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A healthy, experienced UTEP faces an impossibly easy schedule in 2016

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For the second stop in the 2016 preview series, we head west to El Paso.

John Weast/Getty Images

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Gotta have the horses

No team seemed to know what it was more than the Miners. I mean that mostly as a compliment. Understanding your strengths, your weaknesses, and your mortality will give you the best chance of succeeding without pride getting in the way.

In head coach Sean Kugler's second year in El Paso, he took into battle a team that had a couple of good running backs, a single receiver, and decent defensive speed. He figured out how to go 7-6. Against teams that were more athletic and/or deeper, the Miners played to their strengths, slowed the pace to a crawl, and prepared to take advantage of mistakes.

In 2014, UTEP taught us the power of identity. The Miners had just enough talent and experience to draw up a pretty clear road map to wins. They weren't incredibly impressive overall (90th in the F/+ ratings), but they knew how to pounce on mistakes and keep games close.

In 2015, UTEP didn't have enough talent or experience to pull this off. Kugler's squad had to replace its quarterback, its leading receiver, an all-conference offensive lineman and five of its top seven defensive backs. And during the season, the Miners dealt with injuries to their most explosive running back, their most proven receiver, their best safety, and on and on. They were snake-bitten from the start, and they regressed dramatically.

Because of their schedule, the Miners only regressed so much in the win column. They beat four teams ranked 118th or worse in F/+, which allowed them to finish 5-7 at only 125th. But make no mistake: this was a really bad product.

Kugler knew it as well as anyone. As impressive as it was for his Miners to stick to their identity in 2014, he's changing it up a bit. He brought in former Kentucky, Baylor, Boise State, and Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease to run his offense, and former Nevada, SMU, and Hawaii defensive coordinator Tom Mason to take over the defense. He also hired a new receivers coach and special teams coordinator.

In the "difficult jobs remain difficult" department, Kugler now has to prove himself all over again. This job is never going to be particularly easy, as proven by recent results -- 8-4 in 2000, 6-30 from 2001-03, 16-8 from 2004-05, 29-44 from 2006-11, 5-19 from 2012-13. You are forever swimming upstream. And evidently Kugler felt he needed a bit of a transfusion on the coaching staff to regain any semblance of forward progress.

But because of injuries and general shuffling, a lot of returning Miners got experience last year. If there's actual talent involved, maybe this identity shift will take hold. With what we saw in 2014, we know that Kugler can engineer pretty significant improvement if he's got the right pieces in place. But you have to have the horses.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 0-12 | Final F/+ Rk: 125 | Final S&P+ Rk: 126
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep at Arkansas 11 13-48 L 1% 0% -11.0 -2.0
12-Sep at Texas Tech 60 20-69 L 2% 0% -28.5 -28.0
19-Sep at New Mexico State 118 50-47 W 17% 37% +4.0 +0.5
26-Sep Incarnate Word N/A 27-17 W 24% 87% -5.5
3-Oct UTSA 111 6-25 L 15% 24% -2.0 -16.0
10-Oct at Florida International 112 12-52 L 0% 0% -25.9 -25.5
24-Oct Florida Atlantic 96 27-17 W 27% 42% +28.5 +16.0
31-Oct at Southern Miss 56 13-34 L 10% 1% +9.6 +3.5
6-Nov Rice 123 24-21 W 21% 41% +8.7 +10.0
14-Nov at Old Dominion 117 21-31 L 15% 23% +1.8 -5.5
21-Nov Louisiana Tech 57 15-17 L 30% 19% +25.3 +22.5
28-Nov at North Texas 126 20-17 W 34% 88% +4.3 +5.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 18.0 118 40.4 122
Points Per Game 20.7 112 32.9 98

2. One side of the ball improved, at least

As with North Texas, if you're going to have a bad team, you at least want to see markable progress. UTEP had that. The Miners' offense never came around, but after fielding probably the worst defense in FBS over the first half of the season, UTEP turned things around on that side of the ball.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 6 games): 10% (average score: Opp 43, UTEP 21)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 6 games): 23% (average score: Opp 23, UTEP 20)

UTEP allowed 59 points per game and 9.2 yards per play to Arkansas and Texas Tech, then allowed 32 and 7.3, respectively, to NMSU and Incarnate Word. And after a steady defensive performance against UTSA, the Miners got pantsed by a rather mediocre FIU offense: 52 points and 518 yards in just 53 snaps (9.8 per play).

