UTEP Football Notes/Game 3/New Mexico State
Sept. 15, 2008
The Basic Facts
Coming off a bye week, UTEP (0-2) takes on I-10 rival New Mexico State (0-1) on Saturday in the Sun Bowl. Kickoff is set for 7:05 p.m. MDT. The Miners are 4-2 following off weeks under fifth-year head coach Mike Price, but 0-2 since 2006. In 2004, UTEP beat NMSU 45-0 following a bye week.
The winner of the UTEP-NMSU game annually receives a pair of traveling trophies, the silver spade and the brass spittoon. Both trophies currently reside in Las Cruces following the Aggies' 29-24 victory over the Miners last season.
UTEP lost to 10th-ranked Texas, 42-13, in its last action on Sept. 6. NMSU, which had its season opener against Nicholls State cancelled due to Hurricane Gustav, kicked off its season at Nebraska last week and suffered a 38-7 setback.
UTEP holds a 49-34-2 lead in the longest running series in school history. The Miners have won three of the four matchups between the schools since Mike Price came to El Paso in 2004. Overall UTEP has emerged victorious in seven of the last 10 meetings, including the last six in El Paso. NMSU's last victory in the Sun City came on Sept. 17, 1994 by a 23-22 score.
The Miners are 34-15-1 versus the Aggies while playing in El Paso, and 17-8 against them in the Sun Bowl.
The Miners have one New Mexico product on their roster. Redshirt freshman Matt Camilli hails from Las Cruces and attended Mayfield High School. NMSU DL Spencer Diaz and LB Ross Conner also graduated from MHS. The Aggies have three El Paso natives on their squad -- WR Julio Lopez, OL Derek Thompson and DB Mark Waters. NMSU LB Ronald Opetaia, LB Boyblue Aoelua, OL Wallace Jennings and OL Eddie Tautolo and UTEP LB Nuuese Punimata are all of American Samoan descent. Aggies WR Chris Buckner and OL Kyle Smith and Miner DB Ramonte Harris are all natives of Arlington, Texas, and attended Mansfield Summit HS.
Aggies WR LaVorick Williams and UTEP DL Austin Shaffer are each natives of Odessa, Texas, and attended Permian HS. Aggies DB Alphonso Powell and the Miners' RB Donald Buckram and DL Craig Wood all graduated from Copperas Cove (Texas) HS.
NMSU Associate Head Coach/Defensive Line Coach Mike Fanoga is a 1986 graduate of UTEP. After receiving his degree, he served as an assistant coach with the Miners from 1987-89.
The Miners fell to 10th-rated Texas, 42-13, on September 6 in the Sun Bowl before a crowd of 53,415 -- the largest audience ever to see a football game in the stadium. After UTEP opened a 6-0 lead with less than six minutes remaining in the first quarter, the Longhorns scored 28 unanswered points. The Miners closed to within 28-13 at halftime on a 12-yard pass from Trevor Vittatoe to Tufick Shadrawy, completing an eight-play, 76-yard drive. Following a scoreless third quarter, Texas put UTEP away with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns. Colt McCoy completed 20 of 29 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns to lead UT, while Quan Cosby reeled in eight catches for 154 yards and a score. Terrell Jackson had a career-high 94 yards rushing for the Miners.
NMSU fell behind 35-0 in an eventual 38-7 loss to Nebraska on Saturday in Lincoln. The Huskers compiled 553 yards of offense, including 330 rushing, led by Marlon Lucky who gained 103 yards on the ground. The Aggies were limited to 339 total yards, as QB Chase Holbrook finished 15-of-30 passing for 142 yards. Nebraska averaged 8.1 yards per play, including 7.5 per rushing attempt.
UTEP in the National Stats
UTEP is ranked 27th nationally in kickoff returns (24.1 avg.). UTEP's top-100 individual national rankings are as follows: Cornelius Brown, tied for 40th in interceptions (0.5 avg.); Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith, tied for 88th in sacks (0.5 avg.); Josh Ferguson, tied for 53rd in kickoff returns (23.0 avg.) and tied for 88th in sacks (0.5 avg.); Terrell Jackson, 40th in all-purpose yards (133.5 avg.) and 53rd in rushing (80.5 ypg); Jose Martinez, tied for 22nd in field goals (1.5 avg.); Anthony Morrow, tied for 88th in sacks (0.5 avg.); Jeff Moturi, 19th in kickoff returns (27.7 avg.) and tied for 74th in receptions per game (5.0); Adam Vincent, tied for 70th in tackles (8.5 avg.); and Trevor Vittatoe, 54th in total offense (230.5 ypg) and 97th in passing efficiency (102.10).
