At the end of the day injuries were too much to overcome for UTEP Football

Juan Carlos Navarrete, Staff Reporter

The Miners’ goal this season was to repeat last year’s bowl bid and eventually win the first bowl game for the University of Texas at El Paso since 1967.  The Miners finished the year at 5-7 and without a bowl game bid for the second time in Sean Kugler’s three- year tenure at UTEP.

Aaron Jones went down in the second game of the season against Texas Tech, but the injury to Jones did more than add another loss. It set in motion what would become a prevalent theme in the Miners’ season– injuries.

With a 0-2 record the Miners rallied against New Mexico State after being down 31-16 in the fourth quarter. Then again it was New Mexico State, the school with the worst losing streak in the country–17 losses in a row.

The Miners’ victories were often short lived this season. They only had one winning streak in the season and it was when they won the next week against Incarnate Word at home.

The Miners conference record of 5-7 did not paint a better picture for this team. The Miners may have lost their best player in the second week of the season, but the unorganized offense just proved that UTEP had no back up plan for Jones being out of the picture.

Added to the mix was a quarterback carousel after Mack Leftwich got hurt; which featured a glimpse of great quarterbacking out of Ryan Metz, and the turnover machine he became in the following weeks, as well as the hype that surrounded Kavika Johnson.

The losses piled up on a week-to-week basis, win one, lose one, win one, lose one. The Miners proved to be inconsistent, but the team saw injuries for most of the season, so it’s understandable.

However, the injuries do not explain why the team collapsed as a whole in every facet of the game. Jones doesn’t play on the defense and Leftwich’s concussion did not make special teams struggle; it was an inconsistent team this season and they lacked a leader.

The losses on the scoreboard did not reflect the wins this team accomplished on a different level, as fans of the team got to see the future of this program. UTEP’s offense morphed after Jones was out and it took a different form, depending on who was the quarterback under center. When it was Leftwich, we got a glimpse of the running ability the young quarterback has, as well as his throwing accuracy.

Leftwich found a way to win games and a way to move the ball. He also found a way to take care of the ball as well; as he only had three interceptions in the entire year.

Although he had three interceptions returned for touchdowns, he showed traces of a prototypical pocket-passing quarterback.

Two of the pick six’s came in in the same game, but despite his turnover problems; he helped junior wide receiver Cole Freytag have a break-out season. With Ryan Metz under center, Freytag had 14 receptions with three touchdowns.

Finally, Kavika Johnson, the third-string quarterback, got plenty of playing time with an offense that at times seemed to be welcoming any quarterback who stood out at practice.

The freshman quarterback played the best game of his career in the last game of the season against North Texas.  The freshman had a rushing touchdown and a lob on a trick play that counted as a passing touchdown.

Overall, a 5-7 record is a losing record, but for these Miners, the odds were stacked against them from day one when the schedule was released, and just like in their last game of the season, where they had five turnovers, the Miners fought back.

The Miners were on the cusp of a bowl bid entering the last two games of the season. Against La. Tech, it was a missed field goal; against Old Dominion it was a lack of offense in the second half.

The Miners were always on the verge of turning their season around but they did not have enough in the injury-riddled tank. Hopefully, when these young quarterbacks have time to mature and Jones is back they will turn the team around.

Juan Carlos Navarrete may be reached at [email protected]