I'll be honest with you, I don't have many thoughts about this game. It was a meaningless game. If there is one small aspect of being in the SEC I don't like, it's the front-loaded schedule that gives us a late season non-conference game with a 47 point spread. These games are good in September because they serve as good warm-ups for the conference schedule, but when the game is in November, it's a nice off-week for the team. Sure, we can all sit here on our keyboards and say how the team should be ready to bite the heads off the opponent from the opening kick, but human nature and history show that getting up for a late season non-conference "filler" game is difficult. Nobody batted an eye last week when Furman was within four points of LSU late at halftime.
After last week's resurgent performance by the defensive front seven against Vanderbilt, I was a bit surprised that UTEP had some success early lining up with two tight ends and getting 4-6 yards a pop against an A&M defense packing the box expecting the run. In their first two drives, they had five rushing plays for more than four yards. There were some missed tackles. I watched Ivan Robinson and he got some impressive penetration, but he failed to wrap-up and finish a few plays. I thought the same from Julien Obioha as well, who has been somewhat of a disappointment this season. In fact, in the last two games Daeshon Hall has taken quite a few of his first team snaps. On the other hand, Gavin Stansbury has probably been the most pleasant surprise on defense. For the second game in a row, he was the team's second leading tackler which is impressive for a defensive end.
I know some of you were upset with the first few offensive series, but under the circumstances I think some fans protest too much. Okay, the offense punted three of the first four drives and only put up a touchdown in the first quarter, but they also scored touchdowns on their next seven drives. They led by 29 points at halftime and beat the 47-point spread with a 50-point win.
This was a game where the offense knew there were explosive plays to be made. In all, the unit produced 13 plays that gained greater than 15 yards. The big plays resulted in some crazy statistics. Until the last drive of the game where the second unit was killing clock, the offense had only one drive over two minutes (2:20) and no drive lasted more than six plays. That is an amazing statistic and shows just how easy it was for the offense to score. The fact that the offense took some shots downfield and missed early in the game in really immaterial.
I know it's frustrating for fans when a heavily favored team doesn't come out and trounce the inferior opponent immediately, but it's common in all sports and at all levels from high school to pro. A&M fans look to LSU and Alabama are the ultimate measuring stick, and those powers have slow starts against over-matched non-conference opponents. I mentioned earlier that LSU led Furman 20-16 at halftime. The week after Alabama played in College Station, he Tide led a very bad CSU team only 17-6 in the fourth quarter.
In contrast, A&M was up 36-7 at half. I'm just not going to lose any sleep because the Aggie offense had a couple of 3-and-outs to open the game.
I took very little away from this game except one thing I noticed. Kenny Hill has an incredibly quick release, and that will pay big dividends in this offense if and when he's at the helm whether that's next year or in 2015. He impresses me more in the passing game every time he's out there. I'm not a fan of him running. He's an effective passer in this system and that's where he'll be a playmaker. Since there's really not many points to be made from this game, I'll kepp my coments by position very brief.
The offense uncharacteristically sputtered out of the gates against the Miners. From what I could tell, the issues were more with the receivers than Johnny Manziel who put some of those early incompletions in some pretty good spots. Once he got rolling, he was brilliant with six touchdowns and a cvlassic Johnny Football 49-yard TD run. As I mentioned earlier, Kenny Hill's quick release and decisiveness bodes well for the future.
Running Back B+
Surprisingly, the top three running backs combined for just 60 yards and the running game never seemed to get on-track…and then more fumbles. Bandon Williams had some nice runs in trash time but otherwise it was a quiet night.
Wide Receiver/Tight End B
I thought Mike Evans had one of his more "average" games of the season dropping an early pass in his hands and then appearing to have problems adjusting to some long balls. Young guys like Quiv Gonzalez and Sabian Holmes had a couple of nice big gains, but overall the receivers took care of business without much flash or fanfare.
Offensive Line B-
I was a bit disappointed in the inability to establish a consistent rushing attack early in the game and a few pass protection breakdowns that led to a couple of sacks. The line will be much stronger once Cedric Ogbuehi returns to the right tackle position.
OVERALL OFFENSIVE GRADE B+
Defensive Line B+
After a rocky start in the first quarter that saw UTEP establish an early running game that led to a touchdown, the defensive front settled down and had a solid effort. The Miners managed 127 yards rushing, and given the competition I'm sure the staff wanted that number to be lower. Later in the game, there were some nice individual plays behind the line by a resurgent Gavin Stansbury and Daeshon Hall.
I thought this was the linebacker group's best game of the season mainly because it was Steven Jenkins' best game of the year. He's finally looking loose and natural going after the ball and making plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. Darian Claiborne has become a tackle machine, leading the team with 12 stops.
Defensive Backs B+
Howard Matthews continues his interception parade with another pair of picks on Saturday and he also made some nice run stops behind the line. However, it was yet another big assignment bust and long UTEP pass play that drags down the overall grade.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE A-
Hop's Grade Analysis - UTEP
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