UTEP in the C-USA Stats
The Miners are third in Conference USA in kickoff returns (24.1 avg.) and fifth in punt returns (10.0 avg.). Individually, Cornelius Brown is tied for fourth in interceptions (0.5 avg.); Josh Ferguson is tied for first in forced fumbles (1.0 avg.); Landon Goodwell is tied for fourth in fumble recoveries (0.5 avg.); Terrell Jackson is fourth in rushing (80.5 avg.) and seventh in all-purpose yardage (133.5 avg.); Jose Martinez is tied for first in field goals (1.5 avg.), tied for first in field goal percentage (.500) and tied for fourth in kicking scoring (6.0 ppg); Anthony Morrow is tied for fourth in fumble recoveries (0.5 avg.); Kyle Petersen is fifth in punting (43.1 avg.); Adam Vincent is sixth in tackles per game (8.5); and Trevor Vittatoe is seventh in passing average (233.0 ypg) and ninth in total offense (230.5 ypg).
Tremendous Improvement From Week One to Week Two
The old football adage is that a team improves the most from the first game to the second game. That was certainly true for the Miners, who racked up 412 yards of offense against 10th-ranked Texas after opening the season with only 266 yards at Buffalo. UTEP also enjoyed increases in passing yardage (199 to 267) and rushing yardage (67 to 145). The Miners controlled the time of possession line versus the Longhorns, 36:41 to 23:19, after trailing in the category 32:39 to 27:21 against the Bulls. Defensive improvement was evident as well, as UTEP yielded 404 yards to Texas a week after surrendering 484 at Buffalo. The Longhorns averaged 3.9 yards per rush, 14.1 per completion and 6.7 per play. Those numbers were down across the board after Buffalo averaged 5.3 yards per run, 22.1 per completion and 7.3 per play.
Good Things Come in Little Packages
It might not sound like much, but it was a big deal when UTEP shut out Texas in the third quarter on Sept. 6. For one thing, it came against the #10 team in the country. But it also represented just the second time in the Miners' last 12 games versus FBS opponents that they blanked an opponent in a quarter. The only other occurrence during that span was at UCF in the 2007 season finale, when both teams were scoreless heading into the second period.
UTEP hadn't shut out an Associated Press top-10 team in a quarter since Oct. 26, 1985, when BYU failed to score in the second and fourth periods on its way to a 23-16 upset loss to the Miners.
More on UTEP's Third Quarter Shutout of Texas
Texas ran 22 plays totaling 125 yards in the third quarter against UTEP. However, the Longhorns gained 70 yards on seven plays on their first offensive series of the period, which ended with Cornelius Brown's interception in the end zone. The Miner stops troops limited Texas to 55 yards on 15 plays the rest of the quarter, an average of 3.7 per play. This included back-to-back drives which resulted in 21 yards on eight plays. All three of UTEP's pass break-ups, both of their quarterback hurries and lone sack all occurred during the third quarter.
Hunt Comes Through in the Clutch
Senior TE Jamar Hunt, who is tied for second on the team with nine receptions, has made catches at opportune times. Six of his receptions have resulted in first downs, including four coming on third down to sustain drives.
Hunt leads the Miners in receiving with 106 yards. Only one tight end has led UTEP in receiving for a season -- Bob Keseday with 620 yards in 1986.
Vittatoe Spreading the Wealth
Sophomore QB Trevor Vittatoe, who was 25-of-46 passing for 267 yards versus Texas, completed passes to 10 different UTEP receivers in that game. It marked the highest number of Miners with at least one reception since Nov. 12, 2005 against Texas Southern. Eleven different players registered at least one catch in that contest. Overall, it marked the fourth game in the Mike Price era in which at least 10 Miners made a reception. The feat was also achieved on Nov. 13, 2004, versus Rice and on Sept. 2, 2004, at Arizona State.
