Game Preview: Texas Longhorns v. UTEP Miners

September 26, 2009
2:30 p.m. Central
FSN

Last week, the ‘Horns escaped with a critical redemption win against Mike Leach’s Red Raiders in Austin, winning the game 34-24. “Escaped” because the offense didn’t play great in the first half, but the defense continued its dominance despite giving up 420 yards to the Red Raiders passing attack.

It was confirmed that Texas QB Colt McCoy had the flu earlier in the game week, and that could have affected his slow start, but unfortunately, Eyes Of TX sees the flat-footed offensive output as one aspect of Texas’ game this year that has been consistent. To their credit, the ‘Horns picked it up in the second half, as they did against both Louisiana-Monroe and Wyoming, but they need to fix this before seeing the likes of ou and Oklahoma State later this season. To Tech’s credit, junior QB Taylor Potts looks fantastic – he was spot on against Texas, and looks to have absolute command of the offense – expect see hear more on Potts, as every Big 12 writer in drooling over his capabilities. The play of the Tech game was, no doubt, Texas DE Sergio Kindle’s sack of Tech QB Taylor Potts in the 4th quarter which has been the center of controversy this week among football pundits and Leach who has officially complained to the NCAA. To be clear, there was no penalty on the play for a helmet-to-helmet hit, and it looks as though Kindle’s helmet hits Potts’ shoulder pads first.

All in all, another good win for the ‘Horns in week three, and they maintain their #2 ranking in the latest USA Today polls. On the national scene, while #1 Florida won a battle with unranked Tennessee, they looked unimpressive doing so, and combined with former #3 USC’s loss to Washington, there was some re-shuffling in the top five this week. Alabama has moved up to the #3 spot, Penn State continues to quietly creep up the standings at #4, and former Texas QB Jevan Snead couldn’t will his #5 Ole Miss Rebels to a win against South Carolina on Thursday night, so his Heisman campaign and the Rebels top 10 ranking are all but over, and Cal might creep in to the #5 spot if they win this weekend.

Let’s get in to this week’s match-up of the Longhorns and Miners.

This Week
Eyes Of TX’s Prediction
Texas 49, UTEP 13

University of Texas-El Paso (UTEP) Miners (1-2)
While UTEP gave Texas an early run for its money last year in El Paso, this year figures to play out differently. Coach Mike Price and the Miners have struggled early this season with losses to Buffalo and Kansas, before beating New Mexico State last week for their first win. In Austin, with the defense playing at an extremely high level, Eyes Of TX doesn’t see this game being competitive. Then again, if the Texas offense stalls for a half of football again, anything can happen.

Quarterback Trevor Vittatoe returns for the Miners, but his 2008 numbers have not. He’s a solid athlete, with both running and passing ability, although it’s nothing spectacular. This year, however, he hasn’t seemed to click offensively, as he’s only completed 55 percent of his 102 pass attempts for 602 yards for one TD and one INT. He seems to be running the ball less this year as well, accounting for just 40 yards through three games. Those just aren’t the offensive numbers you want your QB putting up for your team. At wideout, he has talent in Jeff Moturi and Kris Adams, but they have generally been as unproductive as their QB. Moturi is the smaller, faster wideout who will sacrifice his body over the middle of the field, and Adams is the deep threat and leads the team with 13 catches for 117 yards and no TDs. UTEP seems to try and utilize their running game to set up the passing game, but running back Donald Buckram has been largely ineffective with exception of New Mexico State game when he rushed for 113 yards and two TDs. The problem is the offensive line for the Miners, which has allowed nine sacks in three games and is only allowing the running game to average 3.6 yards per carry. Sounds like the anemic Texas running game of “old.” Coach Price will probably try to spread out the Texas defense and attack the sidelines consistently to set up the run, as the Texas front seven just won’t budge. Expect to see a lot screen passes and hot routes, or Vittatoe rolling out, to try and combat the constant pressure from the Texas defensive line.

On defense, the Miners run a 3-3-5 scheme, which puts more speed on the field and allows them to attack the line of scrimmage with their linebackers. Last year, UTEP’s consistent blitz threw off the Texas offensive line in the first half before they adjusted. Nothing has changed this year, the Miners still blitz more than any team Texas will face all season, with the exception that this year they’re not getting the production in sacks or tackles for loss. The defensive line is small up front, although defensive end Aaron King is their top threat – he’s accounted for three of the team’s four sacks on the season, including two tackles tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and 13 tackles total. If they get pressure on the quarterback with their blitzes, the secondary is capable of takeaways, tallying three INTs and six pass break-ups. The linebackers will need to be more productive this week, however, or else the Miners secondary will be picked apart by McCoy and Co.

The UTEP special teams is decent, although their biggest deficit is kick coverage. They give up 23 yards per return on kick-offs, and 12 yards per return on punts, meaning opposing teams have typically started with excellent field position.

#2 Texas Longhorns (3-0)
Overall, the Longhorns need to make sure they don’t overlook this game. There is no way the Miners should compete with the ‘Horns, but with another slow start or a focus on next week’s bye week could create some early tension on Saturday.

With McCoy healthy again, we’ll see if he can return to 2008 form, and he seems to have found a new favorite target in flex wideout Dan Buckner, which takes some of the pressure off of Jordan Shipley to be the go-to wideout. In addition, John Chiles and James Kirkendoll have proved solid in various games this week, and fans saw a bit more of the “Wildcat” offense with Chiles taking some snaps last week – although they’ll need to let Chiles throw the ball from time-to-time make to give opposing defenses something to think about when he lines up in the backfield. The running games seems to have found some stability with Tre Newton, and based on his experience in the Southlake Carroll spread offense, Eyes Of TX likes his ability to pick up the blitz, catch the ball out of the backfield, and run north-south. This week, Texas needs the running game to run downhill via the I-formation, as the zone-read could seriously be disrupted by UTEP’s consistent blitz and the running backs starting flat-footed. And, believe it or not, running back Fozzy Whittaker might have recovered from his knee injury enough to play a bit this weekend – can he stay healthy?

Expect the defense to absolutely dominate the Miners offense, as Kindle, defensive tackle Lamarr Houston and linebacker Rodderick Muckelory should be living in the backfield and creating misery for Price’s offense. They need to play smart, not over-pursue, and have the secondary shed blocks to make tackles on screens and the edge.

From a special teams perspective, anything is possible with Shipley back returning punts, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some more fireworks there this week.

Overall, if the ‘Horns focus, they’ll get a well-deserved mid-season bye week next Saturday (during Austin City Limits Festival in Austin) to heal some injuries and continue to tweak and fix those minor issues leading in to Big 12 play against Colorado on October 10.

Pre-game Resources
2009 Texas Longhorns Roster
2009 UTEP Miners Roster
University Co-op Gameday Newsletter / Pod casts

Hook ‘em!

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Filed under Big 12, Conference USA, Longhorns, Miners, NCAA Football

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