El Paso, TX — With a new head coach (Sean Kugler), UTEP begins its 96th season of football versus long-time rival New Mexico. The Miners are 41-49-5 in season openers and 32-18-3 in season openers in El Paso. UTEP is opening a season in the Sun Bowl for the fifth consecutive year.
New Mexico is paying a visit to Sun Bowl Stadium for the first time since dropping a 10-6 decision to the Miners in the 2007 season opener. In the last meeting between the schools, UTEP topped UNM, 38-20, on Oct. 2, 2010 at University Stadium in Albuquerque. UTEP has a winning streak in the series for only the third time since 1970 (also 1987-89 & 1998-99). New Mexico leads the series 42-31-3, but UTEP holds a 21-15-3 edge in games played in El Paso. This is the second-longest running series in school history (76 games) next to NM State (90 games). The Miners and the Lobos were joint members of the Western Athletic Conference from 1968-98. They are scheduled to face one another on Aug. 30, 2014 in Albuquerque.
The Last Meeting
Kris Adams reeled in five catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns, and Trevor Vittatoe threw for 264 yards and three scores in UTEP’s 38-20 win at New Mexico on Oct. 2, 2010. UTEP moved to 4-1 on the season en route to an eventual New Mexico Bowl appearance. The Miners scored 24 unanswered points after the Lobos tied the game at 14 late in the first quarter. UTEP outscored New Mexico 17-0 in the second and third quarters. Vittatoe connected with Adams on scoring passes of 49 and 48 yards. He also hit Evan Davis for a 12-yard TD. The Miners compiled 435 yards of offense to the Lobos’ 237. UTEP accumulated 169 yards on the ground as Joe Banyard rushed 15 times for 90 yards. The Miner defense registered five sacks and forced three turnovers on the afternoon as Isaiah Carter led the way with nine tackles.
UTEP vs. the MWC
UTEP has played 10 games against Mountain West Conference foes since the league’s inception for the 1999 season. The Miners are 6-4 in those games, including 4-1 in the Sun Bowl (beat Colorado State in 2011; beat New Mexico in 1999, 2005 & 2007; lost to San Diego State in 2003).
While UTEP has no players from the state of New Mexico on its 2013 roster, New Mexico has 30 Texas products – including senior tight end Mat McBain, who played his prep ball at Burges High School in El Paso. Players from both schools who attended the same high school or college are: UTEP DL Adam Ayala, UTEP DL James Davidson & UNM DB Ricky Bennett (Huntsville HS); UTEP DB Jameel Erving, UTEP DB Nick Gathrite, UTEP OL Eric Lee & UNM LB Rashad Rainey (Riverside CC); UTEP DL Matthew Heard & UNM LB Jayson Gurule (NM State); UTEP RB Aaron Jones, UTEP DB Alvin Jones & UNM TE Mat McBain (Burges HS in El Paso); UTEP RB Traun Roberson & UNM WR Ridge Jones (DeSoto HS); and UTEP OL Josh Silvas, UNM OL Reno Henderson & UNM QB David Vega (New Mexico Military Institute).
UTEP Running Backs Coach Cornell Jackson served in a similar capacity at New Mexico from 2005-06. He was also the Lobos’ linebackers coach in 1995.
Six players on this year’s UTEP roster, all seniors, saw action in the last matchup versus New Mexico during the 2010 season – DL Adam Ayala, DL Marcus Bagley, TE Kevin Perry, DL Germard Reed (started the game), DB Richard Spencer and TE Craig Wenrick.
Opening With The Lobos
New Mexico has served as UTEP’s season-opening opponent five times previously – in 1935 (20-0 loss in Albuquerque), 1991 (35-19 win in El Paso), 1999 (13-10 win in El Paso), 2001 (26-6 loss in Albuquerque) and 2007 (10-6 win in El Paso). The Miners are 3-0 when kicking off a campaign versus the Lobos in the Sun Bowl. UTEP is also 8-1 when New Mexico serves as its opponent in a home opener including victories during the 1925 (19-2), 1942 (7-0), 1958 (15-6), 1962 (16-14) and 1966 (51-3) seasons, and a 38-20 setback in 1997.
