Patrick Mahomes wasn’t perfect, but he was pretty dang good. Mahomes’ only major mistake was overthrowing a wide open Jonathan Giles for what would have been a touchdown. Otherwise, he was cash money. UTEP blitzed a fair amount of the time, the Red Raiders were having some trouble blocking Roy Robertson-Harris early on, and as a remedy, Kliff Kingsbury rolled Mahomes out of quite often. No problem at all. Mahomes seems to be even more accurate throwing on the run and even across his body, than he is when firing from a clean pocket. Kudos also to Davis Webb, who, after looking shaky on his first pass, quickly found the rhythm and even scored a pair of rushing touchdowns.
It was a terrific all-around game for DeAndre Washington and Justin Stockton. Washington rushed for 138 yards, averaged 11.5 yards per carry, and also did some good work in pass protection. He was not upstaged by UTEP’s Aaron Jones, although in all fairness, Jones played only a half before suffering an injury. Stockton chipped in 37 yards rushing, and also took a screen pass 46 yards for a touchdown. On that score and Washington’s 51-yard TD run, Washington/Stockton showed why they are probably the fastest RB combo in college football.
This was real improvement over the wideouts’ poor effort against Sam Houston. Devin Lauderdale dropped a short pass and Reginald Davis dropped a touchdown, but otherwise the receivers were sure-handed. Jakeem Grant’s first half was as good a half of football as I’ve ever seen from a Tech receiver. He snared seven passes for 141 yards and a touchdown, and was virtually impossible to tackle in the open field, even when surrounded by defenders. He is as fun to watch as former mighty mite Tyrone Thurman. Lauderdale himself was no slouch on his 34-yard TD grab as he displayed broken-field moves not unlike Grant’s.
UTEP’s front seven managed to pressure Mahomes a bit more than Sam Houston’s did, but nevertheless did not record a sack on the savvy quarterback. And officially, the Miners were credited with only two quarterback hurries. Roy Robertson-Harris made some noise in the first quarter, but Tech’s blockers neutralized him from that point on. The Red Raider line got much more bite in the ground game against UTEP than against SHSU. One suspects the insertion of freshman guard Justin Murphy into the starting lineup had something to do with that. Before all is said and done, he will be one of the best ever to play at Tech. The line was flagged for two false starts, which is, comparatively speaking, a pretty good outing for this group.
The first half was a hit-and-miss affair with Pete Robertson and Breiden Fehoko recording big plays, but with the line also getting handled in the run game a few times, too. Nevertheless, the return of Robertson after a one-game suspension made a big difference in this group’s effectiveness. But the big revelation was the play of reserve defensive end Gary Moore in the second half. In limited playing time he logged five tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. If Moore can realize his exceptional potential, Tech’s D-line automatically improves by at least 20 percent. Big Keland McElrath scooped up a fumble and rumbled 21 yards with it before being overhauled by a little guy from behind.
On the whole, this was one of the better performances we’ve seen from Tech linebackers in a very long time. Dakota Allen, who entered the game in the second quarter and stayed there along with Micah Awe and Malik Jenkins until the game was easily in hand, was flat out excellent. He led the defense with 10 tackles and had one tackle for loss. Awe missed a tackle or two, but also recorded five stops, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. Jenkins had a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. Generally speaking, this unit was fast and physical the way a linebacker corps should be.
UTEP’s passing game was a minimal factor in the game, and solid coverage by Tech’s DBs was one reason why. Tech completely locked up the Miner wideouts, with tight end Hayden Plinke (four catches for 87 yards) the only receiver to hurt the Red Raiders. Tevin Madison, Keenon Ward and Jah'Shawn Johnson all had good outings, as did nickel back J.J. Gaines, who led the secondary with six tackles. Tackling was decent but not outstanding. The group got no interceptions, but Johnson did recover a fumble.
This unit continues to make strides. Cameron Batson is beginning to make some waves as a punt returner, and does a superb job of tracking and fielding difficult punts. Batson averaged 12.6 yards per punt return Saturday. In the process, he saves Tech acres in field position. Kickers and Clayton Hatfield both nailed field goals, and Taylor Symmank continues to do great work with his punts and kickoffs. The kickoff coverage unit didn’t allow dangerous return man Autrey Golden to hurt them. John White is emerging as the classic “special teams demon.”