As the season wore on, however, the run defense developed from a non-weakness into an outright strength. The pass defense was another story -- UTEP allowed a passer rating below 130 just three times all season, gave up 13 touchdown passes to just two interceptions over the final seven games, and gave up a disturbing 50 passes of 20-plus yards (105th in FBS) -- but quality run defense at least leveraged opponents into more frequent passing downs.

Still, Kugler felt the need to change things up a bit on both sides of the ball. Sometimes that works out well.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.25 70 IsoPPP+ 77.2 120
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 36.8% 110 Succ. Rt. + 75.3 127
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.0 70 Def. FP+ 31.6 105
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.8 113 Redzone S&P+ 78.3 125
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 26.6 ACTUAL 23 -3.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 107 122 127 120
RUSHING 97 125 128 124
PASSING 94 120 119 116
Standard Downs 125 123 124
Passing Downs 115 126 106
Q1 Rk 125 1st Down Rk 122
Q2 Rk 120 2nd Down Rk 125
Q3 Rk 127 3rd Down Rk 128
Q4 Rk 112

3. Hello again, Brent Pease

Brent Pease has lived a remarkable football life. A starting quarterback at Montana in 1986, he bounced around the NFL and World League of American Football through 1993, then got his first big coaching gig in 1996 as his alma mater's offensive coordinator. He got air raid experience as Guy Morriss' offensive coordinator at Kentucky in 2001-02, then followed Morriss to Baylor for three seasons.

After Morriss' flame-out in Waco, Pease found his way to Boise, where he served as a Chris Petersen assistant for a number of years. He eventually got back to the coordinator chair in 2011, and with senior Kellen Moore at quarterback, he helped the Broncos to a 12-1 campaign.

Pease's stock was sky-high at that point, and in 2012, Will Muschamp brought him to Florida to replace Charlie Weis as coordinator. And then things took a bit of a left turn. He was asked to run a rather staid, conservative, risk-free offense, and while it produced just enough for Florida to win 11 games in 2012, the joy and technical, tactical prowess of the Boise State days disappeared. And in 2013, so did the wins.

After getting dismissed by Muschamp following 2013, Pease landed again with Petersen. He spent the last two years as Petersen's receivers coach at Washington, and now he gets another shot at play-calling. Pease has air raid experience and slow-down, ground-and-pound experience on the résumé. The latter seems more like Kugler's modus operandi, but the former has been more prolific (and aesthetically pleasing). We'll see how he crafts his first UTEP attack, but the good news is that the bar is really, really low. UTEP's offense never had a chance in 2015.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Mack Leftwich 5'10, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7583 105 192 1228 9 3 54.7% 4 2.0% 6.2
Ryan Metz 6'4, 205 So. 2 stars (5.2) 82 140 900 6 7 58.6% 3 2.1% 6.2
Kavika Johnson 6'1, 205 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826 27 53 218 3 0 50.9% 5 8.6% 3.0
Mark Torrez 6'0, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7700

4. Quantity? Check. Star power? Maybe.

Due to both injuries and the shuffling associated with ineffectiveness, a lot of UTEP offensive players got experience last season. That's good in that Pease has a large quantity of samples to sort through -- two returning quarterbacks attempted at least 50 passes, four returning running backs carried at least 20 times, five receivers and tight ends were targeted by at least 30 passes, and six returning linemen started at least four games.

This year, we find out if any of these players actually have talent. Kugler was confident enough in this group that he didn't go out and load up on JUCOs to replenish the stock.

If Aaron Jones can stay healthy, the Miners should have at least one sure star. The senior posted some breakout performances in 2014 (237 yards against New Mexico, 177 against North Texas, 168 against NMSU) and torched Texas Tech's admittedly wretched run defense for 139 yards in just 17 carries early in 2015. But he injured his ankle late in the second quarter of that game and was lost for the season.