The Miners are facing New Mexico and NM State back-to-back to open a campaign for the first time in school history. The last time they met the schools back-to-back was in 2006, when a 26-13 loss at New Mexico (Sept. 23) preceded a 44-38 triumph over NMSU in the Sun Bowl (Sept. 30). Before that, UTEP hadn’t played UNM and NMSU in consecutive games since 1988.
A Game Under Their Belts
New Mexico is 0-1 and coming off a 21-13 loss to UTSA on Aug. 31. The last time the Miners opened their season versus a team that had already played a game was in 1977. UTEP dropped a 41-10 decision to North Texas that year. UNT was coming off a 17-15 setback at Mississippi State the previous week.
UTEP is opening the season on Sept. 7, its latest start date since 1977. On Sept. 10 of that year, the Miners dropped a 41-10 decision to North Texas in the Sun Bowl to christen the campaign.
UTEP coaches have posted a combined record of 8-16 in their debuts, with Tommy Dwyer, George B. Powell, Mack Saxon, Ben Collins, Warren Harper, Bobby Dobbs, Bill Yung and Bob Stull all emerging victorious.
Kugler’s UTEP Connection
Sean Kugler takes the field as UTEP’s 25th head coach 25 years after he played his final game for the Miners. He was a four-year letterwinner at UTEP (1985-88) and a three-year starter at right guard. Kugler returned to the Sun City as a UTEP assistant coach (1993-2000), working as a graduate assistant/defensive line coach in 1993, tight ends & assistant strength and conditioning coach in 1994 and offensive line coach from 1995-2000.
Players Turned Coach
Sean Kugler is the second UTEP head coach who played for the Miners at one time. The other is Walter Milner, a three-year letterman from 1931-33 who served as head coach in 1942. Kugler is one of 12 active Division I head coaches who played at the school where they are currently coaching.
Breaking Down the Coaching Staff
Of UTEP’s nine full-time assistant coaches, six were not on the staff in 2012. They are offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Patrick Higgins, defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Scott Stoker, defensive line coach Andrew Browning, running backs coach Cornell Jackson, assistant head coach/offensive line Spencer Leftwich and wide receivers coach Todd Whitten. Holdovers from the 2012 staff are defensive backs coach Gabe Franklin, tight ends coach Brian Natkin and nickelbacks/safeties coach Robert Rodriguez. This group, combined with head coach Sean Kugler, has coached in 33 bowl games. Natkin and Rodriguez are former Miner players, while Higgins (1998-2003) and Whitten (1994-95) have both coached at UTEP previously.
The Miners’ 2013 captains are senior DL Marcus Bagley, junior RB Nathan Jeffery, senior TE Kevin Perry, senior DL Germard Reed and junior OL Jerel Watkins.
Sun Bowl Turns 50
GECU is sponsoring UTEP’s “50 Years of the Sun Bowl” celebration in 2013. On Sept. 21, 1963, Larry Durham ran 54 yards for a touchdown on the game’s first play from scrimmage as the Miners christened the stadium with a 34-7 rout of North Texas State. Durham and his 1963 teammates will be on hand for the 50th anniversary game versus UTSA on Sept. 21.
UTEP in the Sun Bowl
The Miners’ all-time record in Sun Bowl Stadium is 124-158-3. Last year UTEP finished 2-4 in the venue, its first losing record at home since 2003 (1-6). The Miners are 9-12 versus New Mexico in the Sun Bowl (7-2 in the last nine games).
Due to major construction surrounding UTEP’s campus transformation project, the Miners will play only five home games for the first time since 2002. UTEP enjoyed its most success with a five-game home slate in 2000, securing a perfect 5-0 mark in the Sun Bowl en route to an 8-4 campaign. The Miners were 4-1 over five home contests in 1999. Sean Kugler was an assistant coach on both UTEP teams.
