less flexible and stiff to their purpose. You know what you're getting when you see the lineup and outside of old time play action or the occasional creative screen, there's less wrinkles to actually catch people sleeping with. There's less shells for the shell game. That's a good thing for UNM's defense. It either works or you've done it most of the game...just to feed it's only plan B. This narrows it down to the individual battle quite a bit and "can we block or not" becomes the real story on a "one player pulling eleven" level. The whole thing can break down quick and you've got no where else to go.
UTEP can surely mess with the direction of the ball: fake toss, zone read pulls etc. but it's limited compared to modern offenses. Oddly enough, they need just as many consistent chunks of yards as we do. Caught in a late down and out of rhythm, the play call makes their playbook an uncertain gamble and forced. This system puts less weapons on the field for playing catch up as well.
...There's less shells for the shell game. That's a good thing for UNM's defense
UTEP returns both their top running backs from last year. Aaron Jones and Nathan Jeffery combined for sporadic chunks of starts and a dinged up 1,300+ combined yard total. 185 and 210lbs; both can put back some punishment or block for one another. UTEP has some good backs when they're healthy....of which the recovery club is growing all the time. Autrey Golden is a top kick return threat and ran back a couple TD's last year (2nd Team C-USA KR). UTEP was hovering in the 40's nationally for rushing. They like to hand the ball off. Jameil Showers played seven games last year in his Junior season. That's pretty short for a predominant pocket passer / opportune scrambler. He took a lot of hits.
Mack Leftwich (5' 10"; 190 soph) picked up the ball got UTEP through the season. Although you couldn't call him rusty, playing a little more than half the season in your first live-fire leadership stint has to have at least SOME effect. That's a small body of work; though Showers showed high marks (1,263; 107-180; 4 INT). Will this lull affect his decision making? OL technically returns three guys, but Coach Kugler has been working the new freshman into the guard spot to produce more yards.
UTEP signed some chub-chubs and have some others coming off of redshirt this year. Some of them range from 310 to 320....along with a freshman at 355? That's just wrong. The Samoan kid needs to put down the phone or start charging the pizza guy some rent. UTEP has some new holes in it's fence and they're trying to see what they can do to fill it. The TE depth is nasty....probably the most impressive I've seen for a non-resource 5 school lately. If only they gave out trophies for tight end depth. Eric "That's Mr. Viking to you" Tomlinson pulled down 304 yards @ around 3 catches a game last year. He stands at 6' 7"; 270. He has another TE, Nick Jones, at the same stature. Jones is transferred in from NY Junior College this year. Seven inches on our linebackers (let alone our safeties) is a lot to make up. UTEP lost it's main WR threat, Jordan Leslie, to a sudden BYU transfer over the winter. The flip of the script from the old Mike Price scheme has chased a few of these guys off. Down sizing from this unit is only natural now. Senior Ian Hamilton stands 6'5"; 225 and will probably get the lion's share of passes. He has the tools but will need to make the most of the passes thrown his way. He should garner more that his 354yd total from 2013.
Well that should just about do it. I'll take any questions you might have. I hope to see as many of you as possible out there on Saturday.
Thanks for reading. Go Lobos! -LTFF