UTEP was already struggling to throw the ball by that point, and without Jones, the wheels came off at every level of the offense. But if Jones can perform a go-to role, then slot receivers Jaquan White and Warren Redix could find a little more room on the perimeter, and play-action threat Tyler Batson (18.6 yards per catch) could play a more threatening role. And between sophomore Treyvon Hughes and three interesting freshman signees, it's possible a solid backup emerges to make sure Jones isn't carrying too much of the load.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Jeremiah Laufasa RB 101 378 1 3.7 2.2 34.7% 1 0
Kavika Johnson QB 6'1, 205 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826 68 252 1 3.7 3.0 33.8% 6 4
LaQuintus Dowell RB 63 279 2 4.4 3.8 39.7% 1 1
Darrin Laufasa FB 6'1, 250 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7752 34 183 1 5.4 6.4 35.3% 1 0
Aaron Jones RB 5'10, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8094 32 209 1 6.5 9.2 40.6% 0 0
Ryan Metz QB 6'4, 205 So. 2 stars (5.2) NR 29 138 1 4.8 2.3 44.8% 0 0
Treyvon Hughes RB 6'1, 225 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8433 25 67 0 2.7 5.9 20.0% 0 0
Warren Redix WR 5'10, 185 So. 2 stars 0.7000 23 136 0 5.9 4.4 47.8% 2 1
TK Powell RB 5'11, 190 So. NR NR 20 136 0 6.8 8.8 40.0% 0 0
Mack Leftwich QB 5'10, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7583 14 64 0 4.6 2.2 42.9% 2 1
Kristopher Christian FB 5'11, 240 So. NR NR
Antonio Dupree RB 5'11, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8210
Quardraiz Wadley RB 6'0, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8074
Walter Dawn RB 5'6, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7948

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Jaquan White SLOT 5'11, 200 Sr. NR NR 65 41 494 63.1% 17.7% 7.6 53.8% 46.2% 1.58
Hayden Plinke TE 6'4, 255 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7819 64 37 410 57.8% 17.4% 6.4 53.1% 45.3% 1.28
Warren Redix SLOT 5'10, 185 So. 2 stars 0.7000 43 29 202 67.4% 11.7% 4.7 58.1% 32.6% 1.32
Tyler Batson WR-X 6'2, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719 42 21 390 50.0% 11.4% 9.3 59.5% 40.5% 2.14
Autrey Golden WR-Z 42 20 165 47.6% 11.4% 3.9 52.4% 26.2% 1.42
Cole Freytag WR-Z 6'2, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 31 14 257 45.2% 8.4% 8.3 67.7% 38.7% 2.11
Jeremiah Laufasa RB 23 14 130 60.9% 6.3% 5.7 39.1% 26.1% 1.85
Cedrick Lang TE 18 11 72 61.1% 4.9% 4.0 55.6% 44.4% 0.77
Darrin Laufasa FB 6'1, 250 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7752 16 10 91 62.5% 4.3% 5.7 50.0% 50.0% 1.05
Aaron Jones RB 5'10, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8094 10 9 106 90.0% 2.7% 10.6 40.0% 50.0% 2.00
Cole Ford TE 6'4, 245 So. 2 stars 0.7583 7 3 13 42.9% 1.9% 1.9 42.9% 14.3% 1.12
Sloan Spiller FB
3 2 10 66.7% 0.8% 3.3 100.0% 66.7% 0.35
Sterling Napier TE 6'4, 255 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7519
Terry Juniel WR 5'10, 170 So. 2 stars 0.7483
Richie Rodriguez WR 5'9, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7806








5. Experience where it counts the most

We're learning that the quarterback position, receiving corps, and defensive backfield most desperately need experience to succeed. UTEP basically went 0-for-3 in that department last year. Injuries and attrition laid waste to the secondary, and UTEP's QBs were almost totally lacking in experience heading into 2015.

