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UTSA vs UTEP Q&A with Miner Rush

With the Miners traveling to San Antonio for a key divisional match up with UTSA, I had to reach out to my dude Alex Nicolas at SB Nation's own Miner Rush to get the low down on an improving UTEP squad. Thanks to Alex and the rest of the Miner Nation crew for always being a pleasure to work with.

Aaron Jones escapes the UTSA defense in last year's match against the Roadrunners. UTSA won last year's showdown in El Paso 32-13.
Aaron Jones escapes the UTSA defense in last year's match against the Roadrunners. UTSA won last year's showdown in El Paso 32-13.
Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sp

UTEP enters week eight at .500. How has the team performed relative to your expectations coming in to the season? Should the Miners reach a bowl game this season?

I think record wise UTEP is where most of us felt this team would or should be at this point, though I'll tell you I really didn't expect for LA Tech to whoop that ass like that. If UTEP beats UTSA then the possibility of a bowl game will be talked about a lot more, but we all understand how tough this UTSA game is going to be, so talking in coaches speak it's a one game at a time thing when UTEP fans look at bowl talk at this point in the season.

The Miners have already surpassed their win total from 2013 and look like a more cohesive team on the field. How has Sean Kugler been able to get the program on the right track?

Its started with off the field things. Cooper Brock a senior defensive lineman told me in a recent post game interview that Kugler has righted this thing in every mental aspect, but off the field is where he credits the biggest change that has parlayed into on-field improvement. Kugler is trying to build so many mental strengths like preparing the right way, paying attention in meetings and in film sessions, practicing the right way, being able to go on the road and win. It hasn't been easy for Kugs and UTEP fans aren't the most patient, but I think everyone sees the positive glares of play that shows Kugler is doing the right things in getting this thing right, but in all honesty he is still one or two more recruiting classes away from saying its on the right track as far as wins and stats. Although the first six games have been positive steps going forward.

Aaron Jones has been a monster for UTEP, averaging 6.1 yards per carry en route to 762 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. What can UTEP do on offense to punish defenses that key in on Jones?

Be creative. UTEP was so one-dimensional where teams would key, and tee off on him in a simple base defense with eight or more in the box in the first five games. The Miners showed way more spread formations, and mixed it up as far who was getting the ball against Old Dominion, so getting out of the first four games tendencies is what UTEP needs to do to get Jones going the rest of the way. Quietly Jones had 100 yards rushing last week, but his carries and touches in the pass game were spread out where ODU had no idea when he would get the ball.

The Miners have been one of the worst defenses in football, allowing for a shocking 37.7 points per game. What has been UTEP's biggest issue with their defense?

Its a fair assessment to say UTEP's defensive stats are horrible, but the offensive woes had lots to do with that especially against Kansas State, and LA Tech as far as field position and negative momentum goes. UTEP has improved a lot overall on defense, though run defense is something that has been a real weak point. They have done a good job on third downs, and did one hell of a job in coverage against Old Dominion, but that run defense has to improve if UTEP even wants to think about going bowling. UTEP's linebackers were really getting after it early on, though haven't been factors lately. The points and yards numbers do look bad, but when this defense has room to its back and momentum from the offense, they have shown the ability to get off the field or make a huge stop when the game is on the line.

What is one area in which you feel that UTEP has a clear advantage over UTSA? How can they exploit that to come away with a key road win in division play?

One area I think UTEP has the advantage check mark is in overall discipline. I've seen a lot of UTSA games this year where avoidable pre-snap penalties, mental miscues, and after the play garbage has haunted UTSA and fired up the other team. UTEP is very sound in that department, and to win on the road I think that staying composed is key on the road to keep from committing unwanted drive, momentum killing penalties, or mental mistakes.

Lastly, give me your prediction for Saturday's game. Think the Miners can pull it out?

I think UTEP can (no homer), but the run game has to be factor, and UTEP has struggled against physical defenses under Kugler.
The Miners will be rested, healthy, and will come out with energy, though UTSA can create havoc with their defense. I think we are all in for a classic C-USA battle. I feel no matter who I pick, I won't be confident in predicting this game.