Miners Set to Battle I-10 Rival NM State
Sep 9, 2013
Miners, Aggies Collide in City of the Crosses
UTEP takes on NM State in Las Cruces in the 91st matchup between the I-10 rivals. The Miners are playing seven road games for the first time since 2002. UTEP also played seven road contests in 1978, 1980, 1986, 1993, 1999 and 2000. The Miners haven’t won a road opener since 2009, when they prevailed at NMSU 38-12. UTEP has lost five of its last six road openers. The Miners are 5-5 when NM State serves as their first road opponent of the season (1914, 1915, 1937, 1976, 1982, 1986, 1989, 1995, 2005, 2009), including 5-1 in the last six occurrences.
UTEP leads the series 53-35-2. This is the longest-running series in school history. NMSU holds a 19-17-1 edge in games played in Las Cruces. However, the Miners have posted back-to-back wins at Aggie Memorial Stadium (2009 & 2011) for the first time since a four-game road winning streak from 1986-91. Overall UTEP has reeled off four consecutive victories over NMSU for the first time since a six-win run from 1986-91. The home team has won 12 of the last 16 games in the ledger. The winning team has scored 30 points or more in 11 of the last 13 meetings.
What’s at Stake
The winner of the UTEP-NMSU rivalry game receives a pair of traveling trophies, the silver spade and the brass spittoon. The trophies have resided in El Paso since 2009. NMSU’s last victory over the Miners came on Sept. 20, 2008 in the Sun Bowl by a 34-33 score.
The Last Meeting
UTEP bolted to a 27-0 lead early in the second quarter in an eventual 41-28 victory over NM State on Sept. 15, 2012 in the Sun Bowl. The Miners led 41-14 in the fourth quarter before the Aggies scored two touchdowns in the final six and half minutes. Nick Lamaison threw for a season-high 300 yards to lead UTEP. He finished 21-of-32 passing with four touchdowns and no interceptions, hitting Kevin Perry (four yards), Jordan Leslie (32 yards), Craig Wenrick (17 yards) and Michael Edwards (36 yards) for scores. Leslie was UTEP’s leading receiver, snaring seven receptions for 147 yards. The Miners also rushed for 177 yards behind a balanced attack as Autrey Golden led the way with 69 yards. The UTEP defense registered seven tackles for losses and three sacks. A.J. Ropati and Richard Spencer were both credited with 11 stops to lead the team. The Aggies compiled only 236 yards through three quarters before putting up 166 in the final period.
While UTEP has no players from the state of New Mexico on its 2013 roster, NMSU has 17 Texas products, including two El Paso natives -- sophomore DB Kedeem Thomas-Davis (El Dorado HS) and senior OL Davonte Wallace (Irvin HS). Players from both schools who attended the same high school or college are: UTEP DL Marcus Bagley, UTEP WR Devin Patterson & NMSU QB King Davis III (North Mesquite [Texas] HS); UTEP DL Dewan Edmonson & NMSU WR Travaughn Colwell (Manvell [Texas] HS); UTEP DB Jameel Erving & NMSU TE Perris Scoggins (Summit [Calif.] HS); UTEP RB Ranique Lovett & Wallace (Irvin HS in El Paso); and UTEP LB Darnell Murray & NMSU WR James Ooten (Citrus Hill [Calif.] HS). UTEP sophomore DL Matthew Heard is a transfer from NM State who redshirted in his lone season with the Aggies.
UTEP wide receivers coach Todd Whitten coached at NMSU from 1992-93, working with the offensive line. Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line Coach Spencer Leftwich was also a part of the Aggies’ staff from 1992-93, directing the quarterbacks.
The Aggies dropped to 0-2 with a 44-21 loss to Minnesota on Sept. 7 at Aggie Memorial Stadium. A week earlier, NMSU opened the season with a 56-21 setback at then-15th ranked Texas. NMSU rates 52nd nationally in passing yardage, averaging 247.5 per game. Senior Andrew McDonald has completed 54-of-77 passes (70.1 percent) for 428 yards on the year. Two Aggies -- sophomore Joshua Bowen (121) and junior Joseph Matthews (105) -- have gone over 100 yards receiving for the season. In the Minnesota game, McDonald completed 22-of-31 passes for 186 yards, but NMSU fell behind 27-7 at halftime and couldn’t recover. The Gophers rushed for 342 yards, with two players - Rodrick Williams (148) and Philip Nelson (122) - both going over the century mark. Nelson, the quarterback, also threw for 127 yards.