This year, all three of these units are stocked with experience. Mack Leftwich is back after battling through two different injuries in the fall, the secondary gets last year's starters back plus a key 2014 contributor, and five of last year's top six receivers are also back. Plus, Terry Juniel, a JUCO transfer who missed 2015 because of a preseason injury, could play a role -- he averaged nearly 15 yards per catch and thrived in the return game at Glendale Community College.

Star power would certainly be a bonus, but after ranking a miserable 120th in Passing S&P+ last season, one could certainly see Leftwich and company developing a bit more of a rhythm this year, especially if Pease has a good read on his personnel and, of course, if Jones remains on the field.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 84 2.79 2.7 36.4% 75.7% 22.4% 245.8 1.7% 2.6%
Rank 122 78 107 94 18 103 7 9 4
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Will Hernandez LG 6'3, 340 Jr. NR NR 12 25
Eric Lee C 12 25
Jerome Daniels LT 6'3, 305 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 11 25
Derek Elmendorff RG 6'3, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7585 8 19
Chris Thomas LT 6'4, 300 Sr. NR 0.7000 7 8
John De La Rosa RT 6'6, 325 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 6 6
Anthony Kyles RG 6'3, 305 Sr. NR NR 4 4
Josh Silvas LG 0 0
Erik Ramirez C 6'3, 285 Jr. NR NR 0 0
Jerrod Brooks LT 6'5, 330 So. 2 stars 0.7000 0 0
Derron Gatewood OL 6'3, 315 So. 2 stars 0.7000 0 0
Tanner Stallings OL 6'1, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7678


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.56 127 IsoPPP+ 83.9 118
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.7% 54 Succ. Rt. + 96.4 75
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 27.4 116 Off. FP+ 25.6 125
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.7 95 Redzone S&P+ 87.8 112
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 15.6 ACTUAL 12.0 -3.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 94 104 75 118
RUSHING 54 71 41 94
PASSING 111 119 109 121
Standard Downs 107 86 116
Passing Downs 102 71 114
Q1 Rk 122 1st Down Rk 103
Q2 Rk 112 2nd Down Rk 119
Q3 Rk 112 3rd Down Rk 107
Q4 Rk 27

6. Life after a collapse

When last year's UTEP preview went up, Miner fans were quick to tell me on Twitter how excited they were about their defense. I was a little bit uneasy about the turnover in the secondary (and I hadn't yet begun to draw such strong correlations between defensive success and DB experience), but it was easy to see reasons to be excited about the defensive front. It looked like the run defense could improve quite a bit with the return of players like Nick Usher and Roy Robertson-Harris at defensive end, and linebacker Alvin Jones was coming off of an outstanding freshman campaign.

Sure enough, the run defense improved. There were still some issues with big plays, but UTEP ranked 41st in Rushing Success Rate+ (an opponent-adjusted efficiency measure), Usher and Robertson-Harris combined for 17.5 tackles for loss, and Jones was one of the best linebackers in Conference USA.

The problem: opponents didn't have to run. They knew they could pass whenever they wanted to. Thanks to a preseason injury to Devin Cockrell, the Miners ended up having to replace six of their top seven DBs from 2014, and it showed. Three freshmen led the way in the secondary (or tried to, at least), and the pass rush couldn't take enough pressure off of them. Everything fell apart.

As mentioned, though, it did get better. The defense gelled at least a little bit, and new coordinator Tom Mason might have the right buttons to push this fall.

