Miner Q&A With Miner Rush's Alex Nicolas

There was a lot of optimism for UTEP heading into the season, coming off a bowl appearance last season. After an 0-2 start and more importantly the loss of Aaron Jones for the season, what are UTEP fans thinking right now?

The main thing fans are thinking right now is DO NOT lose to NMSU.

Most could be halfway off the ledge after the past two weeks, and the news this week, but the fact is UTEP was expected to start 0-2 after two tough P5 opponents on the road, although losing Aaron Jones was not part of that plan.

A loss to NMSU and I don’t know if I will visit a UTEP message board until the middle of basketball season, things could get ugly in El Paso if that happens. UTEP has two chances to prove they can still compete in the C-USA West before C-USA play starts, and I hope most fans haven't gave up on the season yet.

With Jones out, who needs to step up for UTEP not just on Saturday but for the rest of the season?

This is sort of thinking outside of the box, but the offensive line and the entire defense has to step up without Jones.

UTEP will go with a running back by committee approach, and the offensive line which is already a strong point for UTEP has to continue its positive growth not only in the run game, but in pass protection as well.

The defense needs to shore up their woes in the secondary, as right now the defense is UTEP’s biggest concern going forward.  Just like last year, UTEP’s defense has to be able to win a game or two in C-USA play. 

Those two units are keys to UTEP's new approach to the 2015 season.

Do you think Coach Kugler will adjust his gameplan (i.e. pass the ball more) now that the key point in the offense is no longer there? NMSU head coach Doug Martin doesn’t seem to think he will (at least based on his press conference quotes).

Yeah Kugler said its possible UTEP changes what they do on offense, and you’re right Martin doesn’t think they will at all.

I feel UTEP has to open up their offense more and get their wide receivers involved, especially before C-USA play starts.
I still think we see some early runs to test out the Aggies suspect run defense, but if UTEP is looking for a big play, I feel it has to come from the passing game and the wide receivers. 

It’s really more of a lets wait and see approach in gauging whether UTEP does alter their offensive gameplan, but Kugler did say they could throw more, but he's said that in the past so we just have to really wait and see. 

Defensively neither UTEP nor NMSU are off to a rousing start, particularly on the passing defense side of things with both ranked near the bottom of the rankings (UTEP 125th and NMSU 126th out of 127 teams). It would appear at least on paper that New Mexico State holds the advantage offensively in the passing department. What will UTEP try to do on defense to try to neutralize the Aggies’ passing attack?

UTEP will continue to blitz, but I think they will mix up the blitz with more base than we've seen to see if the front six can create a pass rush.

That being said, UTEP’s man coverage will again be tested, but is something UTEP has really struggled with.

Getting back two seniors in the secondary is key, but without a pass rush, the Aggies could rack up some serious yards from what I have seen from both the UTEP defense and NMSU offense so far. 

Its starts with the front six, if those guys aren't getting to Rogers, UTEP will be in for a long night. 

Conversely, what will UTEP try to do offensively to take advantage of the Aggies’ weak pass defense?

A consistent over four yard per carry average in the run game, plus some downfield play action could really be a key in gashing the NMSU defense

UTEP can really keep the NMSU defense on their heels if the run game is clicking.  I could see UTEP being more balanced and possibly, just maybe, taking more down field shots against NMSU with play action.

UTEP has speed on the outside with Autrey Golden, Jaquan White, and Warren Redix, look for these three to be involved in the screen game, reverse, and possibly on down field go routes in this one 

Who is a player on offense and on defense who hasn’t had a great start to the season but you think will have a breakout game against the Aggies?

On offense freshman running back Treyvon Hughes.  

Hughes is UTEP’s highest rated prospect signed under Kugler and the 6’1, 220 pound load had a very nice fall camp. I would look for him to have a breakout game if the Aggie defense has trouble with tackling again, this could be Hughes' coming out party.

On the defensive side, I’m really hoping the entire unit can turn things around
It starts upfront, and if UTEP is able to play in NMSU’s backfield, the UTEP defense will be a thing again.

Creating turnovers, and limiting NMSU’s chunk plays I think are big emphasis this week by the staff.  This is a game the entire defensive unit could possibly get their confidence back after two very poor outings to start the season.

Individually, look for 6'7 255 pound defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris to be that breakout guy this week, he's had some inconsistent showings in the first two weeks, but has also made his share of plays.

The Miners will win the game if they…<?strong> Are able to create a few turnovers, not turn the ball over themselves, and average over four yards per carry.

The Aggies will win the game if they… Are averaging over seven yards per play, or grab a three score lead, the after parties in Cruces should be pretty lively if those two things happen on Saturday night.

Your prediction and score:

I can speak on behalf of all Miner Nation and say that all UTEP fans are worried about this one.

Like you mentioned on our podcast Sam, UTEP is a littler further ahead than NMSU in a lot of areas, and UTEP is the more physical team and more athletic on both sides.  What could really hurt the Aggies in what I feel will be a close game is their questionable kicking game and getting those easy points in big situations, in my opinion.