QB Jordan Palmer

2004 Statistics

Coach: Mike Price
8-4, 1 year
2004 Record: 8-4
at Arizona State LOST 9-41
at Fresno State WON 24-21
at Louisiana Tech WON 44-27
at San Jose State WON 38-20
RICE WON 35-28 (2OT)
SMU WON 57-27
at Tulsa LOST 35-37
vs. Colorado LOST 28-33

2004 Final Rankings
AP-38, Coaches-38, BCS-UR

2005 Outlook

We pose two questions to sum up the Miner's thoughts. One: Can UTEP sustain the success it had last year while moving into a better league in Conference USA?

Two: If it does, how long will Price be around?

First things first. "I think we will stay the course," Price said after the bowl game loss to Colorado. The Miners will join six current C-USA schools as one of six new teams (including four from the Western Athletic Conference) to form the revamped lineup that now stretches across nine states. UTEP will play in the six-team Western Division along with Houston, Tulane, Rice, SMU and Tulsa - definitively not as strong as the East side, and definitively winnable. Their 2005 C-USA opponents were a combined 52-75 overall and 39-53 in conference play in '04. Putting Fresno in its rearview is exchanged for Memphis and Marshall now in their direct path, and with strong non-con New Mexico also calling, the Miner's path is still challenging.

Now, although nobody down in this west Texas town is addressing the situation, Price's tenure there could be a short one. Without re-hashing the ill-fated night which landed Price here, another 8-4 season that ends in a bowl game could easily be Price's last at UTEP. He certainly has redeemed himself, and greener pastures likely lie outside the folksy confines of El Paso. But his commitment here is genuine, and his results assure that he is embraced by the fans and region for as long as he allows them to do such. The bottom line becomes the team's current crafty schemes, and for a team of no-names that is eager to execute what it knows is a winning approach, there is that real feeling of a special season to come here in '05. Too bad they won't be able to sneak up on anyone, though, so we'll see just how responsive the Miners are to their newfound attention/status. Look for them to again handle it well and end on an even stronger note than last campaign's.

Projected 2005 record: 8-3
QB - 4 DL - 3.5
RB - 2.5 LB - 3
WR - 4.5 DB - 2.5
OL - 2 ..

Passing: Jordan Palmer, 366-213-18, 2818 yds., 26 TD

Rushing: Matt Austin, 55 att., 197 yds., 2 TD

Receiving: Jayson Boyd, 42 rec., 560 yds., 5 TD

Scoring: Reagan Schneider, 15-20 FG, 52-53 PAT, 97 pts.

Punting: None

Reagan Schneider, 15-20 FG, 52-53 PAT, 97 pts.

Tackles: Thomas Howard, 62 tot., 48 solo

Sacks: Thomas Howard, Chris Mineo - 8 each

Interceptions: Quintin Demps, 2 for 73 yds., 1 TD; Thomas Howard, 2 for 34 yds.

Kickoff Returns:
Johnnie Lee Higgins, 14 ret., 22.1 avg., 0 TD

Punt Returns: James Delgardo, 4 ret., 9.8 avg., 0 TD


DT Chris Mineo
OFFENSE: Howard Jackson-TB, Jonas Crafts-TE, Bo Morris-C, Ben Graniello-OG, Robert Espinosa-OT
DEFENSE: Brian Givens-DE, Ibok Ibok-DE, Robert Rodriguez-MLB, Godwin Akinduro-WLB, Adrian Ward-CB, Jahmal Fenner-CB, Mark Dowdy-SS, Bryce Benekos-P

Jordan Palmer, the brother of Heisman-winner Carson Palmer, came to UTEP with pedigree, but without polish. Consider him ready to shine after his terrific 8-4 effort. He ran coach Mike Price's four-receiver sets much better than he ran the offense the prior year, drawing the praise of his coach. "He has improved more than any other sophomore quarterback I have coached in this offense." What to do as an encore for his junior year? There's always room for improvement, and Palmer needs to cut down on his interceptions. Eighteen was way too many and he won't nearly have the same line. Translation: Some of the early season onus will be on whichever QB to avoid mistakes. If not Palmer, then former starter Orlando Cruz will possibly get his chance. Cruz, UTEP's passing leader in '03, has a lower INT-% than Palmer's, but the time it would take to get Cruz in gear would be ample, so his insertion would represent a step back. The real story on the depth chart is 6-5, 245-pound freshman Brandis Dew, a highly recruited pro-style signal caller out of California who is smart and a natural leader. It would be no surprise to see him at No.2 behind Palmer by fall. This unit can be great, but only if Price isn't afraid to pull the trigger on one of these subs at signs of consistency trouble.