Mason's style is quite a bit different than what UTEP utilized in recent years. His Hawaii and SMU defenses were extreme bend-don't-break attacks; his hope is to take advantage of a disruptive line and make sure most of his back seven is able to form a cloud and flow to the ball. If you've got the guys up front to pull that off (like Ja'Gared Davis and Margus Hunt, whom he coached at SMU), it can work wonderfully.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 101.6 2.90 2.75 33.4% 66.7% 20.7% 86.2 4.0% 8.2%
Rank 53 70 25 15 69 51 88 98 49
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Roy Robertson-Harris DE 12 39.0 7.0% 7.5 2.5 0 4 0 0
Nick Usher DE 6'3, 235 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7785 12 36.5 6.6% 10.0 3.5 0 0 1 0
Sky Logan DT 6'2, 285 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7583 10 23.0 4.1% 5.0 3.0 0 1 1 0
Gino Bresolin NT 6'2, 290 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7478 12 19.0 3.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Silas Firstley DE 6'0, 265 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 12 15.5 2.8% 4.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Lawrence Montegut DE 6'1, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893 11 10.0 1.8% 3.0 2.0 0 1 1 0
Alex Villarreal DT 11 7.5 1.3% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Brian Madunezim DT 6'3, 275 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 8 3.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Luke Elsner DE 6'3, 260 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 3 2.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Christian Harper NT 6'4, 290 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7785 12 1.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Keith Sullivan DE 6'7, 255 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8217
Tiano Tialavea DT 6'3, 350 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826
Josh Ortega DT 6'2, 275 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7644
Christian Johnson DE 6'2, 255 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Alvin Jones WLB 5'11, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7300 12 70.5 12.7% 14.5 6.5 0 0 0 0
Jimmy Musgrave MLB 12 42.5 7.6% 7.5 2.0 0 1 1 0
Trey Brown WLB 12 18.0 3.2% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cooper Foster MLB 6'1, 210 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 12 3.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Leasau LB 5'11, 220 Sr. NR NR 12 1.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Justen Tatum LB 6'1, 250 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859
Stephen Forester LB 6'1, 230 RSFr. 2 stars 0.7000
Kolbi McGary LB 6'0, 205 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826








7. A legitimately sound run defense

Granted, Robertson-Harris is out of eligibility, as are the two other linebackers who shared the field with Jones in 2015. But Mason's got some exciting players to deploy. Jones could be the perfect tackling machine for a bend-don't-break attack, and four different returning linemen recorded at least three tackles for loss last fall. Usher's got the kind of attacking presence that Mason so desperately needs, and tackles Sky Logan and Gino Bresolin should be able to hold their own in the middle.

Mason could use another decent pass rusher (perhaps end Lawrence Montegut?), and tackle depth would get a serious boost if massive incoming freshman Tiano Tialavea were ready to contribute right away. But in theory, there's enough here to suggest that run defense will once again be a UTEP strength in 2016.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Devin Cockrell
(2014)
FS 5'11, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 13 44.5 7.8% 7 2 1 2 0 0
Kalon Beverly CB 6'1, 175 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8081 11 33.5 6.0% 0 0 1 2 0 0
Michael Lewis WS 5'11, 170 So. 2 stars 0.7400 12 32.0 5.7% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Nik Needham CB 5'11, 185 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7867 11 31.5 5.7% 2 0.5 1 5 0 0
Dashone Smith FS 6'0, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8000 12 30.5 5.5% 1.5 0 1 0 0 0
Ishmael Harrison SS 10 29.0 5.2% 3 0 0 6 0 0
Kelvin Fisher Jr. FS 11 26.0 4.7% 0 0 1 4 0 0
Traun Roberson CB 10 21.0 3.8% 1 0 1 4 0 0
Da'Carlos Renfro CB 10 16.0 2.9% 0 0 0 7 0 0
Mookie Carlile WS 6'1, 200 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7619 12 11.0 2.0% 0.5 0 0 1 0 0
Adrian Hynson SS 5'10, 185 So. 2 stars 0.7500 11 9.0 1.6% 1 1 0 0 0 0
Trent Trammell CB 3 6.0 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Leon Hayes DB 5'10, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7698 12 3.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
LaQuintus Dowell SS 9 2.0 0.4% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Moss CB 6'3, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000
Joseph Pickney DB 6'0, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7956








Broderick Harrell DB 5'11, 195 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7700








8. Freshmen become sophomores

You don't need advanced stats to tell you that a secondary led by three freshmen probably isn't going to be very good. Not only did UTEP lose Cockrell before the season began, but of the 10 DBs who averaged at least 0.8 tackles per game last year, only three actually played in all 12 games. Injuries were a plague, and the result was obvious: UTEP's pass defense was every bit as bad as its pass offense.

