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Changes are necessary for Miners to progress

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Following yet another blowout loss last Saturday night at the Sun Bowl–this time to Southern Mississippi–UTEP football head coach Sean Kugler was adamant that something needed to change.

“Offensively we’ve got a lot of things to fix and we’ve got to fix it quickly; whether that means we need to trim it down so we can execute and get the right people in the right spots,” Kugler said. “That’ll be my job to get that rectified.” 

One of the key issues that Kugler said he would be looking into in the week, prior to Saturday’s road meeting with the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (1-3), would be who will be under center for the Miners. Starting quarterback Zack Greenlee looked utterly overwhelmed against the Golden Eagles on Saturday and was eventually relieved by Ryan Metz after throwing his second interception—this one a pick six that made the score 31-7.

After the travesty of a football game, it was Metz who came to the postgame press conference and faced plenty of questions about the possibility of fighting for the starting job this week in practice.

“It’s tough to be in that position, where maybe (Greenlee’s) not having that good of a game and maybe people are cheering for me. But, you know, it is nice to hear the crowd cheering my name—that’s something everybody would love,” Metz said. “It hurts me for Zack (Greenlee). He’s a great friend and I think he’s a great quarterback.”

This begs the question, was it one bad game for Greenlee? Against New Mexico State, Greenlee looked like the quarterback that UTEP had been waiting for as he went 15-for-27 for 229 yards and three touchdowns. But, in the game he got injured and missed the next game at Texas. Instead of Metz starting, it was Kavika Johnson and the passing game was an absolute joke.

Greenlee came back against Army, and although the offense barely touched the ball due to the thorough beat-down handed out by the Black Knights, Greenlee still managed to go 9-for-17 for 144 yards and a touchdown.

Perhaps Metz was right. It really does look like Greenlee had one bad game. That’s not to say that the offense itself is not in total shambles, because it is. When Kugler said that there are a lot of things to fix, I honestly do not think he means at quarterback­—he meant the entire offense. But, will he be the one to do it?

Brent Pease was brought in as offensive coordinator this season following the tenure of Patrick Higgins, which saw the Miners go to a bowl game under the leadership of Sean Kugler; so you cannot say that Higgins was all bad. Higgins was known for controlling the clock, pounding the ball up the middle, minimal passing and mainly just scoring enough points to win. Wait, that sounds a lot like Kugler. Maybe Higgins did not really have an identity. He (this is a little confusing—Higgins or Kugler?) has not actually had an offensive coordinator job since he left UTEP and had never had one before.

The fan base got very excited when Pease came in. Word quickly got around that he once worked at Boise State with Chris Petersen, and visions of elaborate, high-flying offense began to dance in everyone’s heads. The truth is, Pease did work at Boise State and his team did go 12-1, but as far as scheme goes, there really was no Pease scheme. It was Petersen’s scheme. To tell the truth, anybody could have been the OC there.

But Pease reaped the benefits and went to Florida the next year with a nice shiny new contract under head coach Will Muschamp. The first year, working somewhat under someone else’s scheme—a little more up-tempo, a little more high-powered like Boise State—Florida’s offense flourished and the team went 11-2 and finished 10th in the nation.

In 2013, Pease’s second year at Florida, Muschamp wanted to run the offense a little more his way and the team began to pound the ball up the middle and tried to control the clock. The offense sputtered and Florida had an abysmal season, going 4-8, and Pease was made the scapegoat and was fired at the end of the season. Much like with Higgins, we are left to question what exactly does a Brent Pease offense look like?

So far this season, it has looked a lot like Patrick Higgins never left, or perhaps Kugler sat Pease down when he came in and said, “Okay, this I what we do here at UTEP and nothing else.” Maybe Pease has worked with the quarterbacks enough—as a former pro quarterback himself—to naturally increase their passing yards, but the play calling looks much the same.

“When you’re struggling, you need to go back to basics, back to the bare minimum and give the kids a chance to execute,” Kugler said. “Maybe there’s a little too much on their plate right now.”

As an observer of UTEP football and someone with some football knowledge, that is just plain scary. If this vanilla offense is too difficult for our team, then maybe we need to be out looking for some Harvard-level kids to bring in here.

Aaron Jones’ talent is no secret; and I’ve sat in press conferences with Greenlee, Metz, Jaquan White and Cole Freytag. These guys understand the run the ball up the middle every other play and then throw the ball into the flat offense by now. There is no need for simplification here. Perhaps what is needed is a reevaluation of just what it is we are trying to accomplish on offense.

Running down the clock is fine. But it is not working this season. The staff is literally killing Aaron Jones. Everybody in the entire stadium, including the other defense, knows that they are going to run the ball between the tackles. If Jones runs outside the tackles, they are going to throw it to him on a swing pass. They will only pass on third and long. The other team will never have to worry about a trick play or anything close to a play that looks creative, despite the fact that we have had more speed than most of the teams we have played.

If you keep pounding the ball up the middle with Aaron Jones and every team knows that he is your only weapon, pretty soon you will have no Aaron Jones. It’s as simple as that.

On top of that fact, if he makes it through this year in one piece, he is going to leave for the NFL after this season because he cannot trust you to use him in a way that will A.) show off his ability to NFL scouts in a logical way and B.) keep him safe for another season.

As far as “going back to basics” and “the bare minimum,” all I can say is god help the UTEP football team next week at Louisiana Tech. They are going to have three plays. First and second down will be Aaron Jones running through the A-gap, third downs will be Greenlee or Metz throwing the ball no more than five yards down field, and fourth down will be Alan Luna punting the ball rugby style,d even though we’ve all seen that if you just let him punt it normal he can kick it well over 60 yards. Expect the offense to score only seven points again this Saturday.

Jason Green may be reached at [email protected].

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Changes are necessary for Miners to progress