Thomas a Multi-Dimensional Threat
James Thomas II has made an impact at both quarterback and wide receiver early this season. The sophomore rushed for 34 yards on only four carries (team-high average 8.5 ypc) against Texas, while also registering 40 receiving yards on a pair of catches. He is averaging a sparkling 9.8 yards per carry early this season, with 49 yards on only five attempts.
Stats Can Be Deceiving
UTEP lost to Texas despite having the advantage in several key statistical categories. The Miners had more total yards (412-404), ran more offensive plays (77-60), dominated time of possession (36:41-23:19) and were much better on third-down conversions (7-of-17 to the Longhorns' 1-of 6). The time of possession edge was the second-largest for the Miners under head coach Mike Price, and their most since Oct. 7, 2006, when they controlled the clock for 38:02 in a 24-21 triumph over SMU.
On the other hand, UTEP struggled in the red zone (2-of-4), committed far too many penalties (11 for 97 yards) and was held to field goals on two promising drives at the start of the game. All told, the Miners were still within striking distance (28-13) heading into the fourth quarter.
Jackson Carrying the Load
Entering the year, it was assumed that the Miners' rushing attack would be by committee. But Terrell Jackson has shown that he can be a workhorse back in the early going. He has accounted for 76 percent of UTEP's rushing yards (161-of-212), while scoring the Miners' lone TD on the ground in 2008. Jackson totaled 202 rushing yards and one score in 2007, and is getting close to surpassing those numbers.
He had a career-high 94 yards rushing on 17 carries against Texas. With nine catches for 87 yards already this year, Jackson is the team leader in all-purpose yards with 267 (133.5 avg.). Last year's primary running back, Marcus Thomas, had 20 catches all season.
Martinez Making Long Kickoff Returns a Thing of the Past
Jose Martinez's strong leg has allowed UTEP's kickoff coverage team plenty of field to work with. Excluding an onside kick attempt at Buffalo, four of Martinez's six kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks. In 2007, Martinez managed only 22 touchbacks on 67 attempts in which he was not trying for an onside kick. Martinez averaged a career-high 70.0 yards on four kickoffs against Texas with three touchbacks.
Martinez Takes His Shot at History
Jose Martinez has already attempted 65 and 66-yard field goals this season. He missed both, but figures to get another shot this season at breaking the NCAA record for longest field goal without a tee. The mark is currently held by Kansas State's Martin Gramatica, who nailed a 65-yarder against Northern Illinois in 1998. Martinez's personal best in a game is 57 yards, although he did connect on a 70-yarder in practice under the lights at the Sun Bowl in August.
Martinez is 3-for-6 on field goal attempts this season, with all three misses coming from 52 yards or more.
Offense Makes Strides Against Texas
While UTEP was limited to less than 20 points for the second straight game against Texas, the offense did show signs of improvement. The Miners had 10 "big plays" versus the Longhorns (rushes for more than 10 yards, passes for more than 15 yards), compared to six the previous week at Buffalo. Additionally, UTEP more than tripled its rushing output from the game against the Bulls (167-45), while improving its passing yards (267-199) and cutting down on its turnovers (one-three). Moreover, UTEP had more first downs (23-16) and a much larger time of possession line (36:41-27:21) in the Texas game.
Significant Defensive Improvement as Well
Although the Miner stop troops allowed 42 points for the second consecutive game against the Longhorns, there were definitively some bright spots. Compared to the Buffalo game, UTEP permitted fewer overall yards (484-404), rushing yards (263-145) and did a much better job on third down conversions (7-of-10/1-of-6).
Fourth Quarter Has Been Unfriendly
UTEP has been outscored 28-0 in the final period this year. The opposition has out-gained UTEP 281-66 in the fourth quarter, while winning the time of possession battle 17:23 to 12:37. Since scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter of an eventual 45-42 overtime loss to East Carolina on Oct. 13, 2007, UTEP has totaled 29 points in the fourth quarter of its last seven contests (4.1 ppg), with no more than seven points in the final period of any of those games.
