Thursday, September 13, 2012

Scouting report: UTEP Miners

(UTEP quarterback Nick Lamaison avoids the pass rush of E.J. Epperson as the Miners played Ole Miss last Saturday. UTEP lost 28-10. They'll take the field again Saturday, at home against New Mexico State/Associated Press photo)

The UTEP Miners have a deceiving record.

Sitting at 0-2 on the season, the Miners lost to No. 5-ranked Oklahoma (24-7 at the Sun Bowl in El Paso) and Ole Miss of the SEC (28-10 on the road). They were competitive in each game, and played well defensively.

Offensively, the team has shown an ability to run the ball (207-yards rushing vs. Oklahoma), throw the ball (274 yards vs. Ole Miss) and possesses a good offensive line (looked impressive in first half against Sooners). Unfortunately for UTEP, it hasn't put together such facets of the game simultaneously. Again, their competition could very well have something to do with that.

The Miners running game is highlighted by junior Nathan Jeffery, who went wild against Oklahoma, then sat out with injury during the Ole Miss game. The Miners need this game as bad as the Aggies, so we expect Jeffery to be on the field Saturday.

UTEP has a big and experienced offensive line, runs a zone-blocking scheme up front, and features the zone-read in their rushing attack.

Yes their passing game struggled vs. Oklahoma, but lets not forget the Sooners secondary is of the Big 12 variety, and a very good one at that. Simply put, few Miner receivers were open on the that evening.

Quarterback Nick Lamaison is a senior and wide receiver Mike Edwards is a good player. UTEP will run the screen-passing game to the fullest and will also take its shots downfield. Under head coach Mike Price, the Miners have taken pride in throwing the football effectively, a big-play offense in the passing attack. The New Mexico State secondary has shown its inexperience at times and has blown some coverages at others. Expect UTEP to notice, and for this unit of the Aggies to be tested. Simply put, preventing the big play will be a key component to the contest for NMSU.

And lets not forget special teams. Last year's Battle of I-10 saw the Miners win 16-10, spearheaded by three made field goals and a well-timed fake punt that led to the go-ahead touchdown. On the flip side of the equation, NMSU missed a short field goal. Aside from being a quality receiver, Edwards is a threat in the kick-return game. This will surely be an area to watch throughout Saturday's contest.

For NMSU, the mission is not complicated. Weather the Miners storm early — expect this 0-2 UTEP team to come out fired up — and keep the score close going into halftime. Perhaps the Aggies get the ball coming out of intermission — perhaps not — but in any event, if the game is tight, the first half of the third quarter will be huge. The Aggies have struggled in that particular period all year, a problem that needs to be corrected by Saturday's kickoff.

We talked about the Aggie defense — namely the secondary's challenge and preventing UTEP's big-play ability.

On the offensive side of the ball, the running game has to get going like it did in last week's first half vs. Ohio, only this time for the game's entirety. In short: A 100-yard rushing effort would fit the bill, with a three-to-four yard average per carry.

That and the short-to-intermediate passing game must be in effect. We know the Aggies bread and butter is the deep ball, which means opposing defenses do too. Teams might play a deep zone in the defensive secondary to take such a gameplan away. Last year UTEP pressured the Aggies frequently and hounded quarterback Andrew Manley — essentially, the Miners didn't afford Manley time to take a seven-step drop and get ride of a deep pass downfield.

But with opposing defenses adjusting to the Aggie offense, opportunities will now arise in the shorter passing zones. Manley looks for the deep ball first and often, but going to shorter drops looking towards his check-down options would be beneficial, and he couldn't pick a better game to start capitalizing on such opportunities. Spreading the ball around to his other targets — Aggie tight ends have zero catches on the season and only one reception has come from the running back position — would also be a plus.

In any event, NMSU would help itself greatly by moving the chains, getting first downs and chewing up the clock while controlling the tempo.

A complete football game from the Aggies will be required in this one.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

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