New Mexico heads down to El Paso to take on former WAC member, and yes current rival, UTEP this Saturday night. This is UTEP's first game of the year so they are still bit of an unknown in this situation. So, to get to know the Miners better we reached out to SB Nation's excellent UTEP site, Miner Rush to help us out.
1. How big is the hype surrounding Texas A&M transfer quarterback Jameill Showers, and what are his expectations?
I think as a whole the team and fan base are excited about what Showers brings to the table. There's no question the kid has a ton of talent. At the same time, most are cautiously optimistic considering he hasn't really seen a ton of action since high school. As far as expectations go, its hard to say exactly, but most feel his ceiling is extremely high. He's got a veteran offensive line in front of him, a stable of talented running backs, a handful of capable wide receivers, and a scheme that should fit him well. The question here is really how quickly the offense can put it all together. No matter what though, he brings stability at the position that the Miners haven't seen in a couple of years.
2. What is new head coach Sean Kugler implementing into the UTEP program to improve off of last year's teams performance.
Coach Kugler, along with his entire coaching staff, is implementing completely new schemes, as well as a new philosophy. Mike Price was a real player's coach, while Kugler is a disciplinarian, and expects a lot of his players both on and off the field. Offensively, the Miners now feature a two back set, which is a complete change from the Mike Price years, but should fit well. Defensively, the team makes the switch from a 3-4 base to a 4-2-5, which could be tough for a defensive secondary with a lot of young players. Overall though, I'd say its the discipline that will make the most difference, regardless of the schemes the team runs.
3. This is UTEP's first game, so what are the teams expectations this year?
I think most feel that 5 wins for a team with a new coaching staff, that has replace quite a bit from their 2012 self, and that is implementing completely new schemes on both sides of the ball is a realistic expectation. However, looking at the Miners' schedule, a 6 or 7 win season (maybe better) is completely possible. The Miners open with very winnable games against UNM, NMSU, and UTSA. Even the three after that are potentially winnable, as are a couple more in the second half of the season. Of course, its easy to look at things on paper and make a prediction, but its impossible to say how things will actually play out on the field. All that said, if this team can get going in the opening weeks, a bowl game will certainly be within reach.
4. Who are key players on this UTEP defense?
On the line, seniors Germard Reed and Marcus Bagley will be two to look out for. They'll be the leaders up front, and will need to play well this season to help sure a rush defense that's been pretty bad in recent years. At linebacker, look for junior Anthony Puente to have a breakout year, and senior Horace Miller (a converted defensive end) could turn out to be a big time playmaker as well. In the secondary, safety Richard Spencer is the wildcard. He was arguably the defense's best player a year ago before his season was cut short because of a knee injury at Wisconsin. If he can return to form, and stay healthy, he'll be a huge asset to group that's fairly inexperienced.
5. Does the UTEP community feel that New Mexico is still a rival despite that they don't play every year?
Definitely. I would say that as the years go on, the younger generation starts to get a bit separated from what used to be. But, as a whole, this community remembers the good ol days of the old WAC. There's no question that every time the Miners square off against any old WAC foe, especially one like New Mexico, the fan base sees it as a rivalry game.
6. New Mexico has the capability to run the ball very well with quarterback Cole Gautsche and running back Kasey Carrier, does UTEP have a solid enough defense to force New Mexico to throw?
That's still yet to be seen. The talent is definitely there, but the defense at this point is really a big question mark. If history is any indicator, then this team might have issues shutting down the rush. At the same time, the Miners have always had the most trouble with good rushing teams, who can also throw the ball. The Lobos seem extremely one dimensional, and that might actually turn out to be benefit us. I would say that our defense is strongest, and most experienced in the front seven, so if we can load the box without worrying about giving up the big pass play, we may be able to at the least contain New Mexico's rush game, much like UTSA did.
7. Who wins this game and why?
In my opinion, the Miners win this one. I actually think we're going to come out a bit sluggish, simply because we haven't gotten those opening game jitters out, but I do think our offense will get things going within a couple possessions, and I also think our defense can be relatively successful against New Mexico's offense. Its coach Kugler's first game, the fan base should be pumped, and we've seemed to have the Lobos number in recent years. Miners in a close one, 31-27.