UTEP Poses Interesting Challenge

On paper, the UCF Knights shouldn't have much of an issue Saturday evening when they travel to El Paso, Texas to take on the UTEP Miners. The Miners currently sit with an 0-3 record and they're losers of nine consecutive games, one of the longer losing streaks in the nation.

Senior cornerback Johnell Neal spoke highly of the Miners skill players in Tuesday afternoon's press conference—

"I remember them having some great skill receivers, skill position players, running backs. Number five is a real good athlete in the backfield. They move around a little bit at quarterback and their receivers are real quick. They have a real spread open offense."

Number five is James Thomas II, a former wide receiver who was thrust into the starting quarterback job after Trevor Vittatoe left last week's loss to New Mexico State early with an ankle injury. Thomas changes the dynamic of the UTEP offense, as he is a true athlete and their team will go from a run and shoot/spread type of offense, to an option team. Thomas ran 19 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns a week ago.

"When you see them out there, you automatically want to think ‘run', but you can't do that because he passes the ball to keep you honest; he's a real good athlete back there, we're going to have to prepare harder," Johnell Neal explained.

UCF head coach George O'Leary has seen a little film on Thomas from the game last Saturday.

"They put in the kid Thomas, number five, who's actually listed as a receiver on the depth chart. He went out there, and I guess they call it the run gun, and he did a pretty good job. He's listed as the starting quarterback this game and I would think they would add to the packages for him to utilize his athletic ability."

O'Leary believes that his defense can't just sell out to stop the run, as Thomas was a former high school quarterback.

"You don't have any game plan on him, but there are only so many things you can do with a quarterback to run option if that's what the deal is. But I think he throws the ball well enough where we have to play good coverage on the wide outs."

Defensively, the Miners are all about putting pressure on the quarterback with their unconventional 3-3-5 sets. Sophomore receiver Brian Watters commented on their formations Tuesday—

"I really don't remember a 3-3-5, that's going to be a lot of DB's that I'm going to have to weave in and out of. We just take all defenses the same, we really can't control what they do, we have to perform on offense and take over what we can control."

Coach O'Leary warned reporters and his team about the pressure than UTEP likes to throw at opposing offenses. "They're about 94% blitz, which is a lot of blitzes. Again, they're trying to create havoc in the backfield and they play a lot of man coverage, so we basically have to execute and make some passes and not just be content with running the ball, they'll have opportunities."

That high pressure scheme could cause some concern for the inexperienced UCF quarterbacks who haven't really got on track yet with the passing game. What could help is the addition of another productive receiver in Kamar Aiken, who has missed the Knights first three games with an ankle injury.

"He's back out there practicing right now," said coach O'Leary. "He started practicing last week and never really got cleared until Thursday, I don't play anybody that doesn't practice on Tuesday and Wednesday practice at least. He's been practicing right now full go from Monday on. He looks like he's back to old form, and that will help us as far as some of the depth outside that we've been looking."

UCF's coaching staff and players will also expect to hear plenty of crowd noise Saturday night, as the Miners fans usually come out in full force.

"As I tried to press upon the players, it's one of the few stadiums I haven't been in," said coach O'Leary. "I think it's a very vocal crowd there, they'll have 40 something thousand there and they're very loud. I'll get the voice out there tomorrow, the jet engines going…"


Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.

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