UTEP Football Notes / Game 3 / At New Mexico State
Sept. 10, 2007
Miners, Aggies Meet For the 85th TimeUTEP and New Mexico State will renew their I-10 rivalry on Saturday at Aggie Memorial Stadium in Las Cruces. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. MST. It marks the 85th meeting between the schools, the longest-running series in Miner football history. Both teams have split their first two games to open the season. UTEP beat New Mexico 10-6 in the Sun Bowl on Sept. 1, and dropped a 45-31 decision at Texas Tech last week. NMSU followed up a season-opening 35-14 victory over Southeastern Louisiana in Las Cruces with a 44-34 setback at New Mexico a week ago. The winner of the UTEP-New Mexico State game annually receives a pair of traveling trophies, the silver spade and the brass spittoon.
The UTEP-NMSU LedgerUTEP holds a 49-33-2 advantage in the series. The Miners' current three-game winning streak against NMSU -- all since Mike Price took over as head coach -- is their longest since reeling off six victories in a row from 1986-91. UTEP ended a four-game losing skid in Las Cruces with a 34-17 triumph at Aggie Memorial Stadium to open the 2005 season. Overall the Aggies own a 18-15-1 edge in games played in Las Cruces. The home team has won nine of the last 10 games in the series. The Miners have scored over 30 points in their last three matchups with NMSU for the first time since another three-game skein from 1986-88. UTEP has averaged 41.0 ppg against the Aggies during Price's tenure as head coach while allowing an average of 18.3 ppg. However, last year's 44-38 UTEP win in El Paso represented the closest game in the series since 1994.
The Last MeetingJordan Palmer passed for 414 yards and Emeri Spence picked off a pass in the final minute of the game to help UTEP outlast I-10 rival New Mexico State, 44-38, in the second-highest combined scoring contest in the history of the series on Sept. 30, 2007 in the Sun Bowl. Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. torched the Aggies for 223 yards and three touchdowns on just seven receptions, while Marcus Thomas rambled for 81 yards and a score on 18 carries. NMSU had plenty of offensive firepower as well, with quarterback Chase Holbrook establishing Sun Bowl records by an opposing player for completions (48) and attempts (73) on the way to throwing for 506 yards and four touchdowns. Overall the two squads combined for 1,110 yards of total offense, including 920 via the air, in a game which lived up to its billing as a showdown of top-notch signal callers. UTEP raced to a 17-0 lead after the first quarter. A 21-yard touchdown run by Thomas and a 71-yard bomb from Palmer to Higgins highlighted the action. NMSU's offense emerged in the second quarter, as the Aggies scored three TDs. The Miners countered with another Higgins touchdown grab and a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Quintin Demps. UTEP's offense went stagnant during the third quarter, which allowed NMSU to erase the Miners' 11-point halftime lead (31-20). UTEP responded with 10 unanswered points to open the fourth quarter, building a lead that it would not relinquish. Reagan Schneider converted a short field goal to get things started. Higgins then reeled in a six-yard strike from Palmer. After an Aggie touchdown, UTEP went up by six points thanks to a 28-yard Schneider field goal. NMSU had one final chance, driving close to midfield before Spence ended the threat.
The Last Meeting in Las CrucesJordan Palmer threw for 187 yards and three touchdowns in less than three quarters of action, and UTEP scored the game's first 31 points en route to a 34-17 win at New Mexico State on Sept. 3, 2005. The Aggies had -17 yards rushing, marking only the fourth time in school history that UTEP allowed negative rushing yardage to an opponent and the first time since 1966. The Miners, who posted their first victory at NMSU since 1991, opened a 7-0 lead on a 19-yard pass from Palmer to Chris Francies with 10:17 remaining in the first quarter. UTEP extended its margin to 14-0 on a six-yard pass from Palmer to Jamar Hunt. The lead reached 21-0 on a one-yard run by Palmer with 14:16 to go in the second quarter. Following an Aggie turnover, Palmer found Tyler Ebell for a 28-yard touchdown and a 28-0 lead with 13:51 remaining in the half. Reagan Schneider's 43-yard field goal with 7:08 left in the quarter pushed the Miner advantage to 31-0. UTEP held NMSU to 135 yards of offense in the first half, including four yards rushing on 17 attempts. NMSU finally dented the scoreboard with 10:13 left in the game, when Conor Foley connected on a 39-yard field goal.
