Thanks to Anthony Salom from SB Nation’s Miner Rush for joining MGN in a little Q&A in anticipation for this week’s matchup with UTEP
Mean Green Nation: Since Jameill Showers has gone down, you guys have only scored 14 points. Can a Blaire Sullivan-led offense put some points up now that he’s had a few weeks as the guy or will we see Garret Simpson?
MinerRush: To be completely honest, I’m not sure. But I don’t put it on Blaire Sullivan. He obviously didn’t have a very good game at Texas A&M, but he has shown his abilities in his time under center. After Showers went down against Rice, he went 6-9 for 112 yards and a score. In 2012 he showed some flashes as well, especially when he filled in late against Houston. The Miners went down 45-7 in that game, and Sullivan engineered four straight scoring drives to get them to within 45-35 with still 4:30 to play. The kid can definitely play, but they’ve got to let him take the reigns. He’s a mobile guy that likes to move around, and he can make plays with both his arm and his feet.
However, Kugler is a guy that wants to implement his style of play, and that doesn’t allow the quarterback to improvise or make decisions on the fly. That’s the biggest problem. Our schemes are set up for a team that is a ground and pound team. Frankly, we just aren’t that. At least not yet. We’ve got a pair of extremely talented running backs, but we’ve also got a pair of just as talented wideouts that have been under utilized, as well as a quarterback who hasn’t been able to truly showcase his talents. In my opinion, all of that calls for a more balanced attack that we certainly have seen to this point on the season.
All that said, this team undoubtedly has the talent to put up points against any team in Conference USA. But, I’m not sure that the play calling, game planning, and scheming will allow them to truly reach their potential. I’d expect Sullivan to get the nod under center, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all for Garrett Simpson to get his shot, and possibly even Mack Leftwich. We’ll just have to wait and see.
MGN: UTEP is a 21 point underdog. How does a UTEP upset happen?
MR: While the final score certainly doesn’t indicate that the Miners had any chance against Texas A&M (and while they probably didn’t), there was a point early in the second quarter where the Miners were down just 9-7. To that point, the defense had forced A&M three and outs on three of four possessions, the offense was outgaining the Aggies by about 30-40 yards, and the Miners owned the time of possession 13:49 to 4:31. Now, soon after that three straight turnovers led to three Texas A&M touchdowns and the game turned into a route, but for the Miners to be successful, not only this weekend but moving forward, they will have to play like they did in the first 20 minutes or so against A&M.
That is something that we just haven’t seen on a consistent basis from this team. At times, the offense has excelled, and at others, the defense. But, outside of the second half against New Mexico State and the quarter plus against A&M, we haven’t seen them both playing well at the same time. To me, that’s what will have to happen if they are to have to a chance at picking up the win. They’ll really have to play well on both sides of the ball. Sounds like an elementary response, but it is the truth.
MGN: This season obviously hasn’t gone the way you would have liked. What is your opinion of the Sean Kugler Era thus far?
MR: I think that the fan base is kinda split with their opinions. On one side, people are writing the lack of success off as just a product of a coach’s first year. Others are extremely disappointed in the play calling, and just the lack of adjustments that seem to have been made since that start of the year. Personally, I happen to side with the latter. I do like coach Kugler, and don’t doubt that he will be a successful coach here at UTEP, but I just haven’t been satisfied with how the season has gone. There’s too much talent on this team for us to be 1-7. I understand that coach Kugler is implementing his own system and will not waiver in doing so, and I commend him for that, but I don’t feel that he’s got the pieces in play at this point to do what he wants to do. Considering that, it would be nice to see him work with what he’s got, and scheme and gameplan for each and every game that we have this year, rather than just for the future. It really sells not only the fanbase, but also a group seniors extremely short.
MGN: How excited about basketball season are you right now?
MR: I’m very excited, but also just a bit optimistic. I really feel that this league is ours for the taking, especially with the C-USA tournament being here in El Paso, but I also realize that we are thin at the guard position and will have to avoid any setbacks in the back court if we’re going to be successful. Obviously, there was the whole Hamilton situation which the entire nation heard about, and while no doubt we would have loved to have a player of his caliber helping to sure up our guard issues, this is still an extremely talented team that will be one of the best in C-USA.
John Bohannon should be a guy that is at least in consideration for first team all conference honors at season’s end. He’s a senior, and its really time for him to take control of this team. Julian Wahburn is another guy who is capable of being a first team player, and is arguably the best defender in the league. Guys like McKenzie Moore, C.J. Cooper and Cedrick Lang will play big roles for us, and newcomers like Vince Hunter, Justin Crosgile, and Matt Willms should have immediate impacts on this team. Should be fun season, and can’t wait to get it started this weekend.
MGN: UTEP opponents are averaging 6.23 yards per carry. What are the Miner’s biggest problems stopping the run? Do you think the 4-2-5 is right for CUSA opponents?
MR: I think the Miners’ inability to stop the run stems from a couple different issues. First, we’re undersized up front. We’ve got some talented guys on the line, but overall as a unit we’ve just been outmanned by some of the bigger offensive lines that we’ve faced. Second, and which ties into the new 4-2-5, we just don’t place enough guys in the box to focus on the run. The scheme places five guys in the secondary, and while one is somewhat of a rover, it puts us at a disadvantage to stop the run before it reaches the second or third level. Last, and which shouldn’t be as much of an issue at this point in the season, we’re just young. We’ve got a handful of freshman that are getting plenty of snaps in the back five, and they’re still adjusting.
As far as the 4-2-5 goes, I don’t necessarily think its a bad scheme for the long term, but I see it much like I see things on the offensive side and that is, we just don’t have the personnel in place at this point. Add to that, the fact that we only have something like 22 defensive scholarship players, and we sure don’t have a great recipe for success. I would like to see how the system works after a year or two of getting more of the players that this coaching staff is looking for, but in the short term, its just not working.
MGN: Score prediction:
MR:For some reason, I think the Miners are going to play one of their better games on Saturday. I don’t know that we come up with a win, but I don’t think its a blowout like Vegas seems to think (current line is 24 or so). I’d like to think our offense gets going a bit, and our defense builds on how they played early on last week, but UNT scores a touchdown late to put the game away. Mean Green 38, Miners 27
MGN: CUSA title game prediction: Who makes it, who hosts it, and who wins it?
MR: As far the championship game is concerned, at this point its a huge mess. After the win over Rice, North Texas is definitely in driver’s seat out of the west.They could potentially finish 7-1 and lock up the west. Rice is also in position to do the same, but because of the h2h loss, UNT obviously holds the tiebreaker. Now, if Tulane happens to win out though, Tulane would be the west champ. Again, UNT is in the driver’s seat, but there’s still a lot of football to be played.
In the east, I think Marshall is really the one that has the best opportunity to win the division. They’ve got three winnable games before finishing at home against ECU. That game will likely determine the winner of the east. However, much like the west, there’s another wildcard. Should Marshall lose one, but beat ECU, and MTSU wins out (very favorable schedule to end the season), you’d have a three way tie in the east, and no team would hold a h2h tiebreaker as each beat one of the others. In that case, who knows what tiebreaker they’d have to go to.
And, while all of the madness is completely possible, especially considering that really no one in the top five or six has created any separation from the rest, I do think that UNT and Marshall end up seeing each other in the championship game. To be quite honest though, while I know that the tiebreakers are first conference record, then h2h, then divisional, I’m not sure what it goes to after that. If it does wind up being UNT and Marshall both at 7-1 in league play, I’m not sure who would win the tiebreaker. I really think in the end, home field advantage will make the difference in the game.