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The Huddle: Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. UTEP Miners

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The Texas Tech Red Raiders travel to El Paso on Saturday night to take on the Miners of Texas-El Paso.

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Ground and Pound. UTEP isn't going to be setting any passing records on Saturday. The Miners ran the ball and ran the ball and ran the ball against New Mexico on Saturday, rushing for a team high of 330 yards on 44 carries averaging 7.5 yards a game. Yes. Texas Tech will have their hands full with Jones and Nathan Jeffery running the ball. UTEP doesn't have a huge offensive line, averaging about 305 pounds across the line. Still, the line has young spots as two of the interior players are freshmen, Will Hernandez and Derek Elmendorff are both freshmen.

Game Information
Texas Tech
vs.
UTEP

When: September 6, 2014 at 10:00 pm
Where: Sun Bowl Stadium | El Paso, Texas
Watch: Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports GO App
Key Injuries: Rika Levi and Tony Morales

Of course, UTEP also has a huge blocker in tight end Eric Tomlinson, who comes in a 6-7/270 and that's your sixth blocker that is going to cause problems for all sorts of teams trying to stop the run against UTEP.

UTEP head coach Sean Kugler is going to pound the ball against Texas Tech, especially after seeing what happened with UCA and the Red Raiders on Saturday. The best way to beat an offense that wants to go fast is ball control and running the ball down an until you make them stop. You can expect a healthy dose of that through the night.

It should also be noted that New Mexico was one of the worst defenses in the country last year. Yes, they were worse than Texas Tech by about 100 yards a game. And they were one of the worst at stopping the run, at 257 yards a game last year, about 50 yards worse than Texas Tech last year. The point isn’t to point out the faults of New Mexico, but to maybe explain that UTEP’s first week rushing totals may be the result of an improved running attack at UTEP, but also may be the result of a pretty bad New Mexico defense.

How Will That Be Fixed. There's been a ton of talk about how to fix the defense and I wanted to give myself a full week to really think about how this gets resolved. On Monday, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt mentioned that Demetrius Alston is playing out of position at tackle and really should be playing end. You could say the same thing for Jackson Richards at noseguard as he really should be playing tackle. I asked why this was the case and why these players were playing out of position, especially since it seems that this has been happening for the better part of a year, players playing out of position.

I'm guessing that the thought is that Wallerstedt is putting his best players on the field, regardless of position, but we somewhat lead into the idea that what we really have is a group of players that can't break the two-deep, despite the defensive shortcomings. We really have to assume that Wallerstedt sees the same thing we see, which is a defensive line getting just a little push on the line and despite seeing the line struggle, he's still going with this. This tells me two things. First, it tells me that he thinks the back-ups just aren't ready for prime time and if this is true, the the second part of this equation is that it just isn't going to get any better.

This should be the eye-opening part of this transaction. That the backups are, in Wallerstedt's opinion, worse that what he's starting with. We always hypoethcize that the JUCO players will be able to come in and pay dividends immediately, but that's normally just not the case. It usually takes a year for the player to really get adjusted and make a true difference. Not all of the time, but generally speaking, that's a pretty safe assumption.

That means that scholarship guys like Anthony Smith and Donte Phillips, in Wallerstedt's opinion, just aren't good enough to really make an impact at all. I have no idea what to think about that as I really haven't seen any of them play all that much, just a bit in the spring game. I don't think it's a completely inappropriate presumption to make.

What I can tell you is that the offensive and defensive lines are not overnight success stories. Defensive linemen are hard to come by and it takes time for them to develop (there are always exceptions to the rule). Physically, unless you're talking about a physical freak, being dominant on the defensive line is a two to three year process. I'm as disappointed as anyone by the defensive line performance, but I do have to take a step back and realize that this was never going to be a situation where Texas Tech was going to flip the script and completely remake this defense. We're really talking about making small steps in the process and I think those small steps need to happen through the season.

19 Touchdowns and 7 Interceptions. You are probably wondering what these numbers are. These are Graham Harrell's first 7 games as a college player and full-time starter in 2006. Take the seven starts in seven games for Webb and you have 21 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Just something to thing about as Webb heads into his 8th start of his career. I tend to forget how frustrating Harrell was in 2006, throwing 2 picks against Missouri and then 3 interceptions against Colorado the very next week. The week after that Colorado game, Harrell threw 6 touchdowns against Iowa St. It's tough being patient sometimes.

Uniform Tracker. Because at the heart of it all, VTM is a fashion blog. I wish I could get all fancy and actually create the uniforms in some way, but that’s beyond my means. I can put it in a nice neat table. Now you can say that Texas Tech is 2-0 in black helmets but 1-2 in white pants or whatever. I merely provide the information, the rest is up to you.

Uniform Tracker
Opponent Helmet Jersey Pants Result Photo Photo Credit
Central Arkansas W, 42-35 Michael C. Johnson -
USA Today Sports

Click photo to embiggen.