Running Back
With all due respect, Matt Austin, Josh Chamois, Marcus Thomas and the rest of the crew on this unit are no Howard Jackson. While this might be running back by committee for a while, each brings something different to the table with an assortment of size and speed. Senior Austin has the inside track, yet has not developed past his strong underclass campaigns. But the real attention will be focused on UCLA transfer Tyler Ebell, who is finally eligible. Ebell, a national prep record setter (4495 yards as a senior), was a freshman all-American while with the Bruins, showing soft hands and strength for his scat size. In the one-back sets employed here, the change of personnel will force foes to stay sharp with who's in, or pay the price with each.

Palmer may not have the offensive line to protect him, but he'll have the receivers to throw to, that's for sure. Johnnie Lee Higgins is exciting and can just flat out go get it (20+ per grab). Defenses will be onto the ex-high- & triple-jumper, but they won't be able to play that close. From a statistical standpoint, UTEP returns its top three receivers, though from a depth chart standpoint, seven of the top eight are back. Senior bigman Aaron Givens is a solid slot guy who's not afraid to cross into the middle. Chris Francies and Jayson Boyd are virtually interchangeable at the other wide receiver slot. There is incoming and already established depth with good size, so there is little impact if injuries arise. It's an embarrassment of riches here.

Tight End
Jake Sears steps up as a solid blocker, and that's mainly what Price asks for here. The Miners throw the ball to their tight ends two or three times a game, and they seem to have success as four receivers distract in the middle. Casey Mauch has experience as the second TE, but his size means Sears is UTEP's biggest at 240lbs., not a good omen when in those goal line situations.

Offensive Line
The blind (left) side blockers are in place, with guard Jose Garcia and tackle Josh House returning. Andy Smith's 295 pounds represent an upgrade of more than 35 pounds at the center spot. Luis Espinosa's upper-body strength will replace his brother Robert well at RT, and local guy Alex DiMatteo has shown steady improvement leading up to this senior campaign. Problem here is how Colorado exposed the Miners' lack of footwork with a variety of blitzes in the Houston Bowl win. The senior leadership here should collude well for strong rushing and adequate pass protection.

When the Miners' four-receiver system is clicking, it's difficult to stop. In the final five regular season games, UTEP had a whopping 27 plays of 25 or more yards. Price is a master at mixing up his play-calls. But even Price knows it won't be the same without Jackson. "He was a real special player," Price said of his departed RB. "We have good candidates who can run and who are good players. But they're not going to be the same as Howard." Still, the talent is there, especially with the depth at WR. Look to see if/how often Price and company scrap the TE as the fourth receiver and insert another slot guy, especially early in the season. He's blessed with many playmakers, and as the RBs step up, wow. This team could easily match or surpass last year's 35.75 points per game, which was good for 11th in the country. With only the 42nd-ranked total offense, you can see how efficiency and making the most of all efforts happens on Price's teams. Look for the same magic to keep them in games when it seems they are out-manned.


WR Johnnie Lee Higgins


Returning Starters/
Key Players
QB Jordan Palmer-Jr Orlando Cruz-Sr
TB Matt Austin-Sr Marcus Thomas-So / Tyler Ebell-Sr
WR Johnnie Lee Higgins-Jr Aaron Givens-Sr
WR Chris Francies-Sr Chris Marrow-Jr
WR Jayson Boyd-Sr Daniel Robinson-Sr
TE Jake Sears-So Casey Mauch-Jr
OT Josh House-Sr Austin Chestnut-Fr
OG Jose Garcia-Sr Clay Salima-Sr
C Andy Smith-Jr Robby Felix-Fr
OG James Riley-So Alex DiMatteo-Sr
OT Tyler Ribitzki-Fr Luis Espinosa-Sr
K Reagan Schneider-Jr Russell Williams-Sr



Defensive Line
In the four-man front, inside guys Chris Mineo and Zach West are back. Svelte junior Alex Obomese has starting experience at one end, but the Miners really need another quality pass rusher. The Miners have options here. Alfonso Auelua, Ricky Van and Humberto Padilla are three of those eight JUCO players who have gray-shirted and are participating in spring drills. They each add depth and experience, any one of which will likely start. Behemoth Padilla has great skills, and can line up as a tackle or an end, while Van has improved steadily, to where he now is a true force if not double-teamed. Junior Joe Ward has the other end spot for now, so all of this competition bodes well for depth issues. There is speed in this crew, so last campaign's 42 sacks could be reached again. What was a 66th-rated run-stopping unit will also improve, but having allowed 105 first-downs on the ground, 3.7 per carry and 20 ground scores will be the nuts-and-bolts numbers most needing crunching.