Last Week: Texas Tech 45, UTEP 31Graham Harrell threw for 484 yards, and Michael Crabtree caught two touchdown passes as Texas Tech erased an early 21-7 deficit and handed UTEP its first loss of the season, 45-31, on Sept. 8 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock. The Red Raiders scored on five straight possessions, with four touchdowns and a field goal, after UTEP went ahead 28-14 midway through the second quarter. After Texas Tech scored the game's first touchdown on a one-yard run by Kobey Lewis with 11:57 remaining in the first quarter, UTEP rattled off 21 unanswered points. The Miners completed a 13-play, 75-yard drive with an eight-yard pass from Trevor Vittatoe to Jeff Moturi. Harrell fumbled the ball on the Red Raiders' next two possessions, and UTEP turned both giveaways into short touchdown drives. First Vittatoe hit Joe West for a 41-yard score, then Marcus Thomas - making his 2007 season debut - plunged into the end zone for two yards. After Texas Tech closed to within 21-14 on a six-yard pass from Harrell to Crabtree, UTEP answered with a 12-play, 91-yard TD drive, punctuated by Thomas' three-yard scoring run. UTEP forced Tech to punt on the ensuing possession. Trying to pad their two-touchdown lead, the Miners drove to their own 45-yard line. On third down with 11 yards to go, Vittatoe threw a pass to Jamar Hunt that would have been good for first down yardage, but Hunt dropped the ball with 52 seconds to go in the half. The 52 seconds was enough time for the Red Raiders to drive 54 yards and set up Alex Trlica's 45-yard field goal, making UTEP's lead 28-17 at the midway point. The Miners were outscored 28-3 in the second half. With the game tied at 31 entering the fourth quarter, Harrell found Grant Walker for an eight-yard TD, then Shannon Woods scored on a short run. Texas Tech had 561 yards of offense and the Miners totaled 431, including 215 rushing. Thomas rushed 22 times for 85 yards, and Terrell Jackson posted 60 yards on nine carries. Vittatoe completed 12 of 26 passes for 202 yards. West was the Miners' leading receiver with five catches for 101 yards. Crabtree (15 catches-188 yards) and Danny Amendola (12-101) both had 100-yard receiving nights for Tech.
UTEP in the NCAA/C-USA StatsThrough the games of Sept. 8, the Miners rated 23rd nationally in net punting (38.8 avg.), 33rd in turnover margin (0.50), 44th in kickoff returns (23.1 avg.) and tied for 45th in sacks allowed (1.5 avg.). UTEP was third in Conference USA in net punting and turnover margin. Individually, Braxton Amy was tied for 11th in the country in tackles (13.0 avg.), Quintin Demps was tied for 28th in tackles (11.0 avg.), Cornelius Brown was tied for 32nd in interceptions (0.5 avg.), Kyle Petersen was 37th in punting (42.1 avg.), Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith was tied for 37th in tackles (10.0 avg.) and Jose Martinez was tied for 46th in field goals (1.0 avg.). Martinez was tied for first in C-USA in PAT kicking percentage at 100.0 (5-for-5). Amy was tied for second in the league in tackles and Demps was tied for fourth in that department.
Miners Have One New Mexico NativeUTEP has one New Mexico product on its 2007 roster -- freshman defensive lineman Matt Camilli, who hails from Las Cruces. Camilli attended Mayfield High School. He hasn't seen action this season while doubling as a deep snapper in practices.