Quotes

Thanks to TxTechKeith for finding these quotes in a FanPost earlier this week, we get a ton of quotes from UTEP head coach Sean Kugler, who said he's going to throw two offenses at the defense this week to get them accustomed to the pace of the Texas Tech offense:

"We've got to practice it. We'll probably throw two huddles at our defense the entire week. Rapid plays, one after the other. We do have to get lined up quickly and get our communication in there quickly. We've got to make our calls quickly because they will catch you off guard if you're not ready. There are rules in place where if they do substitute personnel they give us time to substitute as well. There will be substitutions on defense. We'll probably play a lot of guys in this game and expect them all to perform at their best level."

We've also been discussing quite a bit about the strength of the Texas Tech defense and the 3.3 yards per attempt. I found it interesting that Kugler talked about only allowing 3.3 yards per rush (and just in case you are wondering, I think it was on the same day of Texas Tech's pressers, Monday so I don't know that Kugler rushed to the internets to confirm what Wallerstedt said):

"They really kind of held the run game in check. They had 184 yards rushing but it was also on 54 attempts. So they only averaged three yards a carry. I thought Texas Tech controlled the run game. They were up-tempo and they did complete a lot of passes. They've got a young secondary. You always make your biggest improvement from your first game to the second game. I'm sure they'll be working hard to correct those things. Offensively they are scary. Their quarterback is efficient. He looks like he has even added some weight. He is stronger than he was last year. He is the future of that program. That's the way they view him and justifiably so. He is good. They are loaded at the skill positions and they have a veteran offensive line. They really do a great job of pass protection. They had over 40 pass attempts and no sacks. For a drop back passing team that's impressive. So we've got our work cut out for us. We know that. But the thing I like is this team is we're up to the challenge of working and taking on challenges and we look forward to it."

The quotes from head coach Kliff Kingsbury weren't really anything to discuss. As Kingsbury said on Saturday, he was disappointed with the play of the team. Kingsbury also talked about QB Davis Webb's interceptions and this is something that offensive coordinator said too, which is that this is Webb's 7th start and I think the coaches, despite increased exposure, Webb is still pretty young in terms of repetition. Still Kingsbury knows that Webb knew that the interceptions were Webb being too aggressive:

Yeah, the first one was a bad play call, and nothing was there and he should have just thrown it out of the back of the end zone, his first down on the 10-yard line. The second one, he made a bad read, just missed it, tried to go for the home run instead of taking his check down. Only his 7th start. That's what you have to remember about him. That is his 7th start. He was fired up, and revved up, and trying to do much at times.

Sam Eguavoen seemed to take person offense to the defense playing poorly. Eguavoen too, chose his words carefully and didn't have a lot to say. I suppose it's tough being in his position, having to speak for the team when you could tell that he was personally embarrassed:

It was enough. It should have been a big reality check to everybody. The D-line, I know they've got a big reality check; myself, I'm just not going to let that happen this week. So I think that woke everybody up.

IR Bradley Marquez talked about how the receivers need to improve and how the receivers need to be better.

We've just got to learn from the film. We talked yesterday. Those guys as well as myself we've seen some of the mistakes we were making are things that we're not supposed to be doing and we haven't done. It was just uncharacteristic. If we just go out there, play, relax, and I think with having this game under our belt it will help out a lot for these young guys. They're going to go out there and make plays. We've got some big play makers on this team that will come about coming up throughout the course of the season.

Stats

Stat
Total Offense 446.0 (58) 636.0 (10)
Rushing Offense 330.0 (13) 184.0 (56)
Passing Offense 116.0 (105) 452.0 (5)
Scoring Offense 31.0 (60) 42.0 (35)
Total Defense 477.0 (96) 406.0 (77)
Rushing Defense 410.0 (116) 178.0 (84)
Passing Defense 67.0 (11) 228.0 (71)
Scoring Defense 24.0 (67) 35.0 (93)
Turnover Margin 3.00 (6) -2.00 (103)
3rd Down % Off. 50.0 (34) 54.5% (27)
3rd Down % Def. 27.3 (32) 26.3% (26)
Yds/Play Def. 7.82 (98) 4.32 (77)

If it isn't incredibly evident, UTEP loves to run the ball and they aren't real adept at passing the ball. It is one of those things where Kugler loves to run the ball and they were really effective against New Mexico on Saturday night.

Don't get too wrapped up in the defensive passing stats for UTEP as New Mexico is similar to UTEP in that they just don't like to pass the ball all that much. Really at all. In fact, New Mexico only attempted 9 passes for the entire game. New Mexico passed for a total of 67 yards and had two completions of 26 and 21 yards, so there's a big chunk of New Mexico's passing yards, just two completions. This will be a completely different game-prep for UTEP as the Red Raiders offer a completely different perspective in terms.

The difference in the game against New Mexico was the turnovers, as UTEP was +3 for the game and the game turned on a fumble recovery with about three minutes left in the game that resulted in a late UTEP touchdown. In fact, UTEP recovered a fumble with three minutes left, and that drive stalled resulting in a UTEP punt. New Mexico fumbled that return away and gave the Miners an incredibly short field, 6 yards, that ended up meaning the difference in the game. Being opportunistic and capitalizing on those plays is a huge reason why UTEP won that game. It helps to be able to win a game by only having to gain 6 yards.

