The UTSA Roadrunners and UTEP Miners will meet for the fourth consecutive year as Sean Kugler’s squad travels to the Alamodome. While the series hasn’t quite developed into a traditional rivalry yet, the previous three games have been entertaining as the road team has won each meeting. UTEP is coming off of a bye week and will aim to snap a five game losing streak this season. It’s always a pleasure to be able to collaborate with Alex Nicolas of SB Nation’s Miner Rush to cover this game. Thanks to Alex for taking time out to answer our questions about the Miners ahead of this game.
1.) UTEP looked pretty good on paper heading into the season but they have not been able to capitalize on their potential as they're on a five game losing streak. What went wrong for the Miners and how could they turn the ship around?
In my eyes, the struggle starts in the trenches for UTEP. The Miners' offensive line was supposed to be a major strong point, but it's been the squeaky wheel that's been an unexpected weakness which has repeatedly been exposed by quicker, and active defensive linemen.
On the defensive side, UTEP's defensive line has a poor havoc rate, and UTEP's new faces haven’t met their potential or shown any signs of chemistry. UTEP's inability to generate a consistent pass rush has hurt the defense a whole as UTEP has dialed down their blitz percentage from the past couple of years.
Throw in some very, very conservative offensive play calling with a struggling offensive line and you get the 1-5 UTEP Miners.
2.) Zack Greenlee, Kavika Johnson, and Ryan Metz have all seen snaps under center this season. After recovering from a concussion, it looks like Metz will return to start against UTSA. What has the position looked like so far this season and how do you anticipate Metz performing as the starter moving forward?
It's been a very disappointing spot for UTEP which has involved injury, overall inconsistencies in the pass game, and poor game planning/play calling.
Zack Greenlee who was named the starter coming out of camp started well against NMSU, but was clearly banged up in that game. He also has not played 100% health wise and has struggled mightily due to his injuries and overall poor mechanics (constantly throwing off his back foot).
Ryan Metz brought some consistency and a playmaker knack against LA Tech, but the Football Gods did him wrong with the concussion he suffered late in that game which held him out of the FIU game.
You will see Kavika Johnson line up as an H-Back, and wide receiver, and he will also take some snaps out of the Wild Cat, but hasn't quarterbacked much outside of the Texas game.
I feel Metz is the most capable FBS passer that resides in El Paso County and seems to infuse energy in the offense, but the UTEP offense will only go as far as an effective play calling mix, and offensive line allows.
3.) UTEP is giving up 37.7 points per game this season. What ails the Miners on defense?
There are many disappointing facts about this team, but UTEP's defensive struggles can be pinpointed to UTEP's offensive struggles, most of the time.
The perfect examples were the Texas, and Southern Miss game(s) in where UTEP's defense was surprisingly solid in the first half, but the Miner offense could not sustain a drive (i.e. pick up a damn first down), and the UTEP defense was worn down before the halftime show even started.
There's been just two games, Army's triple option, and the FIU game where things just completely fell apart from the start due to mental breakdowns, and just getting flat out beat and outplayed.
Watch out for UTEP's secondary though. The Miners upgraded their speed, and have really found a niche with their zone coverage schemes which allows their speedy, and physical secondary members to play fast.
At times they are a strong point, but when the offense isn’t creating momentum or points, UTEP's defense bears the burden of holding things together.
4.) The Miners were expected to have a strong offensive line this season but that certainly hasn't been the case. UTEP has been stopped at or before the line of scrimmage on 25.7% of their rushing attempts this season. The offensive line has also given up 12 sacks through six games. What went wrong on the line? Do you expect to see any shake ups coming out of the bye week?
UTEP's lack of athleticism, and mental lapses in picking up blitzes is the first thing that has stood out to me in probably every game this season.
Sean Kugler has shuffled some better "on paper" athletes (if you will) to try to fix their issues, but it's still a huge problem for an offense that looks far from being cleaned up in that regard.
Another thing is the Miners predictable play calling makes it easier for defenses to remain in base and just plug gaps Aaron Jones is known to have his number called to.
This is UTEP's biggest, and most depressing issue which is why this team is struggling badly when it comes to advanced stats that measure offensive line play.
5.) How do you see the game playing out in the Alamodome this week?
I honestly think Saturday's game will look a lot like the UTSA-Rice game from Week 7.
Aaron Jones has been known to give UTSA a few issues, so that should be good for at least 10 points the Miners way, but the Miners offensive struggles will more than likely continue even after a bye in my mind.
It should be a close first half, but I feel UTEP makes a late critical mistake that will turn a one score deficit into a two score UTSA win.
UTSA 24 UTEP 13