We are on the cusp of the Old Dominion Monarchs' trip down to El Paso to square off against the UTEP Miners. Who are the 2-3 Miners? What should we expect? Who are the players to watch on Saturday night? For that and more, I reached out to Alex Nicolas at our UTEP blog, Miner Rush, to help me break down the upcoming matchup.
SH: What's been the overall story of the Miners' season thus far?
AN: Well, it's been about two main story lines. A great start to the year that showed tons of improvement on both sides of the rock, and the poor offensive play calling that has been a part of the last two losses. The beginning of the year, the story was about UTEP's running game offensive line, and discipline becoming full circle points UTEP could hang their hat on. The past two weeks it's been about repetitive play-calling, and those identities that were built in the first three games now being non-factors and nowhere to be found. Saturday's game, win or lose, will definitely etch another chapter in that story.
SH: Should we be expecting an offensive shootout? The Miners have allowed 38.2 points a game thus far this season, and we're aware of ODU's defensive struggles.
AN: That is the way my personal opinion is leaning about this game. UTEP is the last in the country in per carry average and I think ODU is one of the more efficiently balanced teams UTEP will see all year, so I can totally see this getting into the 30's or maybe even 40's. Ironically, I think it's going to come down to someone's defense making a play in the fourth quarter. It should be a fun battle.
SH: Tell me a little bit more about Aaron Jones. What is his overall style as an offensive player, and who else should the Monarchs be looking out for on Saturday?
AN: Overall style: Beast. The kid can just do it all. He improved his between the tackles game, and excels on toss sweeps, and stretch plays, though can lower a shoulder or stiff arm for a few extra yards on each carry. Jones should be public enemy number one for ODU but after watching the Johnson kid from Marshall run over ODU last week, Nathan Jeffery should be a huge concern. He may not have the stats or long electric runs like Aaron Jones, but Jeffery has been a true bruiser and I think the coaches like their chances in using Jeffery more than Jones against ODU.
Another thing to keep an eye on is Autrey Golden. Golden has been a slash type of player who primarily played running back and is an all-C-USA kick returner, but was moved to receiver this week. He is one of the top athletes on the team and in the country, so with him at the slot, X or Y, UTEP will have a lot of talent and speed on the field this week in the backfield, and on the outside.
SH: What's the reason for Jameill Showers' low numbers at QB? Is that simply by design as the team looks to primarily focus on running the football, or is that just the type of player that Showers is?
AN: This goes back to my first point on the play calling issue. UTEP is and always will be a run first team as long as Sean Kugler is on the sidelines. But when teams stack the box, UTEP sticks to the run, and when they do throw, the Miners haven't had money plays drawn up for a 3rd and 8 or longer the past two weeks. Showers is very capable of padding stats; he had some 200 yard games last year and threw five touchdowns against Colorado State last year as well. The thing is that Showers just has not been put in a good position to make plays or have a sexy stat line.
Two times last week a roll out was called to his left on the short side of the hashes. Showers is right handed and both times it was 3rd and long. I don't care who you are; when you're predicable, and static in your play calling like UTEP has been the past couple of weeks, it's hard for any quarterback to find any consistency in putting up numbers.
What he does do well is manage the game and not the turn the ball over. Last week's case of turnovers and errant misfires should be all on the coaches. Showers is an athletic, high IQ quarterback, and everyone who roots for UTEP is hoping he gets a better shake at making plays this week.
SH: This is Sean Kugler's second year, and while they've matched their win total from last season, this is a team that's still giving up a lot of points and yards. How much rope do you feel that the athletic department will give him, especially with him being an alumni? I'd have to imagine that his seat's getting a little hot down there in El Paso.
AN: At this point Kugler's job is more than safe. He has a five year deal and is really close with AD Bob Stull. And while fans will hold their lighters to the bottom of his seat if it's a repeat of last year, truth be told it has been a 360 degree culture change that needs time to develop. The previous nine year regime before Kugler was pass happy, and flat out soft of defense within the front seven. Kugler has had to balance scholarships on each side of the ball, implement a full culture change, weed out the bad apples from the program, and try to win games at the same time, so for now I think he has a long leash. He is trying to build a physical monster on both fronts, with elite speed at the skill, secondary, and linebacker spots. The cupboard was empty last year, and Kugler has some personnel shoes to fill before UTEP can consistently impose its will on both sides of the ball like Kugs wants to use in grabbing W's.
With all that being said, a second blowout at home to a "upstart program" (UTSA 32, UTEP 13 last year) who is new to the FBS, and in a conference game, could possibly mean another thing IMO.