Been a While
The last UTEP coach to win his first road game was David Lee on Sept. 16, 1989 with a 29-27 conquest of NM State. The last three Miner generals -- Charlie Bailey, Gary Nord and Mike Price -- were all saddled with defeats in their road debuts. Bailey’s squad dropped a 31-10 decision at Air Force on Oct. 30, 1993 (he coached the team for the last five games of the season). Nord’s charges lost in the season opener at no. 14 Oklahoma, 55-14, on Sept. 2, 2000. And UTEP christened the Price era with a 41-9 setback at Arizona State on Sept. 2, 2004.
The Miners are facing New Mexico and NM State back-to-back to open a campaign for the first time in school history. The last time they met the schools back-to-back was in 2006, when a 26-13 loss at New Mexico (Sept. 23) preceded a 44-38 triumph over NMSU in the Sun Bowl (Sept. 30). Before that, UTEP hadn’t played UNM and NMSU in consecutive games since 1988.
Kasey Carrier rushed for 291 yards, and New Mexico gained 395 on the ground in a 42-35 overtime win over UTEP on Sept. 7 in the Sun Bowl. The Lobos squared their record at 1-1 while spoiling the head coaching debut of UTEP’s Sean Kugler. New Mexico punted just once on the night, late in the third quarter, while putting together three touchdown drives of 70 yards or more. The Lobos finished with 483 yards of offense.
The Miners nearly matched them yard-for-yard but came up short on fourth and one at the UNM four-yard line in overtime. Nathan Jeffery was stopped just short of the first down. Officials ruled no gain and following a challenge by Kugler, the call was upheld. Earlier, Carrier gave New Mexico the lead for good on a 21-yard scoring scamper on third and six in the extra session. UTEP was playing catch-up for most of the game but rallied to take its first lead, 28-21, on a 65-yard run by El Paso native Aaron Jones with 6:13 to play in the third quarter. New Mexico rallied with back-to-back TDs before Jones knotted the score on an eight-yard run with 1:19 to play in regulation.
Jones finished with 127 yards rushing, the most by a UTEP freshman since 1996. Jameill Showers’ Miner debut was also a success, as the quarterback set career-highs for passing attempts (20), completions (15) and yardage (119) with no interceptions. His counterpart, UNM’s Clayton Mitchem, finished 4-of-7 passing for 88 yards, but the Lobos rode the ground game to their first victory in El Paso - and the state of Texas, for that matter -- since 1997.
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.
School 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
Northwestern Pat Fitzgerald 1993-96
Oklahoma State Mike Gundy 1986-89
Stanford David Shaw 1991-94
Texas Tech Kliff Kingsbury 1999-02
Tulsa Bill Blankenship 1975-79
Utah State Matt Wells 1994-96
UTEP 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.
Sun Bowl Turns 50
GECU is sponsoring UTEP’s “50 Years of the Sun Bowl” celebration in 2013. On Sept. 21, 1963, Larry Durham ran 54 yards for a touchdown on the game’s first play from scrimmage as the Miners christened the stadium with a 34-7 rout of North Texas State. Durham and his 1963 teammates will be on hand for the 50th anniversary game versus UTSA on Sept. 21.
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 (24 starts), junior OL Jerel Watkins (22 starts), senior DL Marcus Bagley (20 starts) and senior LB Horace Miller (19 starts).
UTEP Pounds Out 280 Rushing Yards in Opener
The Miners rushed for 280 yards last week against New Mexico, their top total in a season opener since Aug. 31, 2002 versus Sacramento State (300). It marked UTEP’s best rushing total in an opener against a Division I-A opponent since Aug. 31, 1991 versus UNM (349). UTEP also scored four rushing touchdowns to exceed its total from any game last year. The Miners’ last four rushing touchdown performance came against Tulsa on Nov. 19, 2011.
