4. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE UTEP DEFENSE
– Five starters are back from a defense that had its moments. It allowed fewer than 400 yards per game, but the secondary and pass defense weren’t all that bad.
The team’s top four tacklers are done including CB Nik Needham and S Kahani Smith, but Nickel defender Justin Rogers is a good hitter and Michael Lewis and Broderick Harrell are okay. A few JUCO transfers need to play a big role right away. The picks have to start coming from a D that came up with just five – Rogers is the only returning Miner with an interception.
– The improvement has to start with the solid defensive tackle tandem of Denzel Chukwukelu and Chris Richardson. There’s good size between them and more among the reserves that should get into the mix right away. The ends have to show up, though, with more of a pass rush and a whole lot more pressure needing to be found around the two guys on the inside.
– Leading returning tacklers Sione Tupou came up with a 60-stop freshman season, but the rest of the linebacking corps has to emerge right away. There’s a little bit of experience returning, but the entire unit has to be far more disruptive.