This week the Aggie football team will travel to El Paso to take on I-10 rival UTEP. We've enlisted the help of Adrian Macias, founder and editor of MinerRush.com to give Aggie fans a look at the UTEP football team and what to expect from the Miners on Saturday.
The Miners are 1-1 on the season but after last week's loss to UTEP, you'd almost think the Miners were 0-2. What's your feeling on where the Miners are headed this season?
That's a very keen observation. The Houston loss was definitely a punch to the gut for us. We realize that many people outside El Paso didn't think much about the 2010 UTEP squad, but those of us who really follow the team knew that if he had even minimal improvement on defense it could be a very special bunch. Afterall, we have five seniors on the offensive line, the nation's second leading returning rusher, and a senior (four-year starter) quarterback. Most Miner fans knew the new defense would need some time to gel, but we definitely expected a shoot-out. Losing Donald Buckram for that game, and the fact that it got so lopsided at the end, was very deflating. Of course we also lost arguably our best defensive player, Braxton Amy, with a torn ACL too. It was about as awful a start to the season as we could have planned on.
That said, the offense is moving the ball. We're seeing some of the new guys on defense show signs of talent (notably Travaun Nixon at CB) and the schedule sets up in a way that should allow the defense some time to come together. I think UTEP should pull of a string of wins in the coming weeks. If the Miners get by NMSU, and Buckram looks healthy in his return, we can move past the sting of the Houston loss.
The UTEP running game has suffered a bit (particularly last week) with the absence Donald Buckram. It appears that he'll suit up and play this Saturday against the Aggies, how much does his return (even in not fully healthy) impact the UTEP offense?
His presence can't be understated. Not only does UTEP desperately miss his nose for the end zone rushing, but people also forget how big a part of the passing game he was last season (30 receptions, 453 yards, 3 TD's). He's the star. And, I think his presence will give everybody on the team more confidence on gameday.
The UTEP defense ditched the 3-3-5 (and the defensive coordinator) in favor of the more traditional 4-3 defense. Last week's performance against a very good Houston offense notwithstanding, how do you feel the Miners have adjusted to returning to the 4-3?
It's hard to say at this point because we have only played an FCS squad and the nation's likely #1 offense in Houston. UTEP is very young and undersized along the defensive line. In two games, the defense only has four tackles for loss and one sack. The secondary is adjusting to playing more zone coverage.
So, it hasn't been good so far. But, I'll take this 4-3 over Osia Lewis' 3-3-5 any day of the week. I think the 3-3-5 is undoubtedly the worst defensive scheme in college football. After NMSU, Memphis, and UNM, we'll be able to make a more educated assessment of how this squad is handling the transition.
UTEP suffered a couple of devastating injuries in last week's game against Houston losing safety Braxton Amy and cornerback Traun Roberson. Who will step in to fill those spots and who else should Aggie fans be aware of on UTEP's defense?
The coaches have made the unusual step of closing practice this week so I think the starting safety might be a surprise to all of us. I think you can expect to see Wiston Jeune and Brandon Miller combine to replace Braxton Amy. DeShawn Grayson was a Freshman All-CUSA selection last season who will have to step up and assume a leadership role back there now. He's a good hitter with a nose for the ball. Coach Price has discussed moving Travaun Nixon from cornerback to safety too, but I really hope he doesn't do that. Nixon is our best cover corner and is also solid in run support. I think if he stays at corner he'll have a chance to be all-conference there.
Assuming Donald Buckram will play in the game and nothing happens to quarterback Trevor Vittatoe in practice between now and Saturday, who are some other players to watch for on offense for the Miners?
The obvious answer is Kris Adams. He's a big wide receiver who had a monster sophomore campaign (50/958/14 TD's). Last season, with the emergence of Donald Buckram, his numbers declined. But this season, now that he's replaced Jeff Moturi as the team's #1 receiver, he's regained his sophomore form and then some. He's averaging over 18 yards a catch so far and I fully expect him to have a 1,000 yard receiving season.
Also, watch out for receiver/return man Marlon McClure. He might be the fastest guy on the team. I know this is said way too often in sports, but he really is a threat to score every time he gets the ball. He will have a return or two for a touchdown this season.
Who is one player on offense and defense who may not be household names (for Aggie fans or UTEP fans for that matter) that could have big games against the Aggies?
On defense, I'm going to go with Bernard Obi. He's UTEP's best pass rusher and he's been very quiet so far this season. I think he's ready to have a breakout performance and hopefully the defense will rally behind him.
On offense, you have to watch out for Kevin Perry. He's a redshirt freshman at tight end. Injuries to seniors Jonny Moore and Elijah Goldtrap have given Perry an opportunity to get significant playing time early. He's 6'5 and 250 and is very athletic.
Who is one player on offense and defense for the Aggies that worries you as a Miner fan?
On offense, I hate to go with the QB but you are always afraid of the unknown. Matt Christian, from everything I've read, showed some real signs of life. It may have been an up and down offensive performance for the Aggies in Week 1, but he definitely appears to be more of a threat then Jeff Fleming was last season. From what I've read on your new OC, I think we can expect a lot more innovation from the NMSU offense.
On defense, I think most Miner fans are most familiar with Davon House and for good reason. He'll have a legitimate chance to make an NFL roster next season. Kris Adams and him are going to have a nice battle on Saturday.
What can Aggie fans expect to see from the Miner offense when they have the ball?
Hopefully, a lot of running plays. If Donald is back, UTEP's 1-back offense has been revamped to feature him as much as possible. Expect to see more play-action and Vittatoe under center a majority of the time. If he's out, and UTEP has to rely on the pass, expect some wide receiver screens but Vittatoe likes to throw down field. UTEP's offensive line has only given up one sack this season.
What can Aggie fans expect to see from the Miner defense when the Aggies have the ball?
Hopefully, a pass rush! The 4-3 so far has been very vanilla. The Miners really didn't show any aggressive blitz schemes against Houston. UTEP has talent at linebacker, but the youth and lack of size along the line has spread them very thin so far in 2010.
What needs to happen for the Miners to come away with the victory in the Sun Bowl on Saturday night?
If UTEP plays disciplined football, I think they will win. In the red zone last week, the Miners left two touchdowns on the field due mostly to penalties and missed a 22 yard field goal. I have no doubt that UTEP will move the ball, but the offense is going to have to take advantage of scoring opportunities when they get them because right now the defense is very much a liability.
What needs to happen for the Aggies to haul the Silver Spade and Brass Spittoon back to Las Cruces on Saturday night?
NMSU is going to have to keep pace. I don't doubt that Kenny Turner can have a big game rushing the ball. Houston showed that to beat UTEP you might only need to spread the defense out and attack the middle of the 4-3. If the Aggies can control the clock and run the ball well, it will keep UTEP's offense off the field and wear down our young defense.
I have to go UTEP 38, NMSU 21. I think Buckram comes back and runs like a man possessed.