This week's blogger Q&A comes from Miner Rush, SBNation's UTEP blog. We've sent back some answers to their questions as well which should be up soon over there. Be sure to check them out later in the day.
RCR: While I'm sure the outcome isn't what you wanted, I imagine you're encouraged by the display UTEP put on against Oklahoma. Obviously Nathan Jeffery was a big part of that. What do you think is the difference for him between last year and this year?
MR: I think, while all Miners fans were a bit disappointed in the way the game ended, if you would've told us beforehand that we'd have a 10-7 game in the 4th, we would've been completely ok with that, no matter how we got to that point. Yes, the offense, outside of Jeffery, was stagnant, but we know that we've got a better QB than what we saw. Assuming he comes out of that rut this weekend, our offense will be in much better rhythm, and Jeffery will be an even bigger threat.
As far as the difference for Nathan this year; its the simple fact that he is now the featured back. Last year, as a freshman, he played behind three seniors, and just never got a real chance to show his skills. This year its all about him. Coach Price has already said that he wants to get him 20+ carries a game, and he showed that in week one. Assuming he stays healthy, expect that to continue.
RCR: On the other hand, UTEP's passing looked pretty poor with Nick Lamaison going 6/23 with a YPA of just 1.7. Was it just that Oklahoma's passing defense was strong, or do you think that UTEP's passing offense may struggle for most of the season?
MR: I think there were a lot of factors that led to Nick Lamaison's poor performance. First, yes he was playing one of the better defenses in the Big 12, if not the country. Second, his receivers dropped plenty of passes, and could've easily helped him get into a better rhythm. And last, I think there were some nerves involved. You open up the season against one of the top teams in the nation, and you're not exactly sure how its going to go.
But, like I said in the opening, Nick is a much better QB than he showed on Saturday. Last year he showed some good things, but the O-Line couldn't give him protection, and thus he was hurt early in the year. In junior college the guy passed for over 7,500 yards in two years, and won back to back national championships. He's got the tools to be a good QB. He just has to settle down, and play the game the way that he knows how. I really expect him to be much improved this week.
RCR: Talk about one defensive player we need to keep an eye on in the game. I'm not necessarily asking who your best defender is- more just which defender could come up with a big play or two in the game?
MR: I have trouble picking a single name on this defense. There are literally guys on all three levels who are capable of making big plays. But, I'll go with Germard Reed. The defensive tackle isn't a huge guy, but he goes hard every single play. If the UTEP defense is going to play anywhere near the level that they did a week ago, it'll start with the defensive line getting pressure on, and containing Bo Wallace.
Like I said, I have trouble picking just one name, so also look out for senior LB Jamie Irving. He was our leading tackler back in 2010, but has battled injuries ever since. He was held out of the OU game due to back spasms, but if he can get healthy he's going to be a force for our defense.
RCR: Mike Price hasn't had a winning season at UTEP since the 2005 season. Do you think this is the year he turns things around?
MR: It's been a rough go at things for Mike Price over the last year. 2010 was supposed to the year that we put all the pieces together and vied for a conference crown, but injuries to half our team had us doing a faceplant down the stretch. We subsequently lost to BYU in the New Mexico Bowl, and people have been on Price's Case ever since.
This is the last year on his contract, and thus will have to be the year he turns things around, if he is ever going to do it. Some people think that still might not be enough to keep him around, but either way, its now or never. The tough thing is that we play such a rough schedule. We started with OU, we've got you all this week, and we still have to go to Camp Randall to face Wisconsin in two weeks. We could be in deep hole by the time conference starts.
All that said, what we saw out of our guys in week 1 was extremely promising. This defensive unit, which I've been saying could be the best in Price's tenure, played lights out against the Big 12 favorite Oklahoma, and Heisman candidate Landry Jones. The offense will come around, and if Jeffery stays healthy we will be dangerous. If we can put it all together, and stay healthy, we could easily be contending for a Conference USA title this year.
RCR: Give me a prediction on the score of the game. How does it play out?
MR: UTEP has been a terrible road team for years. That's not a Mike Price thing, that's just been a UTEP thing. But, I truly believe this is the year we break out of that slump. Barring anything unforseen, this should be a great game. I have to think my Miners finally break through against a BCS school. UTEP 27, Ole Miss 24.