Miners Have Scored 27 of 30 Points in First Half
UTEP has scored 27 points in the first half this season, but has been outscored 35-3 following the break. The Miners had a 204-183 advantage in first half scoring in 2007, but trailed 253-190 in the second stanza. In 2006, UTEP was outscored 209-151 after the intermission. The last time the Miners scored more points than their opponents in the second half was in 2005, by a 186-165 margin.
UTEP Seeking First Victory Since October `07
The Miners are hoping to put the skids on an eight-game losing streak that dates back to October of last year. UTEP's last victory came on Oct. 6, 2007, a 48-47 triumph over eventual C-USA Western Division champ Tulsa. During the eight-game losing streak, the Miners have either led or been within a touchdown of the opposition at the half on seven occasions. But they have been outscored 187-104 in the second half during the streak.
Receivers Step Up in Week Two
After only three wide receivers -- Kris Adams, Chris Day and Jeff Moturi -- caught passes in the season opener at Buffalo, six got into the act against Texas. Five Miners had career-highs for receiving yardage versus the Longhorns -- Adams (69 yards), Russell Carr (five yards), Evan Davis (26 yards), Tufick Shadrawy (20 yards) and James Thomas II (40 yards). UTEP entered the season with only one receiver -- Moturi -- having made more than five catches in 2007.
Four UTEP players have at least 85 yards receiving early this season.
Defense Adds Reinforcements
Two junior college defensive linemen made their UTEP debuts against Texas. Aaron King, a transfer from Bakersfield College, was credited with one tackle and a half tackle for loss. Tory Robinson, a transfer from Southwestern College, picked up one solo stop against the Longhorns. Look for both to continue to be worked into the rotation, with King listed as a reserve left end and Robinson as a backup nose tackle.
Kickoff Return Average is Best Since `96
UTEP is averaging 24.1 yards on kickoff returns this season, a figure which ranks third in Conference USA behind UCF (32.5 avg.) and Tulsa (27.0 avg.). It is the Miners' best kickoff return average since 1996 (27.3), and their second-best average since 1958. UTEP has three players averaging at least 22 yards per return -- Jeff Moturi (27.7), Josh Ferguson (23.0) and Clarence Ward (22.0). Moturi's average, if it stands, would rate fourth in the UTEP record books. It is the best average by a Miner player since Cedric Johnson's 29.6-yard average in 1996.
Vittatoe Knows How to Protect the Ball
After an uncharacteristic performance to open the season at Buffalo (three interceptions), Trevor Vittatoe returned to form against Texas. He was 25-of-46 passing for 267 yards and one TD. To put that performance into perspective, consider that since 1965 just five Miner quarterbacks have attempted at least 46 passes in a game without throwing an interception. All-time great Brooks Dawson did so twice, while Sammy Garza, Howard Gasser and John Rayborn each accomplished the feat once. By virtue of the effort against the Longhorns, Vittatoe stands alongside Dawson as the only players to achieve this feat twice (Vittatoe had 57 attempts without a pick at Rice in 2007). What makes Vittatoe's showing stand out is the fact that all the other quarterbacks on the list were seniors at the time. Below is the breakdown for most attempts in a game without an interception since 1965:
Miners Draw 53,415 for Texas A standing room only crowd of 53,415 -- the largest ever to see a football game in the Sun Bowl -- witnessed the Miners' 42-13 loss to Texas on Sept. 6. The previous largest audience for a football game in the stadium was 53,304 for the UTEP-Rice contest on Nov. 11, 2000. Current Sun Bowl capacity is 51,500. The Miners have now had four sellout crowds in five seasons under head coach Mike Price.
UTEP set a school record for season ticket sales this year with 24,059. The previous record was 21,190 in 2006.
Petersen Hikes Punting Average
Kyle Petersen has been much-improved in his second year as the Miners' punter, raising his average from 40.7 yards to 43.1. He opened the season by averaging a career-high 48.3 yards on three punts at Buffalo. Petersen has had a 50-yard punt in back-to-back games to start the year -- a career-long tying 59 yarder at Buffalo and a 54-yarder versus Texas.
