UTEP hits the road for the second week in a row, this time to the eastern time zone, where the Miners have never won in the eastern time zone. If they break that streak, it’ll be at the expense of rebuilding Tennessee.
Here’s what we’re looking for on Saturday in Knoxville:
The Miners showed flashes of a more cogent offensive scheme against UNLV last week. Kai Locksley and Quadraiz Wadley both rushed for 100 yards, and UTEP scored 24 points. Issues remain lots of them. The Miner passing game is still a work in progress, Locksley and Ryan Metz are completing just 43% of their passes. You can blame the receiving corps, but they aren’t getting enough quality service.
Locksley is quick to pull the ball and run, often out of necessity and Metz continues to turn the ball over. We’d like to see UTEP’s passing game start trending towards efficiency and the offense overall as well. That’s easier said than done given UTEP’s line issues.
None of that Matters if You Can’t Block
The Miner line isn’t holding up its end of the bargain, and as a result, plays break down quicker, and improvisation becomes the best option for Locksley. Any delay or slow developing play stands less of a chance for success. UTEP made a shift last week, moving Rueben Guerra back to guard and Markos Lujan to center. Guerra played at tackle last year and guard for most of fall camp. Then adversity struck, UTEP lost its top two linemen, center Derron Gatewood and tackle Greg Long to injury in fall camp. The Miners are still trying to find their best five up front, so the line issues aren’t going to solve themselves any time soon.
The Vols, in the meantime, are trying to rebuild under Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt, another Saban disciple, is the antithesis of Butch Jones, at least concerning public persona. Pruitt takes a hardcore, no-frills approach, not interested in Jones’ “Champions for Life” mantras. Pruitt wants guys who can, you know, block and tackle.
The Volunteers run a decidedly more conventional offense. They run the ball twice as much as they throw it. Pruitt wants to establish a physical style of play, and so they will ground and pound you. Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano completes over 70% of his throws, and he’s dangerous with his legs as well.
On defense the Vols are SEC-sized, both interior defensive linemen are north of 300 pounds, as are their backups. The front seven starts all seniors and juniors. Like Pruitt’s defenses at Alabama, they’ll look to control the line of scrimmage with as few assets as possible and let their linebackers fly around. They don’t have the Alabama caliber athletes yet, but they have the size.
Meet A.J. Hotchkins
Oregon grad transfer A.J. Hotchkins has been a revelation for the Miners. He’s the leading tackler in the country through two games and is taking on a leadership role on the team. Like any good linebacker, he’s always around the ball. He’s a bright spot on a team that allowed 400 yards rushing last week and over six yards a snap to start the season.