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September 30, 2012
Following UTEP's disappointing loss to East Carolina this past weekend, you could not help but wonder how this season will turn out with the Miners sitting at 1-4 (0-1 Conference USA).
Everyone knew this would be a tough start to the season with the difficult non-conference schedule against some storied football programs, but after some hard fought losses to the likes of Oklahoma and Wisconsin there was plenty of optimism prior to the opening game versus the Pirates.
Even after an hour weather delay and the Miners leading 10-7 things were looking bright for UTEP even in the torrential downpour in Greenville as the defense was able to thwart the ECU offense deep in red zone with an end zone interception.
So what does head coach Mike Price do?
He brings in backup quarterback Carson Meger following the turnover and predictably goes three and out in the Miners first possession following the lightning delay.
Price has been upfront since the beginning of the season that Meger would see playing time in every game and while I don't disagree bringing him in due to a struggling Nick Lamaison or injury, he seems to put him in at questionable times.
Lamaison wasn't exactly playing lights out early on prior to the delay, but he wasn't hurting the offense either.
After another UTEP interception, Lamasion was back on the field and after another three and out, the offense took a nose dive for the rest of the night as ECU outscored the Miners 21-8 with essentially two points scored by the offense (2pt conversion) following a 96-yard kickoff return by Autrey Golden.
Did that one missed series disrupt Lamaison's rhythm?
It would be easy to say no, but I am not so sure. We don't know what is going on in Lamaison's head at that point, but it can't be positive for him. Price and the coaching staff wanted to mix things up with Meger and there are times to do that, unfortunately that wasn't the right time to pull the trigger.
As I was reading on twitter following the game, most fans are placing the blame squarely on Lamaison's shoulders.
Does he deserve some blame?
Absolutely, after UTEP went up 10-7 in the second quarter Lamaison seemed out of sync and wasn't taking what the defense was giving him.
Price was adamant this year that the tight ends would be a bigger part of the passing offense and after a Craig Wenrick drop in the first quarter I don't think the tight ends were targeted for the remainder of the game. Lamaison was continually looking downfield for the big play when more than a handful of times the underneath routes were there for the taking.
Granted the ECU defense deserves some credit especially on the line disrupting the passing game, but even when Lamaison had time his accuracy was nonexistent and he wasn't checking down to his tight ends or running backs.
What does Price do now?
After Lamaison's 9 for 27, 143-yard, three interception performance many of the UTEP faithful are looking for a change at the quarterback position and while most will blame Nick; the coaching staff needs to reevaluate the play calling as well. Even down just four points UTEP could have pounded the run more and taken fewer chances on the deep throws.
We all know Price won't lie down and concede the season and while 1-4 looks pretty bleak, if the Miners can somehow win out at home, five wins is still a slight possibility.
The easy call would be to start Meger against SMU and although most might feel that is the way to go, I don't think that is the best option. Actually, if rebuilding was on Price's mind I would welcome the idea of bringing in Blaire Sullivan to get his feet wet (credit to Sal Guerrero for that option), however, we know that won't happen unless injury strikes both QB1 and QB2.
It might not be the most popular opinion right now with the ECU loss fresh in everyone's minds, but I think you roll the dice with Lamaison and see if he can bounce back against the Mustangs. Maybe playing in the friendly confines of the Sun Bowl could help him get back on track.
I have a feeling we will see Meger sooner rather than later next weekend and while it wouldn't be a shocker for him to get the start; Lamaison should get one more shot.
Josh Puga can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter at @jpuga1966 . Make sure to follow Miner Illustrated on Twitter at @minermaniac for more up-to-date news and information about UTEP.