Not so Balanced
UTEP’s 2013 schedule is intriguing as the Miners will play four of their first six games at home before hitting the road for five of their last six. UTEP has just one home game scheduled after Oct. 12 for the first time in school history.
The Miners’ 98-man roster includes 17 seniors, 29 juniors, 17 sophomores and 35 freshmen (21 true/14 redshirt). UTEP has 41 returning lettermen (23 offense/17 defense/one special team) and 12 returning starters (seven offense/four defense/one special team). Twenty-four players on the 2013 roster have started games for the Miners, led by senior DL Germard Reed (29 starts), senior OL Brander Craighead (23 starts), junior OL Jerel Watkins (21 starts), senior DL Marcus Bagley (19 starts) and senior LB Horace Miller (18 starts).
The Depth Chart
The two-deep for the New Mexico game features seven projected senior starters (two offense/five defense), 12 projected junior starters (eight offense/four defense), one projected sophomore starter (on defense) and two projected freshmen starters (one offense/one defense). Of the 22 players in the offensive two-deep, 15 are upperclassmen (four seniors/11 juniors). Of the 22 players in the defensive two-deep, 13 are upperclassmen (seven seniors/six juniors). Nine freshmen have made the depth chart (five offense/four defense), including true freshmen Gino Bresolin (OL), Devin Cockrell (DB), Aaron Jones (RB), Darrin Laufasa (RB) and Quinton Tezeno (DB).
In the Trenches
UTEP’s projected starting offensive line of Brander Craighead, Jerel Watkins, Paulo Melendez, Kyle Brown and Mike Amdall averages 6-4, 298 pounds. The projected starting defensive line of Adam Ayala, James Davidson, Germard Reed and Marcus Bagley averages 6-3, 279 pounds.
El Paso Native Anchors the Line
Junior Paulo Melendez, an El Paso native and Horizon High School graduate, is listed as the starter at center heading into the 2013 campaign. Melendez is the first El Pasoan to open a season as a projected starter since nose tackle Ruben Munoz (Eastwood HS) in 2010, and the first on offense since right guard Ben Graniello (Coronado HS) and wide receiver Chris Marrow (Franklin HS) in 2004.
Seventeen Division I schools have at least one Canadian on their 2013 roster, including UTEP in starting left tackle Brander Craighead. The other programs, with a combined 31 Canadian products, are Michigan State (4), Iowa (3), UNLV (3), Virginia (3), Boston College (2), Buffalo (2), Connecticut (2), Eastern Michigan (2), Rice (2), Arizona State (1), Mississippi State (1), North Carolina (1), Northern Illinois (1), Penn State (1), Utah State (1) and Virginia Tech (1). Craighead is in his third year as a starter. He was selected by the Calgary Stampeders with the seventh pick in the first round of the 2013 CFL Draft. Under CFL rules, the Stampeders can redshirt Craighead this season while he completes his college eligiblity.
A Lot of Weapons
The Miners bring back their leading running back (Nathan Jeffery) and receiver (Jordan Leslie) from a year ago. The top five rushers return (including QB Blaire Sullivan) and three are underclassmen. Nine of UTEP’s top 11 receivers are also back (Ishmael Harrison would make it 10 out of 11 players, but he has been moved to cornerback). UTEP scored 32 touchdowns last season. Seven of the nine players who scored last year return, and they combined for 23 of those 32 TDs.
After years of playing second fiddle to the likes of Ryan Tannehill and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, quarterback Jameill Showers finally gets the opportunity to start a Division I game on Saturday when UTEP takes on New Mexico. Showers appeared in 11 games for the Aggies (2011-12), completing 31-of-49 passes for 359 yards and two touchdowns. He threw for a career-best 86 yards on only two completions versus Sam Houston State in 2012. He graduated from Texas A&M in only three years and is eligible to play for the Miners right away while pursuing his master’s degree in Construction Management.
