CoogFans' Opponent Preview - UTEP

The defense has to do something different or this year will look a lot like last season.

UTEP Miners
Conference USA

2008 Record: (5-7, 4-4)
2008 Bowl: none
Coach: Mike Price (30-30 at UTEP, 159-152 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Bob Connelly and Aaron Price
Defensive Coordinator: Osia Lewis

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: James Thomas, WR, 351 yards
Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, QB, 3,274 yards
Receiving: Kris Adams, WR, 958 yards
Tackles: Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith, S, 77
Sacks: Aaron King, DE, 2.0, Anthony Morrow, LB, 2.0
Interceptions: Cornelius Brown, CB, 3
Other Key Returnees: OT Mike Aguayo, S Braxton Amy, G Rod Huntley, WR Jeff Moturi, P Kyle Petersen, G Cameron Raschke, DT Steve Riddick, WR Tufick Shadrawy, DE Robert Soleyjacks, OT Alex Solot, CB Melvin Stephenson
Key Losses: C Robby Felix, S Josh Ferguson, TE Jamar Hunt, RB Terrell Jackson, K Jose Martinez, DE James Olalekan, LB Nuuese Punimata, LB Adam Vincent

After another season that ended without a bowl trip, UTEP's expectations continue to slowly diminish. Coach Mike Price has a .500 record with the Miners and it seems like every year the expectations are relatively high and the team ends up not meeting those expectations. Not that the expectations will be very high in 2009, but the disappointment could come again if the defense does not improve.

Strengths:
In the meantime the offense will have to, once again, carry the load. Quarterback Trevor Vittatoe threw for 3,274 yards and 33 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2008 and he should be in for a great junior campaign. The most impressive thing about Vittatoe is the fact that he threw just nine interceptions. With receivers Kris Adams, Jeff Moturi and Tufick Shadrawy returning, the passing game should be one of the best ten in the nation. Adams and Moturi alone accounted for 23 touchdown receptions. With four starters returning on the line, Vattatoe should have plenty of time to find his weapons down field. The only issue on offense is the ground game. With the passing attack being so prolific, Coach Price might not look to the ground very often, but he needs to find somebody who can mix it up a little bit. The versatile James Thomas is the wildcard of the offense. The quarterback/receiver/running back can turn a passing offense into something a little more dynamic.

Weaknesses:
On average, the defense gave up 37 points per game and that seemed like a good day when they kept the opposition under 40 points. Seven starters are back, but that does not include leading tackler Adam Vincent. Really all this defense has to do is get the ball back to the offense. They failed to force too many turnovers and the only way they got the ball to the offense was after giving up a quick touchdown. The best news is Braxton Amy is back after missing all of 2008 with an ACL injury. He could turn the secondary into a unit that could actually create some turnovers. Yet, the front line needs to get some pressure on the quarterback or the secondary will get ripped apart again. That means Aaron King and Robert Soleyjacks have to get to the quarterback much more efficiently.

The Bottom Line:
The offense can only carry this team so far. Even if they score 40 points a game, they can still lose if there is not any improvement from the defense. In fact, two times last year UTEP scored over 40 points and lost. The defense has to do something different or this year will look a lot like last season.

2008 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 122.33 (90th in nation, 9th in conference)
Passing Offense: 284.17 (14, 4)
Total Offense: 406.50 (31, 6)
Scoring Offense: 32.92 (25, 4)
Rushing Defense: 199.50 (104, 10)
Pass Defense: 270.25 (112, 12)
Total Defense: 469.75 (115, 11)
Scoring Defense: 37.00 (112, 11)
Turnover Margin: 1.00 (10, 2)
Sacks: 1.83 (68, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 2.25 (88, 9)


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