Injuries heal, however, and young players become experienced players. Cockrell should be healthy, and a fivesome of sophomores -- corners Kalon Beverly and Nik Needham, safeties Michael Lewis, Mookie Carlile and Adrian Hynson -- are now through with being thrown into the fire. Quite a few other contributors are gone, but if the injury bug stops biting for a while, UTEP's secondary will at least improve. It might not be great, but it won't be as much of a weakness. That's something, right?

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Alan Luna 6'0, 190 So. 65 44.4 8 6 12 27.7%
Mack Leftwich 5'10, 190 Jr. 4 29.5 0 0 3 75.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Jay Mattox 6'0, 185 Sr. 55 63.9 31 0 56.4%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Jay Mattox 6'0, 185 Sr. 23-24 11-12 91.7% 4-7 57.1%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Autrey Golden KR 31 20.7 0
Warren Redix KR 5'10, 185 So. 3 19.0 0
Jaquan White PR 5'11, 200 Sr. 8 15.5 1
Daniel Siller PR 5 -1.6 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 59
Field Goal Efficiency 43
Punt Return Success Rate 83
Kick Return Success Rate 62
Punt Success Rate 113
Kickoff Success Rate 27

9. Big, long, returnable punts

I've taken to looking at special teams efficiency -- the consistency of quality -- instead of averages, and these two measures tell two completely different tales about UTEP's punting game in 2015. As a freshman, Alan Luna averaged 44.4 yards per punt, 17th in the country. But very few of his punts resulted in fair catches, and few were downed inside the 40. In other words, he kicked a pretty returnable ball. UTEP opponents got 29 return attempts (only eight teams gave their opponents more chances) and averaged 9.3 yards per return (82nd in FBS). So big Luna punts often resulted in mediocre net yardage.

Being that punting was pretty important to UTEP in 2015, this was not very good. Still, special teams weren't nearly as much of a weakness for the Miners as offense and defense were, and if Luna is able to get a little bit more hang time and Jay Mattox continues to make every kick under 40 yards, then this will be a solid unit.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep New Mexico State 117 0.0 50%
10-Sep at Texas 34 -29.6 4%
17-Sep Army 124 2.0 55%
24-Sep Southern Miss 72 -14.3 20%
1-Oct at Louisiana Tech 84 -17.9 15%
8-Oct Florida International 113 -0.8 48%
22-Oct at UTSA 116 -7.3 34%
29-Oct Old Dominion 111 -1.8 46%
5-Nov Houston Baptist NR 29.9 96%
12-Nov at Florida Atlantic 100 -12.7 23%
19-Nov at Rice 119 -7.0 34%
26-Nov North Texas 128 4.4 60%
Projected wins: 4.9
Five-Year F/+ Rk -34.8% (122)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 122 / 125
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -11 / -11.0
2015 TO Luck/Game +0.0
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 73% (89%, 56%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 3.6 (1.4)

10. You almost couldn't draw up an easier schedule

UTEP was likely to regress in 2015 because of inexperience alone. When the injury bug turned cruel, it derailed any opportunity the Miners had of putting an impressive product on the field.

The Miners still finished 5-7, however, because of an impossibly easy schedule. They played eight opponents that ranked 90th or worse and went 5-3 against said opponents, winning all three one-possession games in the sample.

This year's schedule is even more ridiculous. Texas is the only opponent on the docket projected better than 72nd, and nine opponents are projected 100th or worse. Nine!

The bottom portion of Conference USA is pretty awful at the moment, and that could mean win opportunities. S&P+ projects UTEP 126th and still suggests that four to five wins are likely. If a healthier UTEP squad is able to work back into the 90-100 range, the Miners could go 8-4 or better.

It's not UTEP's fault the schedule is so bad, and the Miners could take advantage. In Aaron Jones and Alvin Jones, they have legitimate stars on both sides of the ball. And last year's injuries might end up giving them the depth they so sorely lacked. Expect a little bit of improvement on the field and perhaps a lot of improvement in the win column.