Heck of a Debut for Jones
True freshman RB and El Paso native Aaron Jones was as great as advertised in the opener, running 11 times for 127 yards (11.5 avg.) and scoring two touchdowns. He compiled the first 100-yard rushing game by a UTEP freshman since another El Pasoan, Matt Austin, ran for 112 yards at Kentucky on Sept. 7, 2002. The last UTEP freshman who had a better rushing night was Elzie Johnson, who rambled for 203 yards against Tulsa on Nov. 16, 1996. Jones had a 65-yard scoring run in the third quarter, the longest by a UTEP frosh since quarterback Jon Schaper had a 74-yard touchdown dash at Alabama on Oct. 6, 2001.
Keeping Up With Jones
Aaron Jones became only the sixth UTEP player in the last 22 years to rush for 100 yards in a season opener, joining Toraino Singleton (107 yards at Wyoming, 1994), Paul Smith (138 yards versus New Mexico, 1999), Howard Jackson (157 yards versus Sacramento State, 2002), Donald Buckram (108 yards versus Buffalo, 2009) and Nathan Jeffery (177 yards versus Oklahoma, 2012). His 127 yards were the most-ever by a UTEP freshman in an opener and the fifth-most in an opener overall since 1950.
Smash Mouth Football
Sean Kugler’s overall philosophy of bringing toughness and physicality to the game was certainly evidenced from an offensive standpoint in week one. The Miners racked up 14 rushing first downs, more than they had in any game last season. The last time UTEP compiled 14 rushing first downs or more in a game was on Sept. 29, 2011 versus Houston (16). What’s more, the fullback returned to the Miner offense against New Mexico as freshman Darrin Laufasa gained 12 yards on three carries.
Showers was Solid in Week One
Texas A&M transfer Jameill Showers did not disappoint in his initial appearance as UTEP’s signal-caller, establishing career-highs for pass attempts (20), completions (15) and yardage (119) versus New Mexico. He tied his personal best with one passing touchdown. Showers also rushed for 44 yards, another career high. He directed the Miners on four consecutive touchdown drives during the first, second and third quarters, averaging 64 yards and 6.5 plays. All four TD drives were under four and a half minutes in length. Showers also demonstrated that he could orchestrate a more methodical march to the end zone, as the Miners moved 70 yards on 14 plays in 6:21 for their final score of the night late in the fourth period. Showers was 3-for-3 passing for 21 yards on the drive while rushing twice for eight yards.
The End Zone is His Home
With a couple more touchdowns in the season opener -- one of the rushing and one of the receiving variety -- Nathan Jeffery has now reached the end zone nine times in his last five games dating back to the 2012 season. During that span he has accounted for eight rushing touchdowns. Jeffery picked up the first touchdown reception since his freshman year (2011), and the third of his career, in the second quarter on a screen pass from Jameill Showers. He now has rushed for 1,122 yards and nine TDs in a UTEP uniform.
Tight Ends’ Impact Already Being Felt
Sean Kugler promised that the tight end would play a pivotal role in the UTEP offense during his tenure as head coach, and sure enough, the Miners lined up with four tight ends (Katrae Ford, Kevin Perry, Eric Tomlinson, Craig Wenrick) on their first play of the game against New Mexico last Saturday. Ford was making his first career start. UTEP’s tight ends combined for three catches totaling 40 yards versus the Lobos. The tight ends had no more than four catches in a game last season, and that number will almost certainly be surpassed at some point in 2013.
With the ordinarily stellar Jordan Leslie limited to five catches for 12 yards in the opener, Ian Hamilton picked an opportune time to enjoy his finest day in a UTEP uniform. The second-year player (transfer from Pasadena City College) led the Miners with a career-high four catches for 42 yards. Three of his four receptions were good for first downs, including a career-long 21-yard grab in the second period.
One Mistake Costly in Kicking Game
Despite freshmen taking over the punting and field goal chores this season, the kicking game was solid for the most part against New Mexico. Jay Mattox was 5-for-5 on extra points and boomed all six of his kickoffs inside the Lobo three-yard line with three touchbacks. Mike Ruggles fell victim to a bad snap late in the third quarter, leading to an eight-yard punt that set up New Mexico’s eventual game-tying drive at the UTEP 39-yard line. Ruggles’ other three punts traveled 55, 36 and 40 yards, accounting for a more than respectable 43.7-yard average.
