CoogFans' Opponent Preview - UTEP

The last two years have not gone very well for UTEP. The offense is fine, and will continue to be fine, but the defense holds the key to this team's success. Coach Price knows how to win and it is obvious that the defense needed a little boost.

UTEP Miners
Conference USA

2007 Record: (4-8, 2-6)
2007 Bowl: none
Coach: Mike Price (25-23 at UTEP, 154-145 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Bob Connelly and Aaron Price
Defensive Coordinator: Osia Lewis

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Terrell Jackson, RB, 202 yards
Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, QB, 3,101 yards
Receiving: Jeff Moturi, WR, 891 yards
Tackles: Braxton Amy, S, 112
Sacks: Braxton Amy, S, 2; Anthony Morrow, S, 2
Interceptions: Cornelius Brown, CB, 4

Other Key Returnees: OT Mike Aguayo, C Robby Felix, CB Josh Ferguson, DE James Olalekan, G Cameron Raschke, DT Steve Riddick, DE Robert Soleyjacks, LB Adam Vincent, S Roddray Walker

Key Losses: OT Oniel Cousins, S Quintin Demps, LB Jeremy Jones, G James Riley, WR Lorne Sam, TE Jake Sears, RB Marcus Thomas, WR Joe West

UTEP put up big numbers in the passing game, but a lot of that success was due to the consistent running attack by back Marcus Thomas. Thomas rushed for 1,166 yards and 17 touchdowns during his senior campaign. Finding that much production out of former backup Terrell Jackson will probably not happen and that will have a negative effect on the entire offense.

Strengths:
Two years ago the passing attack flourished with quarterback Jordan Palmer and wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins. And there were legitimate concerns about replacing those two superstars. However, Trevor Vittatoe and Jeff Moturi answered the call. They were not as prolific as Carson and Higgins, but that was just Vittatoe's and Moturi's first year as starters and the team still ranked 26th in the nation with 275 passing yards per contest. The Miners do have to replace receivers Joe West and Lorne Sam, but Pierce Hunter and Kris Adams have potential. Vittatoe is not a flashy quarterback, but he is certainly steady. He only threw seven interceptions last season and he will develop into an even better leader as a sophomore.

Weaknesses:
Now UTEP just has to stop somebody if Coach Mike Price wants to avoid his third straight losing season. Eight starters are back on defense, but one of those not coming back is safety Quintin Demps who was the best, and most experienced, player on that side of the ball. For a unit that gave up over 300 yards per game in the air, losing the best player hurts. The fact that the front four rarely got pressure on the quarterback did not help the secondary. New defensive coordinator Osia Lewis will switch things from a 4-3 to a 3-3-5 defense in hopes of generating some more strain on the opposing backfield with some creative blitzes, but that might not be enough to help right away. The influx of players from the junior college ranks will provide much more depth, but the talent is just not there for a major turnaround quite yet and losing safety Braxton Amy to an injury will not help.

The Bottom Line:
The last two years have not gone very well for UTEP. The offense is fine, and will continue to be fine, but the defense holds the key to this team's success. Coach Price knows how to win and it is obvious that the defense needed a little boost. If the junior college transfers on that side of the ball can fill the holes, UTEP will go to a bowl. If not, it will be three bowless years and folks in El Paso will start to talk about whether or not Coach Price should be around for another year.

2007 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 147.67 (63rd in nation, 8th in conference)
Passing Offense: 275.17 (26, 5)
Total Offense: 422.83 (36, 4)
Scoring Offense: 33.58 (26, 4)
Rushing Defense: 202.92 (104, 11)
Pass Defense: 301.83 (117, 11)
Total Defense: 504.75 (117, 11)
Scoring Defense: 37.08 (113, 10)
Turnover Margin: .75 (17, 3)
Sacks: 1.33 (105, 10)
Sacks Allowed: 2.00 (58, 6)


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