Preview 2017: UTEP Is So Close, Can It Win?
It seems like UTEP is close to turning a corner under Sean Kugler. Now it has to happen.
It seems like UTEP is close to turning the corner under head coach Sean Kugler.
It just isn’t happening.
There’s enough good stuff going on to think that it’s there. The running game rocked at times last season, but the passing attack couldn’t come up with enough big shots down the field.
The offensive line was terrific in pass protection, but the O couldn’t crank up enough first downs.
Finding points was like pulling teeth over the first half of the season, and the hole was too big to dig out of over the second half – going 3-3 over the final six games wasn’t good enough.
The defense was okay in the secondary and held down some decent passing teams, but the pass rush was non-existent for stretches.
Basically, the Miners just couldn’t seem to put it all together in a wildly inconsistent campaign.
But being wildly inconsistent is nothing new for a wildly inconsistent program that’s gone 18-31 under Kugler’s watch, with one bowl appearance, a near-miss two years ago, and a too-rocky start last year to overcome.
Really, can the team come up with the same positive performance two weeks in a row? The team hasn’t come up with two wins in a row over FBS teams since the middle of the 2014 season, and it wasn’t even close to doing it last year.
Coaches don’t usually survive a fourth season in five years without a bowl appearance, so it’s succeed or bust. And really, Kugler and UTEP are both overdue to finally become a Conference USA factor again.
So why does it seem like UTEP is so close?
The offensive line is rock solid. Will Hernandez might be the league’s best guard, paving the way for a running game that seems to work no matter who’s carrying the rock.
The receiving corps is iffy, but Ryan Metz is a veteran passer now with good enough accuracy to do more. The offense has the pieces to be more explosive and average far more than the paltry 369 yards per game it did last year.
The linebacking corp has tackling stars. There’s bulk on the defensive front three, and veterans in the secondary. The placekicking might be a concern, but the special teams overall should be okay.
The schedule might be a relative problem, but UTEP has to be the type of team that can beat Army and Middle Tennessee on the road. It has to be strong enough to keep up with Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky at home.
It has to be a point in the rebuilding process where Year Five under Kugler means a bowl season. The Miners have the experience, and they even have the depth at certain places.
Six wins isn’t asking for too much. Especially for a team that’s knocking on the door.