UTEP football to open season at New Mexico

UTEP football to open season at New Mexico
Monday, August 25, 2014 - 12:49pm

UTEP begins its 97th season of football with another rivalry game versus New Mexico. The Miners also opened up against the Lobos in 2013, dropping a 42-35 decision in the Sun Bowl. This time the teams will tangle in Albuquerque for the first time since 2010. UTEP is kicking off back-to-back seasons versus the same opponent for the first time since 2008-09 (Buffalo) and only the second time since 1983. The Miners are 41-50-5 in season openers and 9-31-2 in season openers on the road. UTEP is opening a season away from home for the first time since 2008 (42-17 loss at Buffalo). The Miners have won two of their last three road openers after dropping their previous 12.

About New Mexico
The Lobos were 3-9 overall and 1-7 in the Mountain West Conference in their second season under coach Bob Davie. New Mexico has 49 lettermen returning, including 13 starters. The Lobos bring back junior quarterback Cole Gautsche, three linemen and the bulk of their receiving corps on offense. A significant loss is Kasey Carrier, who rushed for 1,122 yards in 2013 (291 versus UTEP). On defense, New Mexico returns a lineman, two linebackers, two cornerbacks and a safety. Four of the top six tacklers are back, headlined by sophomore linebacker Dakota Cox (99 stops a year ago). Senior end Brett Bowers is another significant returnee on defense after leading the team with nine tackles for losses and six sacks. New Mexico is the 14th-youngest team in the country with freshmen and sophomores encompassing 65.7 percent (69-of-105) of the players on the roster.

The Series
New Mexico leads the series 43-31-3, including 26-10-1 in games played in Albuquerque. After losing in 14 of their previous 16 trips to University Stadium, the Miners broke through with a 38-20 victory on Oct. 2, 2010. That was UTEP’s first win in Albuquerque since 1998 and moved it to 4-1 in a season that ended with a berth in the New Mexico Bowl. The Miners haven’t registered back-to-back victories in Albuquerque since 1965-69 (three in a row). This is the second-longest running series in school history (77 games) next to NM State (91 games). The Miners and the Lobos were joint members of the Western Athletic Conference from 1968-98.

The Last Meeting
Kasey Carrier rushed for 291 yards, and New Mexico gained 395 on the ground in a 42-35 overtime win over UTEP on Sept. 7, 2013 in the Sun Bowl. The loss spoiled Sean Kugler’s debut as UTEP head coach. New Mexico punted just once on the night, late in the third quarter, while putting together three touchdown drives of 70 yards or more. The Lobos finished with 483 yards of offense. The Miners nearly matched them yard-for-yard but came up short on fourth and one at the UNM four-yard line in overtime. Nathan Jeffery was stopped just short of the first down. Officials ruled no gain and following a challenge by Kugler, the call was upheld. Earlier, Carrier gave New Mexico the lead for good on a 21-yard scoring scamper on third and six in the extra session. UTEP was playing catch-up for most of the game but rallied to take its first lead, 28-21, on a 65-yard run by Aaron Jones with 6:13 to play in the third quarter. New Mexico rallied with back-to-back TDs before Jones knotted the score on an eight-yard run with 1:19 to play in regulation. Jones finished with 127 yards rushing, the most by a UTEP freshman since 1996. Jameill Showers also made his debut for the Miners and completed 15-of-20 passes for 119 yards with no interceptions. His counterpart, UNM’s Clayton Mitchem, finished 4-of-7 passing for 88 yards, but the Lobos rode the ground game to their first victory in El Paso -- and the state of Texas -- since 1997.

UTEP vs. the MWC
UTEP has played 12 games against Mountain West Conference foes since the league’s inception for the 1999 season. The Miners are 6-6 in those games, including 2-3 on the road (lost 26-6 at New Mexico in 2001, won 34-27 at San Diego State in 2006, lost 26-13 at New Mexico in 2006, won 38-20 at New Mexico in 2010, lost 59-42 at Colorado State in 2013).

UTEP has one player from the state of New Mexico on its 2014 roster, freshman tight end Sterling Napier, who played at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho. New Mexico has 27 Texas products. Players from both schools who attended the same high school or college are: Napier, UNM DL Desmond Branch, UNM QB Cole Gautsche, UNM RB Romell Jordan & UNM TE Reece White (Cleveland HS); UTEP DB Jameel Erving, UTEP DB Nick Gathrite, UTEP OL Eric Lee & UNM DL Cole Juarez (Riverside CC); UTEP RB Traun Roberson & UNM WR Ridge Jones (DeSoto HS); UTEP OL Josh Silvas, UTEP DL Jacob Bejarano & UNM OL Reno Henderson (New Mexico Military Institute); UTEP OL Chris Jones & UNM TE Chris Edling (Corsicana HS); UTEP DL Maurice Chavis & UNM TE Emanuel Simpson (Pima CC); UTEP DL Alex Villarreal & UNM QB Clayton Mitchem (Northeastern Oklahoma A&M); and UTEP RB Sloan Spiller & UNM DB Isaiah Brown (Katy HS).

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.

Opening With The Lobos
New Mexico has served as UTEP’s season-opening opponent six times previously (3-3 record) – 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), 2007 (10-6 win in El Paso) and 2013 (42-35 overtime loss in El Paso).

Opening in August
The Miners played their first August game on Aug. 31, 1985 (48-6 loss at Air Force), and are 4-4 all-time in the month. UTEP also played August games during the 1986, 1991, 1996, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2008 seasons. The Miners’ all-time road record in the month of August is 1-4 with a win at San Diego State in 2006 (34-27).

Head Coach Sean Kugler
Sean Kugler compiled a 2-10 mark in his first year as UTEP’s head coach. He was a four-year letterwinner for the Miners (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. He coached in the NFL with Detroit (2001-05), Buffalo (2007-09) and Pittsburgh (2010-12) and was also assistant head coach at Boise State in 2006 when the Broncos finished 13-0 and beat Oklahoma, 43-42, in the Fiesta Bowl.

Players Turned Coaches
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.

Head Coach Years Played at School
Air Force
Troy Calhoun 1985-88
Boise State
Bryan Harsin 1995-99
East Carolina
Ruffin McNeill 1976-80
Kent State
Paul Haynes 1987-91
Pat Fitzgerald 1993-96
Oklahoma State
Mike Gundy 1986-89
David Shaw 1991-94
Texas Tech
Kliff Kingsbury 1999-02
Bill Blankenship 1975-79
Utah State
Matt Wells 1994-96
Sean Kugler 1985-88
Virginia Tech
Frank Beamer 1966-68

Kugler Putting His Stamp on Program
Sixty-five of the 105 players on the 2014 UTEP roster were signed by second-year head coach Sean Kugler and his staff. Of the 40 players signed by previous head coach Mike Price, 18 are seniors.

Staff Returns Intact
UTEP is one of 17 schools nationally to return its coaching staff intact from the 2013 season, along with Arizona, Auburn, Baylor, Boston College, BYU, Clemson, Colorado, Colorado State, Kansas State, UL-Lafayette, Michigan State, Mississippi, San Diego State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington State. Flanking Sean Kugler are offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Patrick Higgins, defensive coordinator Scott Stoker, defensive line coach Andrew Browning, defensive backs coach Gabe Franklin, running backs coach Cornell Jackson, assistant head coach/offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich, tight ends coach/special teams coordinator Brian Natkin, assistant special teams coordinator/nickelbacks/safeties coach Robert Rodriguez and wide receivers coach Todd Whitten. Natkin and Rodriguez are former Miner players, while Higgins (1998- 2003) and Whitten (1994-95) have both coached at UTEP previously.

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