Scouting Report: UTEP Miners

Arizona opens the season with a team that on paper looks to be an easy victory. The UTEP Miners won just one D-I game a year ago and come to Tucson with a very young team. The Cats will debut a new quarterback, but as of now no one knows who will take the first snap.

Tucson, Ariz. • Arizona Stadium
August 30, 2003 • 7:00 PM MST
Radio: KNST (Brian Jefferies, Les Josephson)
Television: None

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Coach: Gary Nord (12-23, 3 years)
Offense: Multiple
Defense: 4-2-5
2002 Record: 2-10; WAC: 1-7/T9th
Site: El Paso, TX
Series Record: Arizona leads 37-11-2
Last Meeting: Arizona beat UTEP 34-21 in 1999

The Miners' offense will look a lot like the Wildcats' scheme. They use a variety of sets and looks and will employ a lot of motion. They lack team speed and will most likely dink and dunk and try to move the ball up the field with long, sustained drives.

"Their offense is very similar to ours," said Arizona coach John Mackovic. "They have multiple formations and a lot of different things. They were a really good play-action team last year. I don't know what their intention is this year with moving the quarterback or having him stay in the pocket. They did a little bit of both last year with different quarterbacks in and out of the lineup. If we get something brand new that we've never seen, we will just have to make quick adjustments to that."

Orlando Cruz won the starting quarterback job, but don't be surprised if you see Carson Palmer's brother Jordan take some snaps. Cruz played in seven games, making a start against Rice, but tore his ACL against the Owls and was sidelined for the remainder of the season. He completed 28 of 58 passes (48.3 percent) for 466 yards and three touchdowns.

"Orlando gives us the best opportunity at this point to spread it out and throw it," Nord said. "If you can throw and catch, you don't have to be as good up front as the other team. We're going to play some teams that are a little bigger and stronger than we are.

"He (Cruz) still doesn't have a lot of game experience so we'll have to help him out. We're going to have to protect him a little bit and take some pressure off of him."

Running the ball is the undersized Howard Jackson. At just 160 pounds, Jackson relies on his speed and quickness and is not much of a factor up the middle. A swift and elusive running back, he racked up 844 rushing yards on 173 carries (4.9 avg.) with seven touchdowns, but cracked the 100-yard mark just three times.

The line is very solid and three of the team's six seniors play here. They have good size and will be very important in protecting the UTEP passers. Interestingly enough, tackle Ben Graniello is Wildcat freshman Peter Graniello's brother.

The Cats will be debuting the new "Wrecking Crew" defense created by Mike Hankwitz. The 3-4 scheme is very adaptable, so the look you see on Saturday may not be the same one you see against LSU. Expect the Cats to try and pressure the UTEP quarterbacks, while keeping enough players in the box to shut down the run.

The Cats will debut two new quarterbacks this week and no one knows who will get the first snap. Mackovic says that the call may not happen until Saturday, but that it is no big deal because both Nic Costa and Ryan O'Hara will see the same amount of action.

The Cats won't limit the offense for the new quarterbacks, but they will do everything they can to keep it manageable for the young players. The biggest key will be in protecting Costa and O'Hara and an emphasis on the offensive line has been apparent this week in practice.

"I would expect that they are going to pressure us a lot and see if they can blitz the quarterbacks," Mackovic said. They will put a lot of pressure on them and see if they can force some big plays. They are a good pressure team. Last year, they played a lot of man-to-man coverage. We have to prepare for that, and we have to be able to adjust if they go into more zone coverage." The Miners use a 4-2-5 defense that is similar to what ASU runs. Instead of a third linebacker, the scheme employs a rover, essentially a combination safety/line backer. Tim Woodard has excelled at the position and was fourth in the WAC in tackles last season.

"He plays hard every down," Nord said. "He's active."

The Cats have had great success against the 4-2-5 and it could be a great defense for the young Arizona offense to work against. Expect the Cats to try and establish the run and go to the short passing game early on in an effort to give the offense some confidence.

OUTLOOK: Both teams are fairly young, but the Cats should have more talent. As much as the Wildcats struggled a year ago, UTEP struggled more. Frankly the Miners are one of the worst teams in America and Arizona should win, the only question is by how much. If the Miners can't move the ball on offense it will be a very, very long night for the visitors.

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