The Oklahoma Sooners open their season against the UTEP Miners, a program that has faced OU three times since 2000. However, most folks in the Sooner State aren’t terribly familiar with what the Miners are about, so Alex Nicolas of Miner Rush is here to help us out!
1. Lincoln Riley spoke glowingly of UTEP guard Will Hernandez this week, saying he has the potential to be a first-round pick next spring. What makes him such a good pro prospect, and how vital is he to UTEP’s success in 2017?
Will is simply a blue-collar, road-grating lineman with excellent footwork, and once he gets his paws inside your pads, GAME OVER. Current Green Bay Packer rookie Aaron Jones used to run behind him and would make that one-cut and-go behind Will for most of his highlight-reel home runs. His run blocking and gap control abilities are vital to UTEP’s run game success at left guard.
2. Who are some other players on the roster that OU fans should keep an eye on this weekend?
Quarterback Ryan Metz is entering his second season as a starter, the El Paso native showed maturity and pocket presence improvement in camp. UTEP’s passing game could see a boost with Metz’s experience, but UTEP is a run first, ball control offense.
UTEP is also looking for a new running back to emerge so keep an eye on both 5’6 lightning rod Walter Dawn Jr., and 6’1, 250 pound bruiser Kevin Dove who will see the bulk of the early carries.
On defense, Alvin Jones is an uber productive all-C-USA linebacker who is not scared to stick his nose in someone’s chest. Devin Cockrell could be one of UTEP’s sleeper NFL prospects. The instinctive safety is a four year starter, and one of the hardest hitting safeties in C-USA.
3. Head coach Sean Kugler is entering his fifth season as head coach at UTEP. Are Miner fans satisfied with the direction of the program at this point?
I think fans are split right in the middle in terms of where the program is headed under Sean Kugler.
On one hand, UTEP has improved their roster numbers with equal depth and 85 scholarships filled. Academics is a major priority with UTEP boasting a very high APR under Kugler. Character issues are very minimal like transfers and defections have been, so that part Kugler has done one hell of a job in running a clean program.
But then you have the lack of an effective passing game that is a cloud over the Kugler Era mixed with the C-USA struggles that has the other half of the fan base calling for his job.
Kugler has done good really things at UTEP so far, but consistently winning and giving fans hope with an exciting college football-style offense are the major negatives.
4. In what areas do you think UTEP will be able to give Oklahoma trouble on Saturday?
Offensively, UTEP can be pretty effective in sustaining long and physical drives if the run game is averaging at least four yards per carry. Mix that with some play action, and misdirection, and it could possibly be a small advantage while the Oklahoma defense figures things out early.
Defensively, UTEP did really well defending the vertical passing game last year, and returns both starting corners. IF (big IF), UTEP can create something of a pass rush, that could be another area where UTEP might give Baker Mayfield small fits, and a good look for next week.
5. What are some interesting facts about UTEP, its football program and its fan base that you think college football fans in Oklahoma or around the country should be aware of?
UTEP has 31 kids from El Paso on their roster, something Sean Kugler takes pride in by recruiting El Paso heavily.
Ed Hochuli, the jacked NFL ref, was a UTEP lineman back in the day, and former head coach Mike Price ripped away a disgruntled fan’s sign calling for Tim Floyd’s head last basketball season.
UTEP football has struggled for the last 100 years to say the least and UTEP is a “basketball school” but the fan support is very rabid and passionate about football.
6. The spread for this game is currently set at 43.0. Does UTEP cover on Saturday? What’s your final score prediction?
Man, I’m not sure UTEP covers on the betting line due to the enigma that is UTEP’s kicking game as crazy as that sounds.
I see it going something like 55-13 if UTEP can knock down a long FG or two, UTEP will try to slow the game down early, but I think Oklahoma makes some big plays to turn a close first quarter into an easy win.