Offense Comes Alive Against TechAfter being held to 195 yards of offense and 10 points in the season opener versus New Mexico, UTEP busted out offensively last week at Texas Tech. The Miners piled up 431 yards, but perhaps most encouragingly displayed offensive balance. UTEP finished with 215 yards rushing and 216 yards passing. Last year the Miners averaged 57.6 yards on the ground and 312.8 yards through the air. The last time UTEP's rushing/passing yardage were within one yard of one another was on Sept. 29, 1984, when the Miners accumulated 106 yards both rushing and passing in a 34-7 loss to New Mexico. UTEP's 215 yards rushing against the Red Raiders marked its highest game total since 2004, when the Miners picked up 266 yards rushing versus New Mexico State. It was the most rushing yards for the Miners in a road game since tabulating 244 at Hawaii in 2003. UTEP dropped to 18-5 when scoring 30 points or more under Mike Price with the loss to TTU. The twenty-three 20-point games for Price are the second-most for any UTEP coach behind Bobby Dobbs' 25 from 1965-72.
West Has First 100-Yard GameSenior WR Joe West picked up his first career 100-yard receiving game against Texas Tech -- in his 35th appearance for the Miners. West tallied five catches for 101 yards, and scored a TD off a 41-yard pass by Trevor Vittatoe. His previous personal best was 91 yards receiving at UAB in 2006. West leads the Miners with 110 yards receiving, and is tied for the team lead with six catches.
Safeties Leading Stop TroopsUTEP's top three tacklers -- sophomores Braxton Amy and Da'Mon Cromartie Smith and senior Quintin Demps -- are all safeties. Amy has posted 26 stops in two games, while Demps has 22 tackles and Cromartie-Smith has 20. Amy hasn't started either of the Miners' first two games, but picked up 10 takedowns against New Mexico and 16 more at Texas Tech. His career-high for tackles entering the season was 15 versus Rice a year ago. Demps had a career-high 16 tackles in the opener versus the Lobos, and Cromartie-Smith's 14 stops at TTU were a personal best. The last safety to lead UTEP in tackles for a full season was D.J. Walker in 2002. A linebacker has been the Miners' leading tackler in each of the last four years. UTEP employed a nickel package for most of the Texas Tech game, with five defensive backs and all three safeties on the field. The Miners utilized either four defensive linemen and two linebackers, or three defensive linemen and three linebackers against the Red Raiders.
Marked Improvement For Vittatoe
After completing only 6-of-21 passes for 59 yards in the season opener -- though many of his incompletions were dropped balls -- Trevor Vittatoe finished 12-for-26 passing for 202 yards at Texas Tech. He also had two TD passes and no interceptions against the Red Raiders. Vittatoe hasn't thrown a pick in 47 pass attempts through two games this season. Overall UTEP signal-callers have just one interception in 104 pass attempts in 2007. Last week Vittatoe became the first UTEP freshman to pass for over 200 yards and two TDs in a game since Jordan Palmer threw for 287 yards and two scores against Tulsa in 2003. Vittatoe became only the second freshman quarterback to start a season opener for the Miners against New Mexico. Jay Wiley, who played only one year at UTEP, is the only other freshman in school annals to achieve the feat. He was behind center in the season-opening 14-7 loss to New Mexico State on Sept. 5, 1981.
Miners Win Possession Battle Versus TTUAfter being dominated in the time of possession line against New Mexico, UTEP had the ball for 32:13 versus Texas Tech. The Red Raiders, however, had two 80-yard touchdown drives in the second half that were both under a minute and a half in length. UTEP has won the time of possession battle just 11 times in 38 games under coach Mike Price. The Miners are 8-3 under Price when leading in time of possession, and 14-13 when trailing. UTEP has lost eight of its last 12 games dating back to 2005 when opponents enjoy an edge in time of possession.
