This week the Aggie football team travels to the Sun Bowl in El Paso to take on the UTEP Miners in the Battle of I-10. The Miners are 1-1 with a victory over UNM and a narrow loss to Texas Tech. We've recruited Alex Nicolas from MinerRush.com to answer a few questions about the new-look Miners and find out what Aggie fans can expect from the team on Saturday..
UTEP is off to a 1-1 start with a win over rival UNM and a tough home loss against Texas Tech. How are Miner fans feeling about this team after two games?
I think the prospects of a turnaround season are starting to be felt, but majority of the message boards and fans realize there is still work to do with this group. The Texas Tech game clearly shows this team is headed in the right direction, and a small buzz is starting to build in El Paso about the guys after the strong efforts. This game coming up against NMSU will be watched and judged closely by Miner fans for further indication that this team is for real.
It looks like the Miners have really bought into Coach Kugler’s philosophy and they look to be a hard-nosed type team. What has been the biggest difference for UTEP through two games this year that was missing last year?
Confidence in the schemes and the little things off the field that help the preparation for on field production is what you can really attribute. You absolutely right, the players are buying in and part of buying into Kugler's system is the small things, like paying attention in meetings, focus in practice, and finding the will to work hard in the weight room are a few things that were missing last year during the coaching transition.
There is just a different mental approach from the team that is obvious from practice to even pre-game warm-ups and its encouraging to see these guys buying into Kugler's philosophy because Kugler is one hell of a football coach.
Aaron Jones is off to a great start to the season, have you noticed anything different in his running the first two games of the season versus last year?
For one he is running downhill more physical, and he looks more explosive off the edge than he was last year. There is no running out of bounds, Jones will hit you with a mean stiff arm or shoulder to grab that extra yard, he is also learning to how be savvy with his more physical style of running which has helped UTEP move the chains at higher rate this season.
The Miners haven’t really thrown the ball that much this season. How much of a factor is the UTEP passing game in the offensive game plan?
Kugler said this week he really wants the passing game to come along in terms of better execution in order to create more balance. So the passing game is something the coaches want to greatly improve to able to use more freely instead of just relying on big yards from solely the play action where they have had the most success in the passing game. The other outlining factor is how well UTEP can actually execute straight drop situations because not much has been shown thus far.
UTEP Is still searching for a play-maker (receiver) in the passing game so it wouldn't surprise me if they aired it out more than usual against the Aggies since Kugler said this week he will challenge Jameill Showers and the receivers to make more plays. Although we all know the Miners are run first so its going to be interesting to see how the coaches try to improve the passing numbers this week.
Who are one or two players on each side of the ball who have been surprises so far this season?
On offense the offensive line was a huge question coming into the season, though this group has been very physical, and smart something Sean Kugler wants not only from the men in the trenches but the whole team.
Two freshman starters at guard Will Hernandez and Derek Elemndorrf have turned a huge question mark going into the season into a huge advantage, and identity for the Miners. UTEP has only committed two offensive penalties on the season, and the offensive line has came together from a chemistry standpoint way faster than most expected. So I'm really surprised by their solid start, in 78 plays last week against Texas Tech, only two plays resulted in a loss of yards.
On defense the improvement has been so drastic that its hard for me to point at one player, though two position groups have really stepped up and have made themselves known.
UTEP's secondary has a nice mixture of veteran and talented young guys who did a really good job of containing Texas Tech's and UNM's main weapons and opposite offensive schemes. Guys like Jameel Erving, Dashone Smith, Adrian James, and Nick Gathrite played their best games of their respective UTEP careers last weekend, and I would expect that confidence to carry over into the rest of the season.
The must have production spot along the defense is the linebackers, and UTEP is getting it from them this year unlike 2013. UTEP has four interchangeable parts in senior Anthony Puente, juniors Jimmy Musgrave, and Trey Brown, along with red-shirt freshman and Jones' twin Alvin Jones.
UTEP is able to unleash their full gallery of packages on defense more freely with the tangibles all these guys bring to the 4-2-5 scheme. I know its been a huge relief for the coaching staff to see these guys making plays in the middle instead of the secondary chasing guys around, we all knew the secondary and line-backing groups had potential, but to see how special they could be in the first two weeks answered a lot of questions.
The Aggies win this game if...
If the Miners turn the ball over, and start giving away or taking away yards with penalties. Those two aspects have kept UTEP in both games so far, and will be keys for w's all season.
The Miners win this game if...
They start fast and balanced on offense, get NMSU off the field on third downs, and make Tyler Rogers uncomfortable with a pass rush in his first true division one test.
UTEP will jump out to an early lead, but I feel the Aggies are improved enough to stay in the game, a late UTEP touchdown will seal it and keep the traveling trophies here in El Paso. UTEP 35 NMSU 17