New Scheme Paying Dividends
UTEP's new 3-3-5 defensive formation has produced three sacks in two games -- one each by Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith, Josh Ferguson and Anthony Morrow. The Miners had a total of 16 sacks all of last season, including three in the first six games combined.
Scoring Totals Out of the Ordinary for Price's Miners
UTEP has been held under 20 points in back-to-back games for just the second time in the Mike Price era. The Miners scored 19 points in the 2006 season finale versus Memphis and 10 points in the 2007 opener against New Mexico. UTEP has now been limited to fewer than 20 points just nine times in 50 games under Price. The Miners are 1-8 in such contests.
New Kids on the Block
Eleven freshmen have seen action for the Miners already this season, including true freshmen Antwon Blake, Ramonte Harris, Negale Miller, Bernard Obi, Daniel Palmer and Nick Sampson. Only two true freshmen -- Isaiah Carter and Craig Wood -- played for the Miners in all of 2007.
Miners Have 12 Seniors, Only Three Fifth Years
UTEP has only 12 seniors this season -- WR Chris Day, OL Robby Felix, DB Josh Ferguson, TE Jamar Hunt, RB Terrell Jackson, DB George Kelly, DL Ja-Boy Leomiti, K Jose Martinez, DL James Olalekan, LB Nuuese Punimata, LB Adam Vincent and DB Roddray Walker. Walker is out for the season with a separated shoulder. Of the 12 seniors, only three -- Day, Felix and Hunt -- are in their fifth year with the Miner program.
The 12 scholarship seniors ties UTEP for the fourth-lowest total among FBS programs. Alabama and Middle Tennessee have nine scholarship seniors, Central Michigan and Toledo have 10, and Minnesota and North Carolina have 11 apiece. Arizona, Fresno State and C-USA brethren UCF also have 12 scholarship seniors.
Streak Continues For Felix
Senior center Robby Felix made his 38th consecutive start against Texas. He has started every contest since his freshman year of 2005. Felix is on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, presented to the nation's top center, for the third year in a row. He entered the season as one of just 16 FBS players who had started 36 games or more.
Miners Name Four Captains For `08
Bell a Starter, But Not in Media Guide
Junior DB Dustin Bell isn't included in the 2008 UTEP media guide, but is listed second on the depth chart at right corner. Bell originally signed with the Miners as a wide receiver in the spring of 2006 before spending the last two seasons at Bakersfield College. He played his prep ball at Wilmer Hutchins High School in his hometown of Dallas, earning All-State and district MVP honors his senior year. He had 93 catches for 1,770 yards and 27 touchdowns in his high school career, leading Wilmer Hutchins HS to district titles his sophomore and senior campaigns. He was also an All-District baseball and basketball player. Bell compiled 70 tackles and 10 interceptions in two years at Bakersfield College. Bakersfield had the top-rated defense in the Western State Conference during the 2007 season, limiting the opposition to 256.3 yards per game. Bell's younger brother Derrius is a sophomore defensive back at SMU.
Price 11th on Active Wins List
Mike Price ranks 11th among active FBS coaches with 154 wins. He has posted a 154-147 mark in his 27th year as a Division I head coach, including a 25-25 record in his fifth year at the helm of the UTEP program. Price already rates fourth on UTEP's career wins list with 25 behind Mack Saxson (66), Mike Brumbelow (46) and Bobby Dobbs (41).
Eye-Popping Offensive Numbers Under Price
Since Mike Price took over as head coach for the 2004 season, UTEP has played 50 games and scored 30+ points thirty times -- a school record. The Miners have had fourteen 40-point games under Price, including five last year which tied the school standard originally established in 1950. UTEP has racked up 19,993 yards of offense under Price (399.9 avg.), including the top two seasonal outputs in school annals -- 5,074 yards in 2007 and 5,073 yards in 2005.
Amy, Walker, Williams Injured
Junior DB Braxton Amy, senior DB Roddray Walker and junior RB Jason Williams will all miss the entire 2008 season. Amy tore his ACL and Williams suffered a fractured dislocated ankle in spring ball. Walker sustained a separated shoulder in fall camp that will require surgery.
Amy was the team's leading tackler a year ago with 112 stops. Walker was a reserve safety in 2007. Williams has rushed for 154 yards on 48 carries as a Miner.