Ground Game in Good Hands With Jeffery
Junior RB Nathan Jeffery looks to build on an 897-yard campaign in 2012. He registered four 100-yard games a year ago, running for 177 yards against Oklahoma, 175 versus UCF, 137 at Houston and 134 at East Carolina. His 177 yards versus the Sooners were the most by a UTEP player in a season opener. Jeffery has gone over 1,000 yards (1,063) for his career and is tied for 12th in school history with four 100-yard games. All seven of his touchdowns last season came in the final four games, including three straight contests (Houston, UCF, Southern Miss) with two.
Lots of Running Backs
Coach Sean Kugler will have plenty of options to turn to in the running game as the Miners implement a two-back, pro style offense. After Nathan Jeffery, there’s spectacular freshman and El Paso native Aaron Jones, sophomore LaQuintus Dowell (165 yards in 2012), sophomore Autrey Golden (163 yards last season) and junior Josh Bell (116 yards in 2012). The fullback personnel aren’t quite as seasoned as the spot will be manned by freshman Darrin Laufasa and junior Hunter Nix, who moved from linebacker in the spring. Nix was a quarterback at Prosper (Texas) High School, although he did rush for 1,126 yards and 21 TDs as a senior.
Leslie Eyes Receiving List
Junior Jordan Leslie has 1,403 receiving yards in a UTEP uniform, leaving him just 531 away from cracking the Miners’ all-time top-10 chart. He is tied for 13th place in 100-yard games (four), and is one of only six UTEP players to record 200 yards in a game (218 at Tulsa last season). Leslie is one of 12 players returning nationally in 2013 who registered a 200-yard game a year ago, joining Duke’s Jamison Crowder, Central Michigan’s Titus Davis, Florida Atlantic’s William Dukes, Bowling Green’s Chris Gallon, Arizona’s Austin Hill, USC’s Marqise Lee, Toledo’s Bernard Reedy, Miami (Ohio)’s Dawan Scott, Marshall’s Tommy Shuler, Ball State’s Willie Snead and Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. Leslie’s 973 yards last season were the eighth-most by a UTEP player. A standout in the classroom as well, Leslie was one of 14 players tabbed to the 2012 Conference USA All-Academic Football Team.
Miners are Deep at Tight End
Tight end is UTEP’s deepest position this season, as three upperclassmen (Kevin Perry, Eric Tomlinson, Craig Wenrick) have combined to make 21 starts for the Miners. Together they have posted 50 career catches for 674 yards and seven touchdowns. Wenrick owns the longest reception by a tight end in school history (66 yards), set at Tulane in 2011. The tight end is expected to be utilized much more extensively in UTEP’s two-back, pro style offense this season. Wenrick registered the top performance by a tight end last season with 49 yards versus Tulane. In what was likely a harbinger of things to come, Tomlinson and Wenrick both recorded 50 yards receiving (on only five catches combined) in the Miners’ scrimmage in Alpine, Texas on Aug. 17.
UTEP has switched to a 4-2-5 formation in its first year under defensive coordinator Scott Stoker. The Miners are experienced in the line (52 career starts, including 48 combined from Marcus Bagley and Germard Reed) and at linebacker (25 career starts), but not so much in the secondary (19 career starts, with 18 coming from Richard Spencer and Wesley Miller). Stoker was hired as UTEP’s defensive coordinator in late April after Jeff Choate departed to become the special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach at Florida.
Defense Runs Through Miller
After accumulating 11 sacks in his first two years with the Miners after transferring from Louisville, senior Horace Miller was moved from defensive end to Mike linebacker. Last season Miller picked up six sacks, most by a UTEP player in seven years, while adding 7.5 tackles for losses. Two of his sacks came versus Big Ten power Wisconsin. He is one sack away from tying four players (Joe Terry, Ross Puritty, Ricky Massey, Barron Wortham) for 10th place on the all-time UTEP list.
