Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Mike Price took the Miners to a bowl game in each of
his first two seasons with the school (2004-05). UTEP went to a third bowl
game under Price in 2010, but then the program began to head in a different
direction. There was hope senior quarterback Nick Lamaison would find more
success in his final season after leading the team to a 5-7 record in 2011,
but the pieces of the puzzle never fit together in 2012.
UTEP dropped to 0-2 after suffering losses to Oklahoma (24-7) and Ole Miss
(28-10). It ended the short losing streak with a 41-28 win over New Mexico
State, but the victory over the Aggies was followed by four consecutive losses
to Wisconsin (37-26), East Carolina (28-18), SMU (17-0) and Tulsa (33-11). The
Miners earned a C-USA win versus Tulane (24-20) and later another on the road
at Southern Miss (34-33), but they came up short against Houston (45-35), UCF
(31-24) and Rice (33-24).
Price announced in November that he would retire at the end of the season,
which gave the school plenty of time to search for his replacement. Director
of Athletics Bob Stull elected to go with Sean Kugler, who played offensive
line for UTEP from 1984-88.
"I had an opportunity today to meet with some of the players, and just wanted
to reiterate to them that this is going to be some hard work and I'm looking
for guys with character, guys that work hard and guys that are smart and enjoy
playing the great game of football the way it should be played," said Kugler
at his inaugural press conference. "That's my No. 1 goal as a coach, to have a
team go out there each week and represent the City of El Paso and go out there
and represent each other as teammates and do the best job they can week in and
Kugler has no prior head coaching experience, but comes to the Miners after
serving as the offensive line coach for the Buffalo Bills (2007-09) and
Pittsburgh Steelers (2010-12).
OFFENSE: Kugler has an interested piece to work with at quarterback right
away. Junior Jameill Showers didn't want to spend his final two years of
college backing up Johnny Manziel, so he graduated school early and
transferred to UTEP, where he will be the starter right away. Showers saw very
little field time while at Texas A&M (27-of-44 for 319 yards, two TDs and one
interception in 2012), but there is a reason 25 different schools were
interested after news broke that he was looking for a more promising
Showers has a reliable target in junior wideout Jordan Leslie. The 6-foot-2
pass catcher finished fourth in the C-USA last season with 973 yards on 51
grabs. Leslie is the only proven wide receiver the Minors have, but Craig
Wilson and Eric Tomlinson are both quality players at tight end.
UTEP finished 77th among FBS programs in rushing with 148.5 yards per game.
Junior Nathan Jeffery was the sixth leading rusher in the conference with 81.6
yards per outing. His total output was weakened by some early season injuries,
but he finished strong, scoring all seven of his touchdowns in the final four
games. Junior running back LaQuintus Dowell had 33 carries last season and
should receive more this year after averaging 5.1 yards per attempt.
The offensive line was one of the weakest in the FBS last season as it
surrendered 2.6 sacks per contest. Brander Craighead (6-6, 280), Jerel Watkins
(6-3, 280) and Kyle Brown (6-2, 280) all return as starters. Junior center
Paulo Melendez (6-2, 315) and junior right tackle Mike Amdall (6-4, 310) will
give the line some much needed bulk.
DEFENSE: The Miners were not an exceptional team defensively last year under
coordinator Jeff Choate, finishing 91st among FBS programs in total defense
with 440.2 yards allowed per game. Choate left to become the special teams
coordinator at Florida, which opened up the door for former Sam Houston State
defensive coordinator Scott Stoker to step in. Stoker was selected as the FCS
Defensive Coordinator of the Year in 2011 after the Bearkats held top-five
rankings in rushing defense (first, 72.9 ypg), scoring defense (second, 14.9
ppg), turnover margin (second, 1.87), total defense (third, 279.9 ypg) and
pass efficiency defense (fourth, 99.20), while pacing the conference in all
Stoker has little to work with in his first season with the program as UTEP
returns just four starters on the defensive side of the ball. Senior nose
tackles Germard Reed (6-1, 275) and Marcus Bagley (6-1, 320) are two of the
best interior linemen in the conference. Reed registered seven total tackles
for loss and two sacks in 2012.
The senior tandem of Horace Miller (6-1, 240) and A.J. Ropati (6-0, 230) will
anchor the linebacking unit. Ropati is the leader among returners in tackles
(58). Senior cornerback Adrian James could have played his way into a starting
spot last year, but his season ended after only four games due to a
concussion. Junior Nick Gathrie is a strong candidate to start at the opposite
corner in his first season with the team since transferring from Riverside
SPECIAL TEAMS: UTEP ended its Spring session without any kickers or punters on
their roster. Four freshmen, Tanner Kneisly, Jay Mattox, Mike Ruggles and
Mikael Sroka, are all being considered to be the new starter at both positions
Running back Autrey Golden is a solid special teams weapon. He finished second
in the C-USA with 28.3 yards per kick return and took two back for touchdowns.
OUTLOOK: With a new blend of coaches and players, UTEP will need to get
everyone on the same page more than most programs. Luckily for Kruger, the
conference also has experienced plenty of change.
"We certainly want to be a physical team and we don't want to just talk about
it," said Kruger. "We are going to approach it that way at practice and our
off season conditioning are structured as such so we are hoping that physical
play will improve and that will give us the best chance to win on Saturdays."
The Miners begin their campaign at home versus New Mexico and play their first
road game the following week at New Mexico State. UTEP will then host Texas-
San Antonio for its C-USA opener. After the in-state bout with the
Roadrunners, it continues its non-conference slate at Colorado State. The
Miners then play three league games in a row versus Louisiana Tech, Tulsa and
at Rice. They will battle the defending Heisman Trophy Award winner at Texas
A&M and finish off their year with four C-USA tilts against North Texas, FIU,
Tulane and Middle Tennessee.
Showers could make UTEP a competitive squad in the conference if he is able to
gain a grasp of offensive coordinator Patrick Higgins's system. He backed up
Ryan Tannehill and Manziel in his two seasons at A&M. There aren't too many
quarterbacks that would have edged either of those two in a position battle.
Showers has some nice tools to work with in El Paso. The offense will need to
be one of the best in the league as the defense and special teams both look
like works in progress.
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