Pencil JUCO transfer Jason McQuay into one of the vacated spots. McQuay is undersized, but he produces enough activity to achieve his objectives, and then some. Jeremy Jones at the WILL spot means experience takes over, but he needs to work on his coverage skills, for they aren't as strong as his run-stopping abilities. SAM Thomas Howard is a machine who can use his size for obvious hole-plugging, but also can use his feet for quality pass coverage. Howard will lead the charge here, and his example is a great one for the others to follow (National Honor Society). Junior Troy Collavo brings a nose for the ball and natural athleticism with his girth. The unit is strong, but ungelled. By mid-season, though, they are capable of showing stronger results, an important variable to improving the nation's 49th-rated total defense.

Defensive Back
Safeties Quintin Demps and Joe Fleskoski are big-time hitters, but the Miners will still struggle early to find a couple of lock-down corners. Best bets are that the JUCO guys already on campus have the inside track. Arthur Giddens has good size, with even better perspective and perception. Tim McCullouch also has a nose for the ball, with five INTs last year at Long Beach (Calif.). Penciled-in as of spring are senior James Delgardo and junior Nate Droughen, both of whom bring experience, regardless of where delegated. That means there is some depth here, though not much, but that's not really the problem. This secondary, like many others, will only be as good as the DEs who put pressure on the quarterback, for the CBs will need help early on and the front seven has to be on its toes then. The last CBs were excellent in run support, so these adjustments will definitely show. The last crew also helped UTEP to produce better efficiency results than it achieved via straight pass defense (22nd vs. 51st), so Fleckoski and Demps will have their work cut out for them as the leaders back here.

"I think the linebackers and the corners played so well (last year) that it's going to be a huge thing to replace," Price said. No kidding. Still, the 4-3 that UTEP favors is an aggressive 4-3 that takes chances, mirroring the intensity of defensive coordinator Tim Hundley. And that may be the biggest boost this defense gets, that Hundley is still around. Just before spring ball starter, Hundley backed out of a verbal commitment to take the defensive secondary coach job at Michigan State. That thrilled Price and the UTEP nation. After all, while giving up 25.1 points per game may not sound like a great job, consider where Hundley came from in his first year and what he was up against. UTEP gave up 38.3 points per game in 2003 and 42.6 in '02." The Miners need to funnel the action into the middle of the field, where the experienced safeties can clean up. Price has built his ideal here based on speed, but there is also size in both the line and LBs, so it is just a matter of time until things gel.


LB Thomas Howard


Returning Starters/
Key Players
DE Alex Obomese-Jr Reggie Miles-Jr
DT Chris Mineo-Sr Justin Hanel-Jr
DT Zach West-Jr Humberto Padilla-Jr
DE Joe Ward-Jr Justin Watson-Jr
SLB Thomas Howard-Sr Anthony Barnes-Sr
MLB Troy Collavo-Jr Jason McQuay-Jr
WLB Jeremy Jones-Jr Marshall Sanford-Sr
CB James Delgardo-Sr Tim McCullouch-Jr
CB Nate Draughon-Jr Andre Bailey-Jr
SS Joe Fleskoski-Jr Cedric Click-Sr
FS Quintin Demps-So Phillip Moss-Jr
P Ryan Hotchkiss-Jr Colin Marcee-So




Can Reagan Schneider regain his touch? Schneider opened the season by hitting 12 in a row and 14 of his first 15, including a 52-yarder. But he missed four in a row in the Tulsa game, so his strong spring will bring his swagger back. Coverage will again be decent, and with so many new DBs and LBs to try out, things will improve.

JUCO-transfer Ryan Hotchkiss won't be able to equal Bryce Benekos' stellar 44.1 yards per try. But the net results show that the coverage here is strong enough to compensate for Hotchkiss' weaker leg.

Return Game
Johnnie Lee Higgins does a nice job on kick returns, but the nation's 10th-best punt returner is gone. Look for Delgardo and Ebell to take over on PRs, with both having excellent open-field vision. There will be a rotating chair until PRs are again strong.