We close our 2017 Review series with the absolute worst team in the league by nearly every measure. UTEP lost their head coach halfway through the season but there were signs that he checked out long before that. He likely saw the difficulty in replacing an NFL talent that was essentially the entire offense of a power-first offense.
Asked what his plan was for this year’s offense, Sean Kugler said he felt “good” about his QBs and his playmakers. If only he looked as confident as his words made it seem.
In the end the Miners went winless, which according to at least one blogger, was worse that North Texas’ 2015 beat down by Portland State because it meant a loss to New Mexico State.
UTEP’s winless season was the first since UCF in 2015 (hope!) and the first in the league since Southern Miss in 2012.
The Miners opened against future CFB Playoff entrant Oklahoma, and were dominated. Then, at home, UTEP lost to a poor Rice team handily. By the time Arizona obliterated the Miner defense in the Sun Bowl, things got so bad that offensive coordinator Brent Pease was let go.
As New Mexico State ran up the score, UTEP fans were mostly predicting when the rest of the staff would be let go, and what that would mean. Open speculation about the next head coach does not inspire. Kugler saw the writing on the wall and quite. By then, the university had to hire an Athletic Director and a football coach.
The collision of wobbly WKU and their new head coach and the New Coach bump from hiring Mike Price as interim man meant that UTEP enjoyed their only bright spot of the season in a 14-15 loss at home to the Hilltoppers.
Still, the offense had not cracked more than 21 by that point and would not again. Southern Miss blanked the Miners and only a scoop and score at North Texas saw them get into the endzone.
The rest of the season was a blur of missed opportunities and speculation. The Miners were gifted golden upset opportunities but could not capitalize upon them. The offense was simply too inept, and put in terrible positions, the defense collapsed under the pressure.
No Miner QB surpassed 50% completion — excepting Kavika Johnson’s lone completion for 38 yards — and two QBs threw six interceptions. The team barely could muster 134 yards passing a game in 2018.
Joshua Fields and Quardraiz Wadley did what they could, but the book on UTEP was simple: Load up on the run and let the ball fall incomplete when they try to pass. It worked in every game and there was no changing it. Kugler’s power run game was formidable when Aaron Jones was carrying the load. The trick plays and play-actions work much better when the home run hitter is in the backfield.
Power football is not a bad strategy per se, but a good coach has to have a variation on the attack that suits the roster. Kugler famously was unable to adapt or recruit more NFLers to his cause and the Miners football program suffered greatly. New head coach Dana Dimel spent lots of time under a man — legendary Bill Snyder — who has made a living doing more with less in a power five conference. If Dimel can approach that level of coaching ability, the Miners should see improvement.
For all the knocks on far west Texas, UTEP has produced a regular occurrence of a 6-8 win team under Mike Price and Sean Kugler. Right now, El Pasoans will take that.