Previewing the upcoming week's game against UTEP, Alex Nicolas from Miner Rush, sits down with VTM to discuss Aaron Jones, UTEP's new QB and what to look for when the Miners come to Lubbock.
VTM: The UTEP/Arkansas game was on during the same time the Tech game was, so I was flipping back and forth trying to get a preview of the next two weekends for us, but first, you have a new quarterback. Or possible quarterbacks? UTEP used 3 in the opener with Arkansas. Who is going to be the guy going forward and what can we expect from him? Or is it going to be more of a QB by committee?
Miner Rush: Well Mack Leftwich #11 is the every down quarterback, and true freshman Kavika Johnson #14 is the "Wild Miner" quarterback which why you see two QBs being rotated.
Leftwich had the most passing attempts against Arkansas, and is the main passing quarterback, showing he can execute UTEP's simple game plan. He doesn't make very many mistakes, and has above average accuracy on short routes. He's only 5'8 so he isn't going sit back there and fire down field a lot, and they will move the pocket around for him, but looked like he fit into what UTEP wants to do on offense in his first start of the season.
Johnson is an electric athlete who right now only leads the Wild Miner package, but some around the program think he could take over at quarterback at some point this season. His strength is his ability to move around and make plays with his feet as he's a strong runner, but has to improve his decision making off the keeper. He has good foot work in pocket, and is as very capable passer, but UTEP only called for two passes in his package. UTEP wants to be more than a power run team, and both of these guys bring a dynamic new look to the offense.
VTM: Everyone knows about Tech's Run D and, UTEP has Aaron Jones returning this year. Struggled running against Arkansas this past week, only 70 yards off of 15 carries, but had a good receiving day 6 for 83... what do you expect from him going forward and especially against Tech this week?
Miner Rush: They are going to move him all over and try to get him into space. You will see your normal toss sweeps, counter treys, and down hill dives, but you also see #29 lined up in the slot, moved around in motion, and the jet motion man on the Wild Miner. He should get a much heavier dose of touches than Arkansas. If UTEP's offensive line plugs away, he could have one his biggest years so far in his career, and help UTEP compete at the top of the C-USA West.
VTM: Which UTEP player do Tech fans need to keep an eye open for this weekend?
Miner Rush: Defensively senior linebacker Jimmy Musgrave had a strong end to last season, and picked up right where he left off against Arkansas' run. Take away a 70-yard by Alex Collins at the end of the first half, and Musgrave anchored the defense to only allow the Pigs 3.4 yards per carry. He's fun to watch and is becoming UTEP's best defensive player.
On offense of course Jones, but I really think Kavika Johnson could give the Tech's defense some problems. If he is able to clean up his decision making out of the Wild Miner, he could really help keep UTEP hold on to the ball if Tech has trouble with an athletic quarterback again like last week.
VTM: After just generating 208 yards of offense against Arkansas, UTEP must be drooling over the prospect of facing a seemingly "softer" defense with Tech, but what does UTEP need to do to stop Tech's offense or at least slow them down?
Miner Rush: Well first off UTEP can't give up any easy turnovers in any phase that gives Tech prime field position.
The defense has to make them earn yards, as giving up the big pass play is a concern. Forcing third downs and getting off the field on third downs are crucial for the UTEP defense, and if Tech is able to average more than 10 yards a completion, its going to be hard for the Miners to keep up for four quarters.
The offense needs to have some of those 12-15 play physical drives that they are capable of, and win the time of possession. They also have to avoid negative plays, I think UTEP is going to be very conservative and I can't really see them trying or having success in stretching the field on a second or third and long against Tech's defense.
VTM: Last year's matchup against Tech, UTEP seemed to really try to put pressure on Webb and make him rush his throws. Will UTEP go with the same strategy against Mahomes or will they play more coverage against the Tech receivers?
Miner Rush: Yup, expect blitz, after blitz from UTEP's 4-2-5. The most scary thing about that though is that Mahomes is the truth, and if UTEP's blitz and pursuit angles are off wack, he will make them pay. UTEP has a tough task of drawing up a game plan for what could be Tech's most explosive offense in years IMO, all while correcting costly man coverage mistakes from a trio of freshman who will see their first air raid as college football players this Saturday.
I think we could see a good mixture of just man coverage early on, but UTEP is going to have send guys in an exotic fashion if the front six just let Mahomes sit back and play pitch and catch.
VTM: UTEP gets the upset if...?
Miner Rush: Four statistical keys:
Win the time of possession
Average more than 4 four yards a carry
Get four for or more sacks
Win the turnover margin by +2