Towel Talk: Q&A with SB Nation’s Miner Rush


In college football, you must sometimes live to fight another day. Following a 59-10 beatdown last week at the hands of Louisiana Tech, the Hilltoppers must pick themselves up, lick their wounds, and try to rebound against a surprising UTEP team. Sitting at 3-5, the postseason window is closing quickly for WKU, and head coach Jeff Brohm must find answers soon if the Toppers are to turn around a once-promising season and earn a bowl bid.

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After being picked to finish last in the conference in the preseason poll, UTEP comes into the Houch on the verge of bowl eligibility with an impressive 5-3 (3-1 C-USA) record. In contrast, the Toppers are still searching for their second conference win.

Will the second win come against the Miners? I don’t have an answer, but I can offer some insight from the opposing side.

Ahead of Saturday’s homecoming matchup, I was able to talk with UTEP fan site Miner Rush. We talked about the Miner team, its gameplan, and what WKU — or UTEP — needs to do to ensure a victory.

Wave The Red Towel: UTEP was picked to finish last in the Conference USA Preseason Poll. The team now sits at 5-3, one win away from becoming bowl eligible. What do you contribute the Miner’s unexpected success to this season?
Miner Rush: We all expected improvement from last year’s catastrophe of a season. Many anticipated four to five wins for the 2014 season, and to be sitting at five wins with four games still remaining has been a huge surprise for the Miner faithful.

Overall I would say team chemistry and mental toughness seems to be at an all-time high. It all started in week one in Albuquerque. With the score tied up at 24, UTEP punted with four minutes left against New Mexico. Instead of watching the inevitable game winning drive we’re used too by the opposing team, we witnessed something different in our centennial year. The special teams forced a fumble, UTEP recovered at the six and the offense added six physical points. To top it off on the next drive, the defense ended the game with a game-sealing interception.

Whether we were down 45-0 at Kansas St or winning 34-0 at UTSA, this team has kept playing disciplined, tough football until the final whistle. Mental toughness is a huge aspect that had led to the improved overall success this season.

WTRT: Many Hilltopper fans may be unfamiliar with UTEP since it is WKU’s first year in C-USA. For those who have not seen UTEP play, what can you tell them about the Miner offense?
MR: The offense has undergone a huge 180-degree transformation from a pass happy-go-lucky style during the Price era, to a smash-mouth run-until-we-are-forced-to-pass under Sean Kugler. It worked for the first three games as we knocked off both our rivals from New Mexico, and came so close to upsetting Texas Tech – if that is still considered an upset nowadays.

But once teams figured out how to stop the run, we ran into some serious problems.

After our two-game losing skid to Kansas State and LA Tech, where we were outscored 113-31, the coaching staff went back to the drawing board and re-evaluated the play calling.

Currently we are still a run-first team that dominates the time of possession by using a new triple option spread-style attack that has been used since to help open the run more, but we have developed just enough of a passing threat out of the option to keep defenses on their toes.

So mainly it’s all about ball control, and the UTEP offense is at its best controlling the line of scrimmage, and using balanced 10-play plus drives that play keep away from the other offense.

WTRT: The Hilltopper defense has struggled this season to contain explosive players. Who is UTEP’s most dynamic player on offense, and what does WKU need to do to slow him down?
MR: Without a doubt the local kid Aaron Jones has proved to be the most dynamic player on offense. He can be stopped if you commit eight to the box, though do so at your own risk, as Jameill Showers has grown in confidence, and has shown the ability to expose the one-on-one matchups on the outside.

Autrey Golden is another naturally talented skill player for UTEP. He is explosive, elusive, and is improving his transition into being a full-time receiver. His numbers speak for themselves with his 2,139 kick return yards that rank him #2 in UTEP history and #10 in C-USA in all-time career kick return yards. He still has another year to chase the #1 spot in school and conference history, and broke a 98-yard return for a score last week that earned him C-USA special teams player of the week honors.

Reciever Ian Hamilton is a 6’5, 235 lb. receiver who can stretch the field, and fellow receivers Jaquan White and Jarrad Shaw all have the longest receptions of the seasons. Though UTEP might not target them very much, they are very capable playmakers who have shown they can break a defense.

WTRT: What is the UTEP’s biggest weakness on offense?
MR: We complain that sometimes UTEP becomes too predictable or “vanilla” with their play calling. Some of us at home know the exact play that is about to be called, and if us regular Joe’s sitting in a couch can figure it out I’m certain that a more experienced defensive coordinator can likewise. Otherwise, small mistakes like negative yards, and the far and few in between penalties are weaknesses, as any drive-killing mistakes are killers for the UTEP offense.

WTRT: What is UTEP’s defensive identity and gameplan?
MR: UTEP’s defense prides itself on getting off the field on third down and creating turnovers. The UTEP D is currently ranked ninth nationally on third down conversion percentage. It also ranks 10th nationally in turnover margin. They do this by mixing in unique blitzes on early downs in forcing third and long where the play book opens up even more.

Gang tackling has also been a staple that UTEP has found the past two weeks, and all those points together has made UTEP a legit defensive team, though this weekend will test those improvement marks.

WTRT: Will UTEP be able to put pressure on Brandon Doughty and slow WKU’s passing attack?
MR: We might get pressure and earn a sack or two, but overall I think Doughty will continue to do what he does and put up big numbers. I think he will move the ball up and down the field with ease. It will be up to the UTEP defense to discover some turnovers and change the momentum. Expect heavy blitz, and mixed coverage’s as wrinkles, and maybe an exact blueprint of what LA Tech did last week.

WTRT: How should WKU attack the UTEP defense?
MR: Aces in their places. Use Doughty to shred the UTEP defense backs. Force UTEP to stop the passing game. If Southern Mississippi’s backup quarterback torched us for 309 yards, I see no reason why Doughty can’t have a better performance. Also, UTEP was allowing almost seven yards a carry heading into the UTSA game, so being balanced will also be something WKU can do to keep UTEP honest with their blitzes.

WTRT: WKU wins if…
MR: If the UTEP offense can’t move the ball. Last week, our special teams and our defense bailed out the offense for the victory. If UTEP can’t get yards and score touchdowns against the #124 defense in the country, it could be demoralizing to the team.

WTRT: UTEP wins if…
MR: If we wear our vintage helmets. We are 3-0 with them on. But all jokes aside, UTEP has a long history of losing games in the Eastern Time zone, so thank god y’all are in the Central Time Zone.

Showers has to make some plays with his feet, and be efficient in the passing game, and the defense needs to continue to force turnovers in key spots.

Aside from the UTSA domination our defense hasn’t been able to stop opposing offense from getting yards and scoring points. One thing they have done very well is come up with game changing turnovers and third down stops.

Miner Rush’s Prediction: Normally I would follow logic and pick the eight point home favorites to win. Something is awry in 2014. In our continued success of our providential centennial year I say UTEP keeps turning heads and wins a wild one 38-35.

Wave the Red Towel would like to thank Miner Rush for taking time out of its weekly schedule to talk with us. You can also catch WTRT’s answers to Miner Rush’s questions at their site.