Rash of Injuries on Offense Doomed Miners in 2013
Dec. 6, 2013
The 2013 UTEP football season can be broken down neatly into two parts.
There's the first half of the season, where the Miners were competitive against just about everybody on their schedule. And then there's the second half of the season, where they simply struggled to keep up.
It's no coincidence that Jameill Showers manned the quarterback spot in the first six games, and was a spectator the rest of the way.
"We moved the ball the first six weeks, running and throwing," UTEP coach Sean Kugler said. "Aaron Jones established himself as an outstanding young running back. Jameill had a heck of a connection going with Jordan Leslie and the tight ends. It threw us back offensively not only losing Jameill, but the whole backfield."
Showers threw for 1,263 yards and rushed for 195 before injuring his shoulder early in the seventh game at Rice. He ranked among the national leaders in touchdowns responsible for (15) when he went down.
No one was more lost in Showers' absence than Leslie, who made 26 catches for 485 yards in the first six games and 18 for 127 in the last six.
The Miners averaged 31.2 points and 414.7 yards in the first six games, but slumped to 12.3 ppg and 281.2 ypg the rest of the way as their primary offensive weapons were slowly taken away one by one.
Jones was on his way to becoming the nation's top freshman rusher before breaking his ribs at North Texas. He ended the year with a UTEP rookie record 811 yards in nine games.
There were positives in the Miners' late-season offensive struggles, as Nathan Jeffery re-established himself as an elite running back and freshman Mack Leftwich gained some valuable experience that can only benefit him down the road.
With a new scheme, a limited number of scholarship players and a host of newcomers, UTEP's defensive struggles were easy to predict in 2013. The Miners allowed over 40 points in five of the last six games as the schedule grew progressively more difficult. UTEP's top two tacklers were freshmen, as Devin Cockrell and Dashone Smith were credited with 76 and 69 stops respectively.
Overall, 15 players made their first starts on defense for UTEP this season, as the secondary in particular was ravaged from graduation losses the year before.
Now the onus is on 2014, and the coaches have hit the recruiting trail hard.
"We're really focusing on shoring up the offensive and defensive line," Kugler said. "Our numbers are really out of whack. We may sign nine or 10 offensive and defensive linemen [total]."
The Miners' 2014 non-conference schedule is set, as they will host Texas Tech and NM State and play at Kansas State and New Mexico. The Conference USA schedule will be finalized early next year.
Kugler was typically straightforward in assessing the Miners' 2013 season.
"We were 2-10, and that's frustrating," he said. "It was a learning process in many ways for me, the coaching staff and the players. It was also a year to lay the groundwork for the future. We didn't expect to come here, light the world on fire and have instant success. We're trying to build for the future and we knew it would take hard work and patience.
"Our goal for 2014 is to get better each day and learn the system a little bit better. The players will have the same system and a year under their belts. They'll know what's expected from me, on and off the field. There should be no gray area. We just have to work to improve, do a good job with recruiting and bring in players who can help us while continuing to develop the guys that are here."