UTEP prepares for #7 Oklahoma

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UTEP prepares for #7 Oklahoma

Head football coach Sean Kugler enters his fifth season at the helm of the Miners.

Head football coach Sean Kugler enters his fifth season at the helm of the Miners.

Gaby Velasquez

Head football coach Sean Kugler enters his fifth season at the helm of the Miners.

Gaby Velasquez

Gaby Velasquez

Head football coach Sean Kugler enters his fifth season at the helm of the Miners.

Adrian Broaddus, Editor-In-Chief

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Five years ago, the Miners were 30-point underdogs against the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners, whom would host their season opener, and they were inexperienced, under head coach Mike Price, who was on the hot seat. Despite the early neck-and-neck start, the Miners did not have enough grit to stay with the Sooners and fell 24-7.

This year the Sooners, who play host to the Miners for the opening game on Sept. 2, are coming in as a near 45-point favorite over UTEP. Similarly to 2012, the Miners are still searching for an identity on offense after losing standout running back Aaron Jones to the NFL.

Added to that, the Miners will bring 26 newcomers to the team, who have not stepped on the field as a Miner.

“I want to see my team compete and win the one-on-one battles,” head coach Sean Kugler said during his weekly press conference. “If we win one-on-one battles, that can help us keep it close. We have to keep mistakes at a minimum. Miners

can’t beat Miners.”

Quarterback Ryan Metz has taken the reigns for the offense and this Saturday will be his first big test against a top team. He’s coming off a promising 2016 season, in which he earned the starting job after seven starts. Metz completed 64.7 percent of his passes and threw 14 touchdowns.

Kugler is very hopeful about Metz as he has been the starter since spring ball.

“Ryan is a product of the program,” Kugler said. “It was my fault; he shouldn’t have been out on the field so early. He shows maturity. Shows maturity in the pocket. The most important thing with Ryan is that he gained the trust of his teammates. You can’t help but like Ryan Metz.”

Throughout the summer, Metz has found his favorite receivers and even new targets emerged throughout the summer. He was notorious for slinging to receivers such as Warren Redix, Eddie Sinegal and Terry Juniel. Metz has seen tight ends emerge through the summer, such as David Lucero, who saw a lot of action on the field this off-season, Josh Weeks, a transfer from BYU, and Sterling Napier. Emerging through the receiving core, up and coming players such as Alan Busey, a Chabot Junior College transfer, Kavika Johnson, who changed from quarterback to receiver in the off season, and Keynan Foster, an elusive slot receiver.

“This is the best receiving group I’ve been around,” Kugler said. “Warren Redix took a big jump in training camp. He was consistent at every aspect. He’s a quiet leader.”

Converting from receiver to running back, sophomore Walter Dawn Jr. is listed as the No. 1 running back on the depth chart. Behind Dawn Jr. is six other running backs listed on the depth chart. Dawn Jr. will contribute with quick handoffs and will probably be tasked to catch out of the backfield.

Other names on the running back chart include TK Powell, who is returning to the field after missing a year due to an injury all of last season. Kevin Dove, a hefty back who saw a lot of action last year, will also be taking carries for the offense. Newcomers Joshua Fields and Ronald Awatt will also likely see action on the field this season.

Quadraiz Wadley, who was anticipated to fill the role of the starting running back, has been currently battling a lengthy injury. Although it was announced he would be out for the year, now Wadley might return to the gridiron as early as October.

“(The running backs playing) will be pretty balanced,” Kugler said. “You’re hoping one has a break out game, but you’ll see all (Dawn, Powell, Dove, Awatt and Fields) out there.”

Defensively, Kugler has seen great strides made by the team. He believes that the team has gained the experience they needed, transitioning from a 3-5-3 to a 3-4 last year, and will truly rectify the scheme this year.

“I think defensively we’re going to see a big jump when this season is all said and done,” Kugler said. “(Defensive coordinator Tom) Mason is predicated on blitzing. We didn’t have the help to do that last year. I think we’ll have one of the better secondaries in the conference.”

Some of the key returners to the defense include senior linebacker Alvin Jones, who leads the Miners with 241 career tackles and 10.5 sacks, linebacker Dante Lovilotte, who stormed onto the team with 89 tackles last season, defensive back Devin Cockrell, who ranked fourth on the team last year with 58 tackles.

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Scouting Oklahoma

The seventh-ranked Sooners will debut newly named head coach Lincoln Riley, who took over the position of Bob Stoops, who retired during the off-season.

At 33 years old, Riley is the youngest FBS head coach. He was the Sooners’ offensive coordinator last season and lifted the team to the No. 3 and No. 4 scoring offenses in 2016 and 2015, respectively.

Currently, the Sooners are coming off the longest win streak in college football, having won 10 in a r

ow. They are 3-0 all-time against the Miners.

Unlike a fairly new UTEP team, Oklahoma returns 16 players, each whom has started at least six games last year. Leading the team is quarterback Baker Mayfield—a Heisman Trophy finalist hopeful. Mayfield threw for 3,965 passing yards last year and broke the record for passing efficiency (196.39).

“They’re led by one of the best quarterbacks in the nation,” Kugler said. “I feel they have the best offensive line in the country. They’re a very experienced offensive line, which is a sign of success.”

The other thing Kugler is concerned about is how humid and hot the game will be. The Weather Channel has the forecast temperature to be 85 degrees with 60 percent humidity.

“We will have to rotate players in and out and keep them fresh,” Kugler said.

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