The best news and one of the newest stats added to the table is the yards per play, is that UTEP was terrible, allowing nearly 8 yards a play. Of course, this really translates to UTEP just being a team that can't stop the run more than anything else and we don't know if this means that UTEP will be equally bad at stopping the pass.

Tweets

For some background, see this FanShot and then this FanShot.

Again, make sure and check out the FanShots where I'm trying to post all of the types of news that isn't football (or what I have time for).

Five Things

1. Players to Watch on Offense for UTEP.

RB Aaron Jones (5-10/185): The star on Saturday for UTEP was sophomore running back Aaron Jones (who has a twin brother on the team, Albin who plays linebacker). Jones averaged 10 yards a touch for UTEP against New Mexico. He was fantastic and electric. Jones had 237 yards on 22 touches and 3 touchdowns was a terrific debut for Jones.

QB Jameill Showers (6-2/230): The guy that gets all of the press is Jameill Showers, the Texas A&M transfer, who is more of a bus driver for UTEP as their focus is more on the running game more than a passing quarterback. Showers ran for 21 yards and just had 4 carries, so this isn't a triple-option situation. Showers was 11-22 for 160 yards and 1 touchdown against New Mexico.

TE Eric Tomlinson (6-7/270): One other note is that TE Eric Tomlinson is a team captain and a tight end that appears to be a guy that isn't a pass-catching threat, but if he's the team captain, I would guess that he is an integral part of the success of UTEP, despite not having much stats to show his value.

2. Players to Watch on Defense for UTEP.

MLB Anthony Puente (5-11/225): UTEP runs a 4-2-5 defense and MLB Anthony Puente led the team in tackles with 11 overall and half a tackle for a loss. Considering that New Mexico only passed 9 times, this is an expected result to have the middle linebacker have the most plays.

WLB Trey Brown (6-1/215): Brown also performed well, notching 9 tackles, and 1.5 tackles for a loss.

S Wesley Miller (5-10/195): Miller supported the run from the safety spot quite well against New Mexico, ending the day with 9 tackles.

3. Keys to the Game.

Take Advantage of That Running Game. UTEP did something similar as to Texas Tech in that they recruited a handful of junior college players that they hope can fill the gaps. UTEP is very young along the defensive line, 10 on the initial two-deep are freshmen or sophomores. Who performed the best last week probably is not indicative as to who will perform the best this week as the defensive tackles and linebackers had big games on Saturday. One of the best things that Texas Tech did offensively was hand the ball off to DeAndre Washington, Quinton White and Justin Stockton on Saturday, almost rushing for 200 yards, which is great. Given the fact that UTEP allowed 410 yards on the grounds, this would seem like a good idea.

Stand Them Up. It would be an understatement and it is completely obvious for UTEP to run the ball and run the ball and run the ball. Texas Tech never really stopped the run against UCA and I think UTEP is much better equipped for force their will against Texas Tech on Saturday. I've thought for a while that a coach can scheme on offense, with less talent, and still have success, but to do the same thing on defense is incredibly difficult. I'll do my best not to read that much into the defensive effort from UCA, but the defensive line just has to be better and play really good gap-assignment football.

4. Fixing Robertson. Part of my issue with the defensive lien is that Pete Robertson has been a player that has stuck out to me for some time.  Even under the prior coaching staff, Robertson was deemed as an outside rush sort of guy, but after a year and a half of seeing Robertson, he just hasn't provided that speed threat that I've been expecting.  Right now, Robertson is essentially a 235 pound defensive end that hasn't put up the numbers to show up that he can get to the opposing quarterback.  All of last year, Robertson only registered 2.5 sacks and 4 quarterback hurries.  My thought has been that if Robertson can't consistently pressure the quarterback, then having Robertson on the field at that end spot really doesn't do Texas Tech any good at all.  Defense is about creating pressure points on the offense and offenses are all about minimizing those pressure points and taking advantage mis-matches.  A tackle can essentially take out Robertson and the thing that bothers me the most is that there could be a handful of times where Robertson is lined up the 6-7/270 tight end along with a tackle. That combination could be really problematic for Texas Tech.  The easy solution is to say that Robertson is a third down specialist and essentially roll with a four man front for the better part of the year.  If Robertson was so fast off the edge (i.e., like OU's Eric Striker) then he'd would be worth his weight in gold because he would be creating a significant issue for the opposing offense.

5. Problems in UTEP's Secondary. I've talked way too much about what to expect from a defensive perspective and one thing that's really important to consider is that starting cornerback Ishmael Harrison is apparently out this week and back-up cornerback Kelvin Fisher Jr. is also possibly out. Harrison started last year (I think) and had a good number of tackles for a cornerback last year, so this is an important injury for UTEP.  Fisher was a bit down UTEP's depth chart, but every bit helps (or hurts depending on your point of view).  I am guessing that Traun Roberson or Damian Payne might fill in for Harrison or maybe Nick Guthrite.