CoogFans' Opponent Preview - UTEP

This is a big year for UTEP and Coach Mike Price. Following a disappointing 4-8 2009 season, Coach Price needs to show that his offense has the firepower to keep up with anybody in Conference USA and that his defense will be good enough to at least occasionally stop somebody.

UTEP Miners Conference USA

2009 Record: (4-8, 3-5)
2009 Bowl: none
Coach: Mike Price (34-38 at UTEP, 163-160 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Bob Connelly and Aaron Price
Defensive Coordinator: Andre Patterson

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Donald Buckram, RB, 1,594 yards
Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, QB, 3,308 yards
Receiving: Kris Adams, WR, 580 yards
Tackles: Royzell Smith, LB, 68
Sacks: Bernard Obi, DE, 2.0
Interceptions: Braxton Amy, S, 5

Other Key Returnees: C Tanner Cullumber, G Rod Huntley, DE Robert Soleyjacks, OT Alex Solot, LB Jeremy Springer
Key Losses: OT Mike Aguayo, CB Cornelius Brown, S Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith, DE Aaron King, WR Jeff Moturi, G Cameron Raschke, DT Steve Riddick, Wr Tufick Shadrawy, CB Melvin Stephenson, LB Roddray Walker, S Clarence Ward

This is a big year for UTEP and Coach Mike Price. Following a disappointing 4-8 2009 season, Coach Price needs to show that his offense has the firepower to keep up with anybody in Conference USA and that his defense will be good enough to at least occasionally stop somebody. This group certainly has the offensive weapons, but it will be the development of the defense, which only returns four starters, that will be the difference between a bowl game and another losing record.

Strengths:
The offense revolves around fourth year starting quarterback Trevor Vittatoe. After throwing for 58 touchdowns as an underclassman, Vittatoe was somewhat disappointing during the 2009 campaign. He only threw 17 touchdowns, but he still proved to be a smart quarterback who completes a large percentage of his passes. Vittatoe is learning that he does not need to do everything. The absence of superstar receiver Jeff Moturi will put a little more pressure on the quarterback, but UTEP still sports a talented group of receivers led by Kris Adams. What made Vittatoe's job easier last season was the emergence of a running game. Donald Buckram rushed for 1,594 yards and 18 touchdowns. On a team where the opposition expects them to throw, mixing in a talented rusher like Buckram has turned this into a dynamic offense that is nearly impossible to stop.

Weaknesses:
But UTEP could not stop anybody last season either and that is why they ended up with a 4-8 record. New defensive coordinator Andre Patterson hopes to fix that issue. After spending a couple years in a 3-3-5 scheme, Patterson is changing the Miners defense yet again…this time to a more traditional 4-3. The hope is the secondary will not be scorched as often if the extra man up front can help the line get pressure on the quarterback. UTEP certainly did not have much success getting to the quarterback last year and it will be up to Robert Soleyjacks and Bernard Obi to lead the way. If the front four can get pressure, linebackers Royzell Smith and Jeremy Springer, two of the four returning starters on defense, will be free to be versatile depending on the situation. But the big problem remains in the secondary. Safety Braxton Amy is a difference maker, but both corners are gone and the Miners hope some relatively inexperienced players like Antwon Blake, DeShawn Grayson and Brandon Miller can step into starting roles or at least be more productive off of the bench.

The Bottom Line:
If the new defense works, this could be a really good team. The offensive should be explosive and the line has plenty of talent and depth to keep both the ground and air game moving smoothly. UTEP may have to simply outscore some opponents at times like they usually have done during Coach Price's time in El Paso, but the defense needs to step up and get pressure on the opposing quarterback. With the second game of the season being against pass happy Houston, it will be obvious very soon how far the defense has come.

2009 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 151.08 (57th in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 277.58 (20, 3)
Total Offense: 428.67 (18, 2)
Scoring Offense: 29.83 (35, 3)
Rushing Defense: 200.83 (106, 10)
Pass Defense: 246.08 (98, 5)
Total Defense: 446.92 (110, 8)
Scoring Defense: 33.50 (104, 9)
Turnover Margin: -.25 (77, 8)
Sacks: 1.25 (106, 11)
Sacks Allowed: 2.08 (67, 7)


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