Four Players Shoulder Receiving LoadUTEP has had only four wide receivers catch passes through the first two games of the season -- seniors Joe West (six receptions for 110 yards) and Lorne Sam (three receptions for 72 yards), and sophomores Jeff Moturi (six receptions for 58 yards) and Fred Rouse (five receptions for 37 yards). Six wideouts listed in the depth chart are still seeking their first reception of the season -- freshmen Kris Adams, Evan Davis, Pierce Hunter and Brandon Jordan, sophomore Tufick Shadrawy and junior Chris Day. All six played against Texas Tech last week.
Thomas Returns With a VengeanceAfter serving a one-game suspension against New Mexico for violating an NCAA rule, senior RB Marcus Thomas returned to the Miner lineup at Texas Tech. He ran 22 times for 85 yards against the Red Raiders. He also tied his career high with two rushing touchdowns. Thomas broke 18 tackles in the game. He has now led UTEP in rushing in his last 17 games dating back to 2005. A former Parade prep All-American, Thomas has accumulated 1,534 yards rushing in three seasons with the Miners. He needs 365 yards to crack UTEP's all-time top 10 rushing list. Thomas has rushed for over 100 yards four times in his UTEP career -- all during the 2005 season. He is tied for 10th place in school history with the four 100-yard rushing games.
Ground Game Much-Improved OverallUTEP is averaging 164.5 yards rushing per game after averaging 57.6 last season. The Miners' yards per carry average is also up from 2.4 to 4.6. UTEP has rushed for over 100 yards as a team in each of the first two games this season, something that happened only three times in all of 2006. The Miners still haven't had an individual rush for 100 yards in their last 15 games. The last UTEP player to have a 100-yard rushing game was Marcus Thomas at SMU (118 yards) on Nov. 26, 2005. The 15-game drought is the longest for UTEP since a 23-game run spanning across the 1991, 1992 and 1993 seasons.
Jackson Making Immediate ImpactThe return of Marcus Thomas and improved offensive line play aren't the only reasons why UTEP is running the football much more effectively than it did in 2006. Another reason is the emergence of junior Terrell Jackson, who is averaging a sparkling 6.5 yards per carry. The University of Oregon transfer produced 70 yards on 11 carries in the season opener against New Mexico, then followed it up with nine rushes for 60 yards at Texas Tech. With 130 yards rushing in 2007, Jackson has already surpassed his total for the entire 2005 season with the Ducks, when he rambled for 107 yards in seven games.
Sam is Mr. ExcitementSenior Lorne Sam has given the UTEP offense a lift this season, whether he enters the game as a quarterback or a receiver. He has completed four of six passes for 36 yards. He has also averaged 9.5 yards every time he has touched the ball (eight rushes for 33 yards, three catches for 72 yards). Those numbers would look even better had he not been sacked for a 15-yard loss in the first quarter of the New Mexico game. Sam is averaging 24 yards per reception to lead the team. He had two catches for 50 yards and three carries for 25 yards at Texas Tech, averaging 15 yards every time he got his hands on the football.
Revamped Special Teams Unit Off to Solid StartUTEP has a lot of new faces in general this season, but the Miners are particularly starting from scratch in the special teams area. UTEP is replacing its kicker, punter, holder and snapper from a year ago. The early results have been good, as junior kicker Jose Martinez is 5-for-5 on extra points and freshman Kyle Petersen has averaged 42.1 yards on 12 punts. Petersen's net average is 38.8 yards, as three of his punts have landed inside the 20-yard line and five have resulted in fair catches. Martinez is also 2-for-3 on field goal attempts -- including a 51-yarder against New Mexico -- and has averaged 65.7 yards on kickoffs with three touchbacks. UTEP is tied for 17th in the nation in punt return defense (4.0 yards per return), and tied for 26th in kickoff return defense (18.0 yards per return).
UTEP Stuffing the RushThe Miners have held each of their first two opponents to less than four yards per carry. New Mexico ran 51 times for 193 yards (3.8 avg.), and Texas Tech compiled 77 yards on 21 attempts (3.7 avg.). The Texas Tech game marked the first time that the Miners have lost under Mike Price when allowing fewer than 100 yards rushing; UTEP is now 7-1 in that situation. UTEP is yielding 135 yards rushing per game, an improvement from 2006 (152.4 ypg).
