Not much is right with UTEP football. They’ve lost five straight games, attendance is horrible and their head coach doesn’t seem to have a clue about how to fix it.
Halfway through the season, the Miners are just as bad as it gets for a 1-5 team. They have two big problems; they can’t score and they can’t stop their opponents from scoring.
They’re ranked 126th in points per game (15.7) and 113th in opponents’ points per game (37.7) out of 128 Division 1 teams. Even worse, they have the second-worst point differential in the country (-22.0).
Warning: this next paragraph is a little harsh, but the analogy is fitting.
To put it in terms the uninitiated can understand: the football team is like a classroom full of kids who can’t read (score) or write (defend).
That’s a pretty bad combo.
BUT, like every classroom, there is always one really smart kid out of the bunch.
That kid is Aaron Jones, he can read with the big boys. He’s about the only thing right with UTEP football. The junior running back is in the midst of another phenomenal season and is on pace to break some school records, if (being the operative word) he stays healthy.
Injuries are always a cause for concern with any team or player, but for Jones and the Miners, it has become commonplace.
2013: Missed final three games of freshman year with broken ribs
2014: Sidelined mid-season for one game
2015: Played two games, underwent season-ending surgery (torn ligaments in ankle)
Even this year, Jones has had some bruises and bumps along the way. Even so, the Burgess High alum is playing better than ever.
Here are his numbers: 104 attempts, 733 yards, 7.0 yards per attempt.
Let’s break this down: He’s fourth in the nation in rushing yards, despite being outside the top 20 in rushing attempts, and he has the highest per attempt average in the nation (minimum 100 attempts).
Jones is legit.
UTEP’s single season rushing record is held by Donald Buckram (2006-10). Buckram is somewhat of an afterthought when you look at his career as a whole. He spent the majority of his time in El Paso as a backup or on the sideline with an injury.
Out of nowhere in 2009, he rushed for 1,594 yards and 18 touchdowns in 12 games. He had three 200-plus yard rushing games in another uneventful 4-8 UTEP season.
Jones is currently on pace to rush for 1,466 yards, leaving him 128 yards short of the record. Considering that he is UTEP’s only weapon on offense–it’s doable.
On top of that, Jones only needs 503 yards to become the program’s all-time leading rusher–even more doable.
This is the Miners’ remaining schedule: Oct. 22 at UTSA, Oct. 29 at home vs. Old Dominion, Nov. 5 at home vs. Houston Baptist, Nov. 12 at Florida Atlantic, Nov. 19 at Rice, Nov. 26 at home vs. North Texas.
If the Miners somehow find a way to win five of these games, they will be bowl eligible, giving Jones one more game. But there is no telling whether they will win one, let alone five.
Jones will have two legitimate chances to go over 200 yards against Florida Atlantic (the tenth-worst rush defense in the nation) and Houston Baptist (an FBS school and the Miners’ best shot at their second win of the season).
UTSA, Old Dominion, Rice and North Texas do not have what you would call a “run-stopping-defense.” Old Dominion is the only half-decent team of the four, while the rest are in the bottom half of the nation in run defense.
So, let’s do some conservative math:
Jones rushes for 200 yards against Florida Atlantic and 220 against Houston Baptist
95 yards against Old Dominion
122 yards (his current per-game average) against UTSA, Rice, and North Texas
That equals 881 yards over the final six games, giving him 1,614 yards and the single-season rushing record by 20 yards.
The only thing holding him back is another injury or a blowout. Kugler won’t let Jones sniff the ball if it means risking his star player’s health, let alone when they are getting drilled by 30 plus points. Jones has only hit 20-plus attempts twice this season.
At his current yards per attempt average (7.0), Jones would need 126 attempts to reach 881 yards. That’s 21 attempts on the nose for the last six games, a workload that is not unfathomable, but somewhat unseen by Jones this season.
If the Miners are somewhat competitive and Jones stays healthy it can be done. Then again, the Miners are only somewhat competitive when Jones is healthy. Meaning, Jones only has himself in this somewhat empty quest for glory. He can’t put too much stock in his teammates to carry him over the top.
So there it is–despite one of the worst first halves of the season in recent program history, you, a UTEP football fan (if there are any left), have something to root for.
You might not watch the Miners win another game this season, but you still have a chance to watch the greatest running back in program history do something special.