2008 UTEP Miners Preview: QB Vittatoe looking to strike gold

Eddie GriffinSenior Analyst IJune 19, 2008

The 2007 season was a roller-coaster ride that came to a crashing end for UTEP. After starting 4-2, the Miners lost six straight games to finish the season, with their final three losses coming by 15 or more points. Defense was a big reason for the strugglers, as they had a tough time trying to replace 13 of their top 17 tacklers from 2006.

They also had to replace QB Jordan Palmer, but that didn’t prove to be as much of a struggle, as freshman Trevor Vittatoe stepped up and took control of the offense, passing for 3,101 yards, with 25 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. Despite the poor record, the Miners showed great potential last season and should be much better, especially with Vittatoe at the helm.

Coach: Mike Price (5th year at UTEP, 25-23)

2007 Record: 4-8, 2-6 CUSA

Starters returning: 12 (5 offense, 7 Defense)

Top returnees: QB Trevor Vittatoe, WR Jeff Moturi, C Robby Felix, LG Cameron Raschke, LB Adam Vincent, SS Da’mon Cromartie-Smith, CB Cornelius Brown, K Jose Martinez, P Kyle Petersen

Key losses: RB Marcus Thomas, WR Lorne Sam, WR Fred Rouse, WR Joe West, RG James Riley, RT Oniel Cousins, LB Braxton Amy (ACL injury-likely out for the season), LB Jeremy Jones, FS Quintin Demps

2008 Schedule

Aug. 28 @ Buffalo

Sept. 6 Texas

Sept. 20 New Mexico St

Sept. 27 UCF

Oct. 4 @ S. Mississippi

Oct. 11 Tulane

Oct. 18 @ Tulsa

Nov. 1 Rice

Nov. 8 @ Louisiana-Lafayette

Nov. 15 SMU

Nov. 22 @ Houston

Nov. 28 @ East Carolina

Key Game: Oct. 18 @ Tulsa - The Miners will travel to Ha Chapman Stadium to take on the Golden Hurricane in a mid-season contest. Tulsa looks to be the class of the C-USA West, while the Miners could go either way. Even though this game is midway through the season, it could have title game implications if both teams live up to their billing. The last five years have seen these two average 76 points per game, with last year’s game ending in a 48-47 last-minute victory for the Miners.

2008 Outlook

The 2008 season looks a lot better and brighter for the Miners. After having to replace 13 of their top 17 tacklers last season, they will have 13 of their top 18 tacklers returning for this season, including SS Da’mon Cromartie-Smith (93 tackles, 2 interceptions), LB Adam Vincent (75 tackles) and CB Cornelius Brown (46 tackles, 4 interceptions).

The defensive line this year is the complete opposite of last year’s unit. They had to replace eight seniors and had zero returning starters last year, whereas this year, there will be seven players returning with starting experience. UTEP will also shift to a 3-3-5 defense brought in by former New Mexico defensive coordinator Osia Lewis.

On offense, sophomore Vittatoe should be even better this year with a year under his belt, and he should challenge Rice’s Chase Clement to be the conference’s top QB. RB Terrell Jackson fought injuries last season, only rushing for 212 yards, but he’ll get his chance to start as a senior. Backup RB Jason Williams is likely out for the year with a fractured ankle, so look for RB Vernon Frazier and RB Daniel Palmer to fight it out for that role.

The question mark on this team is who will Vittatoe throw to other than First-Team all-conference pick Jeff Moturi. Moturi led the Miners with 65 receptions, 891 yards receiving, and 13 touchdowns, and he set a school record with a touchdown in ten straight games.

After Moturi there isn’t much in the way of proven talent. TE Jamar Hunt also returns for ’08, but he only had 12 catches last year. Head Coach Mike Price will look to redshirt freshman WR Russell Carr, junior WR Tufick Shadrawy, and sophomores WR Kris Adams and 6’5” WR Pierce Hunter to fight it out for the other two starting spots alongside Moturi.

UTEP should be improved and a much stronger team this season, and they should be able to cause some trouble in the C-USA West Division. If Vittatoe takes another step towards stardom this season, he could have the Miners possibly returning to bowl eligibility for the first time since 2005.