(Photo by Tony Venegas/TexasHSFootball.com)
LAS CRUCES, Texas — Little more than 48 hours after watching their chances of victory shrink and disappear at the collective hands of New Mexico State University on Saturday at Aggie Memorial Stadium in Las Cruces, the Miners are reeling.
They scored 14 points under the guiding hand of a new offensive coordinator with two different quarterbacks that combined for 10-of-34 passing, 92 yards, and five interceptions.
With the crippling disease of late-season pressure mounting in the early onset of the 2017 college football season, Head Coach Sean Kugler made five admissions about his now 0-4 Miners.
1. UTEP football is at a low point
UTEP is one of the worst statistical teams in the nation. Kugler has come to understand that fact — driven home after Saturday’s demoralizing 41-14 loss to rival New Mexico State.
The Miners rank near the bottom third of almost every offensive category in all of the FBS and are dead last in total offense and rushing yards per game. They aren’t just desperate for a win, they’re playing to keep their ship afloat.
Kugler may have felt like it was the toughest loss of the year, but traveling to take on Army’s (2-2) Black Knights won’t be a walk in the park.
“We know what we are against,” Kugler said. “It’s a long road trip for us. We need to energize our team. Right now, we’re a wounded animal. But in my mind, you have to make a decision. You can fight back or just lay down. Our mentality is to fight back and start this thing one game at a time.”
Though they’re down, he said he believes in the fight of his team.
“As a man, you either fight back or you lay down,” Kugler added. “We’re going to continue to work, try to continue to put together the best game plan we can and continue to try to develop the players that we have. And as a head coach, you got to keep the kids motivated, you have to keep them going to class, keep them doing the right things on-and-off the field, and keep pushing them in the right direction. That’s all you can do. There’s no magic formula.”
2. Miners are running out of cash to pay the injury toll
During the presser, Kugler mentioned how 11 players are currently plagued with injuries and will most likely be out against Army this weekend.
Among the list of names were Keynan Foster, who has helped the Miners out offensively and on special teams, as well as tight end Josh Weeks.
“(Foster) will be out for some time, which challenges our depth right now having so many players out. But we’ll have to overcome that,” Kugler said.
It;s troubling because the Miners may be forced to place young players at starting positions that already lack depth.
3. Metz is the go-to man
Against NMSU, the Miners benched starting quarterback Ryan Metz after struggling against the Aggies and after he tossed three interceptions before halftime. Their response was to turn to Mark Torrez, who was responsible for two second-half takeaways.
Torrez’s anointment as the starter lasted less than an hour, as Kugler guaranteed Metz’ starting job at the end of the game.
“We have all the confidence in the world that he’s going to do the job,” Kugler said. “We do need better play from the [quarterback] position. We only completed 29 percent of our passes in that game. And on the year, we have six interceptions and only two touchdowns. That needs to change.”
Through the air, the Miners average only 118 yards per game. Metz did not play against Arizona due to a shoulder injury and returned to the field for this game.
4. Army’s marked on the Miners’ calendar
After an abysmal 66-14 loss at home to the Black Knights last season, the Miners were left with a sour taste in their mouths that lasted a full year.
Army returns junior running back Andy Davidson, who combined with former Black Knights quarterback Chris Carter for 200 yards of rushing against UTEP in 2016. This year he looks as pristine as ever, already totaling 207 yards of rushing and has a touchdown.
Under center for Army is Ahmad Bradshaw, who leads the team with 439 yards on 63 rushes. He averages 7.0 yards per carry. The Black Knights rank third in the nation in rushing yards and average 366.3 rushing yards per game.
“There’s been a lot of time put into it. I know [defensive coordinator] coach [Tom] Mason and his staff did a lot of research in the offseason seeing what we can do better to defend the triple option,” Kugler said. “We spent more time in training camp than we ever have and did a lot of periods against the option. So, there’s been more time invested. We have to go out and try to execute that on game day.”
5. Wadley is the answer at running back
A surprise to many came Saturday when running back Quadraiz Wadley, who suffered an injury during the off-season, rejoined the team. With their starter back in the fold and bowling over linebackers and defensive backs alike, the Miners rushed a season-best total against NMSU.
Through the loss, Wadley showed spurts of greatness and was able to get some exceptional breaks. He finished with 81 yards on 18 carries, and Kugler may look to up his yardage consumption will during Saturday’s game.
Per Kugler, with former starting running back Walter Dawn Jr. converting to receiver, backs like Ronald Awatt and Joshua Fields will probably get more carries too.
“Walter [Dawn Jr.] has shown the ability to make plays and he can make dynamic plays,” Kugler said. “He gave us some good plays at the running back position, but with Quardraiz back, I think it frees up Walter to do so many more things. It makes no sense for him to be waiting on the sidelines, waiting to get carries after Quardraiz, when he can be on the field full-time, making plays for us.”