The UTEP Miners entered the 2016 season with the hopes and expectations of returning to a bowl game for the first time since 2013. Unfortunately for UTEP, the season did not go as planned. The Miners finished at 4-8 and were plagued by inconsistency and injuries. Even though UTEP closed out the year strong with a win over North Texas, that left more questions as to what could have been this year. Let’s take a look back as to what happened.
Offensively, one of the bright spots emerged from the backfield in Aaron Jones. Jones had struggled with injuries the last couple of years, but he broke out this year when he was fully healthy. Jones capped off his year with an impressive 301 yards and four touchdowns against North Texas, which also gave him the single season rushing record at the school.
However, Jones was the only consistent offensive weapon at times and it seemed like the offense relied on him a little bit too much. UTEP got behind in a lot of games this year and they had to throw more than they would like, which their offense isn’t built for. If there is one question that can be answered, it’s that UTEP has found their signal caller in former Andress quarterback Ryan Metz. Given a full offseason as the starter, Metz should show quite a bit of improvement next year.
Defensively, it just didn’t click like it was supposed to this year. After being hit hard with injuries a year ago, Kugler was optimistic that his unit would be better. This season, the Miners had games where they couldn’t make the key stop when they needed to. For example, the Miners let Florida Atlantic drive 90-plus yards down the field for a game-winning touchdown. The next week, they got blown out by a struggling Rice team. I firmly believe that it was the game against Army that put the team in a funk that they couldn’t recover from until it was too late.
UTEP and Army had been hyped up as something bigger than a game partly because of the Army’s connections to El Paso. Ultimately, the Miners got smacked in front of the largest home crowd of the season and that was what ultimately turned many people away from the Miners for the rest of the year. Kugler was preaching patience and the need to get back to fundamentals, but it was a disappointing year overall.
Now that UTEP football is done until 2017, what happens next? By all indications, Kugler will be back in 2017 but there will be pressure for the Miners to get back to a bowl game once again. Will Aaron Jones come back for one more year? Who will step on the defensive side of the ball next year. There are a lot of questions in El Paso this offseason but the answers to the aforementioned questions could be the key to the Miners’ fate in 2017.