A Veteran Group
UTEP is expected to start four senior defensive linemen (Adam Ayala, Marcus Bagley, James Davidson, Germard Reed) in the opener against New Mexico. Reed has made 29 starts for the Miners, Bagley 19 and Ayala & Davidson two apiece. Bagley registered his career-high seven tackles versus no. 4 Oklahoma last season. Davidson led all UTEP defensive linemen with 15 solo stops, despite filling a reserve role for 10 of 12 games, in 2012. And Reed embarks on his final year at UTEP with 19 tackles for losses and seven sacks on his resume.
Secondary Gets a Makeover
Of the 10 players listed on UTEP’s preseason depth chart in the secondary, six have never seen action on the defensive side of the ball for the Miners. That includes freshmen Devin Cockrell, Leon Hayes and Quinton Tezeno, junior college transfers Jameel Erving and Nick Gathrite, and sophomore Ishmael Harrison, who played wide receiver a year ago. Cockrell could become the first true freshman to start on defense for UTEP since Marcus Bagley in 2010. Erving and Gathrite were teammates at Riverside Community College in 2012, combining for 69 tackles and four interceptions. Probably the biggest feel-good story on the team this season is the return of free safety Traun Roberson, who has undergone three knee surgeries since coming to UTEP. He injured his wrist two weeks prior to the season opener but is expected to play with a brace against New Mexico. Roberson was limited to three games total (two in 2010, one in 2012) in his first three years in El Paso.
Two years after completing an eight-year run with the U.S. Army, Michael Kelly is a 27-year old linebacker hoping to make the most of his senior year with the Miners. He is expected to be utilized on special teams this fall. Kelly’s service dates were from October, 2003 to June, 2011. He was stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C. (2004-05), Darmstadt Germany (2005-07) and Fort Bliss, Texas (2007-11). He worked in communications including as a switching system operator. His highest title was platoon sergeant (2009-11). He and his wife, Denise, have two sons, Kenneth (six years old) and Michael Jr., who will turn two years old on Oct. 14.
Return Game is Golden
After putting together a dynamite freshman campaign, Autrey Golden returns to re-ignite the Miners’ kickoff returns. He rated 11th nationally and second in Conference USA with a sparkling 28.3-yard average in 2012. His 191 yards at Southern Miss in the next-to-last game of the season were the most by a UTEP player in 22 years, and the third-most in the history of the school. Golden already ranks tied for second in school annals with two kickoff returns for touchdowns. The record of three was set by Cedric Johnson from 1993-96. Golden had a 98-yard return at Southern Miss and a 96-yard return at East Carolina as a rookie. He holds two of the top-nine positions on UTEP’s “longest kickoff returns” list.
Freshmen Earn Their Shot in Kicking Game
The Miners entered fall camp with four freshmen -- Jay Mattox, Tanner Kneisly, Mikael Sroka and Mike Ruggles -- battling to handle the kicking chores. When the dust had settled, Mattox and Ruggles established themselves as the top two kickers, while Brandon Moss -- listed as a wide receiver on the roster -- was locked in with Mattox as the punting hopeful. Mattox was 22-for-30 on field goals for his career at Las Vegas (Nev.) High School. Ruggles was 7-for-10 on field goals as a senior at Steinbrenner High School in Lutz, Fla. Moss played his prep ball at Chapin High School in El Paso, where he punted in addition to making 52 catches for 1,004 yards as a senior.
Up Next: at NM State
The Miners and the Aggies will renew their I-10 rivalry on Saturday, Sept. 14 in Las Cruces. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. MT. UTEP leads the series 53-35-2 and has won four straight over NMSU, its longest string of victories in the series since a six-year run from 1986-91. The winner of the game takes possession of a pair of traveling trophies, the silver spade and the brass spittoon.