Autrey Golden ranked 11th nationally in kickoff returns last season (28.3 avg.), and was back to his old tricks in the opener against UNM. He collected four returns for 104 yards (26.0 avg.). Including three versus the Lobos, Golden now has had 17 kickoff returns of 25+ yards since his UTEP clock started in 2012. He has 926 kickoff return yards in a Miner uniform and is just 86 away from tying Ricki Lopez (1989-90) for 10th place on the UTEP career list.
Growing Pains for Youthful Miner Defense
While UTEP yielded 483 yards to New Mexico -- including 395 on the ground -- consider the fact that the Miners had seven first-time defensive starters in week one. They were WS Devin Cockrell, DT Silas Firstley, CB Ishmael Harrison, SS Leon Hayes, CB Adrian James, Mike LB Anthony Puente and FS Traun Roberson. Cockrell, Firstley and Hayes are all freshmen, and Harrison is a sophomore who played wide receiver last season.
More on UTEP’s Defensive Youth Movement
Five Miners registered their first career tackles against New Mexico -- DB Devin Cockrell (10), DB Leon Hayes (6), DB Nick Gathrite (4), DL Silas Firstley (4) and DL Nick Usher (1). Of the 18 defensive players who recorded tackles versus the Lobos, seven were either freshmen or sophomores. Traun Roberson led the Miners with 13 stops; he never had more than one in a game for UTEP entering the 2013 campaign.
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 absolutely 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 also led the team out of the Mine Shaft in pregame while carrying the “Miner Pick,” a weekly ritual under coach Sean Kugler that recognizes UTEP’s most physical player in practices. Roberson was limited to three games total (two in 2010, one in 2012) in his first three years in El Paso.
Double Digits for the Rookie
True freshman Devin Cockrell started at weak safety against New Mexico and responded by posting 10 tackles, eight of which were assisted. He became the first UTEP true freshman with a double-digit tackle game since LB Braxton Amy had 15 stops versus Rice on Nov. 4, 2006.
In the Trenches
UTEP’s projected starting offensive line of Brander Craighead, Jerel Watkins, Paulo Melendez, Kyle Brown and Mike Amdall averages 6-4, 298 pounds. The projected starting defensive line of Adam Ayala, James Davidson, Silas Firstley and Marcus Bagley averages 6-2, 274 pounds.
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 is expected to be utilized on special teams this fall. 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.
Leslie Eyes Receiving List
Junior Jordan Leslie has 1,415 receiving yards in a UTEP uniform, leaving him just 519 away from cracking the Miners’ all-time top-10 chart. He is tied for 13th place in 100-yard games (four), and is one of only six UTEP players to record 200 yards in a game (218 at Tulsa last season). Leslie is one of 12 players returning nationally in 2013 who registered a 200-yard game a year ago, joining Duke’s Jamison Crowder, Central Michigan’s Titus Davis, Florida Atlantic’s William Dukes, Bowling Green’s Chris Gallon, Arizona’s Austin Hill, USC’s Marqise Lee, Toledo’s Bernard Reedy, Miami (Ohio)’s Dawan Scott, Marshall’s Tommy Shuler, Ball State’s Willie Snead and Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. A standout in the classroom as well, Leslie was one of 14 players tabbed to the 2012 Conference USA All-Academic Football Team.
New Look on Both Sides of the Ball
UTEP has switched to a 4-2-5 formation in its first year under defensive coordinator Scott Stoker. Stoker was hired as UTEP’s defensive coordinator in late April after Jeff Choate departed to become the special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach at Florida. The Miners are implementing a two-back, pro style offense as well.
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.
Up Next: UTSA
The Miners will return home to take on Conference USA opponent UTSA on Saturday, Sept. 21 in the Sun Bowl. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. MT. The Roadrunners are in their second season as an FBS school and third year with football and will be facing UTEP for the first time. Coach Larry Coker was recipient of the AFCA and Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Awards in 2001 after leading Miami (Fla.) to a 12-0 record and national championship.