Next Up: Miners

Football coaches everywhere preach the value of playing a complete game for 60 minutes. UTEP Coach Mike Price is probably now as big a believer of that statement as anybody across the country.

The Miners dictated the tempo, averaged nearly five yards per rush and outgained defending MAC Champion Buffalo by more than 60 yards, only to see their efforts fall apart over a two-and-a-half minute span that saw the Bulls capture 16 points. UTEP led the remaining 57:30 by a 17-7 margin, but fell 23-17 because of the sour stretch.

Now, the Miners must face Kansas, a team that Price referred to as "not just a lot better than Buffalo, they're a whole lot better than a bunch of teams across the country."

The UTEP offense isn't hurting for weapons. Trevor Vittatoe (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) returns after throwing for a school-record 33 touchdowns a year ago. He put up more than 250 total yards in the losing effort against Buffalo, and was only sacked once. James Thomas II (5-11 190) is listed both as a backup quarterback and backup receiver, and he's a dynamic runner. He put up a 17-yard touchdown last week.

The running game was a pleasant surprise in the Buffalo game. The Bulls came into fall camp looking for a running back and appear to have found one in Donald Buckram (5-10 195). The junior rushed for 104 yards, averaging close to eight yards per carry. Vittatoe actually received the second-most number of carries, followed by back Jason Williams (5-10 210), who had a touchdown against Buffalo.

The Miners have a deep and experienced group of wide receivers. Kris Adams (6-3 195) and Jeff Moturi (6-0 190) combined for 23 touchdown catches last year, while Tufick Shadrawy (6-2 195) and Evan Davis (6-1 185) had three catches a week ago. Moturi also showed off his running ability, carrying the ball once for 21 yards. The tight end, Jonny Moore (6-5 250), wasn't heavily used.

Price said he was happy with the play of his offensive line from a week ago. Botched snaps aside, the Miners averaged 6.2 yards per carry, while protecting Vittatoe at a 98 percent clip. Price said Vittatoe was hit just three times in the Buffalo game, one of which was a late hit. He was sacked just once while dropping back 46 times. Mike Aguayo (6-4 300) and Will Osolinsky (6-8 280) are the starters at left and right tackle, respectively, while Cameron Raschke (6-4 310) and Rod Huntley (6-3 310) are the guards. Tanner Cullumber (6-4 280) mans the middle of the line at center.

Defensively, the Miners appear to be ahead of where they were a year ago when they gave up 42 or more points in six of their seven losses. Defensive coordinator Osia Lewis enters his second year as the defensive coordinator and coaches and aggressive 3-3-5 defense.

That defense was helped dramatically by strong play by the defensive line last Saturday. Buffalo failed to average four yards per carry on the ground, while defensive ends Aaron King (6-4 250) and Robert Soleyjacks (6-2 250) combined for 2.5 tackles for loss. King also snagged the team's only sack. Steve Riddick (5-11 275) and Tory Robinson (6-3 285) rotated at the nose tackle position where Riddick used his lack of ideal height for leverage. But Robinson was more of a playmaker, grabbing 1.5 tackles for loss.

Converted quarterback Jeremy Springer (6-3 220) was the Miners' leading tackler from the linebacking unit, making nine stops a week ago. Springer, a sophomore middle linebacker, is the brother of Kansas linebacker Justin. Left side linebacker Anthony Morrow (6-0 220) and right side linebacker Royzell Smith (6-1 220) combined for seven stops.
If a team starts five defensive backs in its basic scheme, one player typically is a hybrid safety-linebacker with a colorful position name relating back to the university. In the Miner role, Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith (6-2 210) fits all the billing. He's big for a safety and incredibly active … after week one, he leads the entire country in tackles with 19. He also had a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. The Miners also welcome back left safety Braxton Amy (6-0 210), who had five tackles against Buffalo. Amy had 112 stops in 2007, but missed last year with a torn ACL. Right safety Clarence Ward (6-0 190) had seven tackles, one for loss and a pass broken up last week. Cornerbacks Melvin Stephenson II ( 5-10 185) and Cornelius Brown (6-0 195) combined for six tackles and a pass defended against the Bulls.

Special teams, as a unit, have to get better. Kicker Logan Barrett (6-1 175) split his two field goals last week, missing a 48-yarder. Punter Greg Hiett (6-5 225) averaged 42 yards per kick, but also gave up a safety on a bad snap. Moturi and Brown are the kick returners, with Moturi also fielding punts.

The Miners were sloppy a week ago, misfiring on passes, dropping passes and giving the Bulls a 2:30 spurt that won Buffalo the game. They'll need to put a complete one together if they're going to win this Saturday against Kansas.

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