1. UTEP rushes for 250 yards per game. Jones and Jeffery have both increased their average yards per carry from a year ago, Jones from 5.2 to 6.7 and Jones from 4.0 to 5.1. What has been the biggest factor in the increasded run production.
AS: First off, Jones and Jeffery are both absolute studs. Jones is quick with great vision and breakaway speed, while Jeffery has developed into more of a power runner, but is still fast and shifty. Their God given ability is definitely one of the reasons the run game has been successful, but the real reason is simply Sean Kugler's dedication to it. He's an offensive guy, and an ex-offensive lineman so he knows what it takes to be successful in that aspect of the game. He's built a solid offensive line with great size, and has them playing extremely well. They've bought into the system, they're not committing a ton of errors, and so far its translating into a very productive run game.
2. Jameill Showers already has six touchdown passes against only one interception. What has he meant to this program as Coach Kugler continues to build?
AS: I think he fits in very well. In the current scheme, not a ton is expected of the quarterback as far as playmaking. Jameill is a very capable passer and an outstanding athlete, but for the most part he's expected to be more of a game manager than anything. Take care of the football, get the ball to the backs out of the backfield, and stretch the field with a vertical toss every now and then. In a sense, its a real "team ball mentality", and it takes a lot of pressure off any one guy, allowing Jameill to just do his job, rather than have to make play after play. Again though, he is capable of making those plays, not just with his arm, but with his feet as well.
3. 35:16 Time of Possession, only 4.25 Penalties Per Game, +6 in Turnover Margin: The Miners are very disciplined on offense. The offense has scored at least 26 point in every game - what can a defense do to try and stop them?
AS: Looking at the game against Kansas St., I think the key against the Miners is to stack the box and force them to beat you with the pass. Now, its kind of a double edged sword because the Miners are capable of passing the ball, and do have a couple talented wideouts, but so far they've shown that they have no desire to commit to the pass. This is a team that really wants to run the ball, set the tempo, control time of possession, and just wear a defense down. But, take them out of their comfort zone, and you could find great success.
4. The defense is giving up some yards, but they are holding opponents to .33% on 3rd down. They have also recovered four fumbles and intercepted three passes. What kind of mindset does Coach Stoker bring to the defense and how have they been able to make the big plays when needed?
AS: I think the biggest thing he brings is just teaching his players to play with better speed and aggression, and teaching them to fly to the ball and wrap up. I think its a matter of being better fundamentally sound, and once you are, the rest takes care of itself. That's definitely something that we've gotten out of this unit so far, and despite giving up a couple big plays here and there, they've been able to keep the ball in front of them, make tackles, and get themselves off the field on third down.
5. UTEP won the turnover battle and the Time of Possession last year, but the Bulldogs escaped with a 38-35 win. Is stopping Kenneth Dixon the key to a Miners victory?
AS: I don't think there's any question. UTEP did win the turnover battle, and time of possession, but La Tech was able to make more big plays in the run game, and that's what allowed them to escape with the victory. Looking at the game a year ago, there were two crucial plays where if the Miners were able to make a tackle, the game likely ends very differently. On a 3rd and 21 in the second quarter, Blake Martin took an inside run the distance for about a 65 yard score. To make matters worse, on a 3rd and 21 (from the La Tech 1!) Kenneth Dixon took an inside give 72 yards well into UTEP territory. That drive resulted in 7 points as well.
Things like that just should not happen, and they can't happen if the Miners are going to want to have an opportunity to win this one on the road. Again, this team as a whole is much more disciplined, is much more fundamentally sound, and our defense has improved (all though the numbers might not say a ton), so I'd like to think they'll be able to do better against the run. We've already seen this season how explosive Dixon can be, so the Miners will have to figure out how to contain him, and must be able to get off the field on those third downs.
6. Does UTEP consider LA Tech a rival going back to the WAC days, or do Miner fans get more fired up for UNT or UTSA?
AS: I think UTEP fans enjoy playing La Tech, and there is some history there, but I don't think, for us, its quite developed into a rivalry. At least not yet. For us, I think our in-conference rival is starting to become UTSA. The cities are very similar, at least culturally, and after the beating we took here at home last year, we're looking forward to trying to return the favor this year. Outside of that, I'm not sure we have any true rivalries in C-USA, but there could be a few brewing.
7. Louisiana Tech brought a good crowd to Dallas last year and UTEP has a large alumni base in Dallas-Fort Worth too. What do you think of a neutral site matchup in the old Cotton Bowl Stadium?
AS: A neutral field game would be a great idea, in theory, and I'd definitely travel to watch it, but I'm just not sure our fan bases could support it. While we do have a good base in the DFW area, and La Tech fans do travel fairly well, I just don't think we'd be able to find 40,000 to 50,000 people to attend, and that's what it would take to be able to support a game like that financially. Again, I'd love to see it happen, but not sure how likely something like that really is.