Demps Among Career Leaders In InterceptionsSenior DB Quintin Demps ranks seventh in school history with 12 career interceptions, including seven last season. The San Antonio native's next pick will push him into a tie for fourth place with three other players. Charlie West (1965-67) holds the school record with 19 career interceptions. Demps ranks third among active NCAA I-A players with 12 interceptions (Boise State's Marty Tadman and Boston College's DeJuan Tribble are tied for first with 13 picks). Demps is on preseason watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player in college football) and the Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back). He is the only player from a school in the state of Texas on the Thorpe Award list. Demps, who is projected to be a first day pick in the 2008 NFL Draft by some analysts, landed on preseason All-America teams by The Sporting News and Street & Smith's. Demps posted a career-high 16 tackles in the season opener against New Mexico. It marked the fourth double-digit tackle game of his Miner career, and his first since 2005.
Price Already Fifth in Wins at UTEPIn only his fourth season at UTEP, Mike Price is fifth in school history with 22 coaching victories. Jack Curtice is in fourth place with 24 wins. Price owns 151 career victories, placing him 11th among active Division I-A head coaches.
Felix a Staple in the Starting LineupJunior Robby Felix is on the preseason watch list for the Rimington Trophy -- presented to the top center in college football -- for the second consecutive season. Felix is the veteran of the Miner O-line, having started all 26 games since his freshman season of 2005. He was appointed third team All-Conference USA by league media and honorable mention by the coaches a year ago -- significant achievements considering that UTEP averaged just 57.6 yards rushing.
A Win is a Win ...The Miners beat New Mexico 10-6 despite tallying only 195 yards of offense, their lowest total under coach Mike Price (previous low 236 yards at Houston in 2006). It marked the fewest yards by UTEP in a game since Oct. 27, 2001 at SMU (182). The Miners had been 0-54 since 1965 when being limited to less than 200 yards of offense. The last time UTEP won a game when scoring 10 points or less was on Sept. 20, 1975, when the Miners grinded out a 6-3 victory over East Tennessee State. The New Mexico win ended a streak of 98 straight losses when totaling 10 points or fewer.
Defense Has a Brand-New LookUTEP entered the 2007 season with just four players on defense (sophomore DB Braxton Amy, senior DBs Quintin Demps and Josh Ferguson, senior LB Jeremy Jones) who had started games at the collegiate level. And Amy was returning to his natural position of safety after starting five games at WILL linebacker a year ago. UTEP's stop troops displayed incredible mental toughness against the Lobos. New Mexico's offense was on the field for 38:23 -- the most time of possession for an opponent since 2001 and the seventh-highest total in the modern era of football -- but the Miner defense never tired. UTEP limited the Lobos to just six points despite UNM driving into Miner territory on eight occasions. The final drive by the Lobos was halted at the UTEP 34 with James Olalekan bringing down scrambling UNM quarterback Donovan Porterie for no gain as time ran out.
Miner NuggetsFollowing two near-misses in the season opener against New Mexico, sophomore DB Cornelius Brown recorded his first career interception for 43 yards at Texas Tech ... sophomore WR Jeff Moturi scored his first career touchdown versus the Red Raiders on an eight-yard pass from Trevor Vittatoe ... UTEP's offensive line has allowed just three sacks in two games. Last year Miner quarterbacks were sacked an average of 2.1 times per contest ... UTEP will face seven 2006 bowl teams this season. Five of the games will be played in the Sun Bowl ... UTEP has enjoyed four separate winning streaks of at least three straight games in the Mike Price era. Putting that into perspective, the Miners achieved winning streaks of three games or more on just four occasions from 1975-2003 ... Price and Bob Stull are the only coaches in UTEP history whose teams haven't been shut out in a game.