October 3, 2012

The Gilbert Challenge

While most of the questions this week have been about UTEP quarterback Nick Lamaison and his performances over the last couple weeks, there is another quarterback story line happening at the same time.

It's just not happening here in El Paso.

SMU's Garrett Gilbert is the focal point of that story and it's interesting to see a former Texas starting quarterback who had a chance to win a national championship just a couple years ago to the quarterback of a June Jones offense.

It wasn't an easy road and after flopping in his singular starting year at UT, he was no longer wanted or needed on the team. Gilbert had to decide what he was going to do and ended up choosing the Mustangs as his next school.

Even before Gilbert could take his first step on the SMU campus, he had to wrap things up at Texas and had to take 27 hours in his last semester at UT to graduate. That was a huge effort in order to leave somewhere you are not wanted anymore to be able to go somewhere where you are wanted.

You would think you have to be really smart to pull that off, wouldn't you?

Of course you have to when it comes to graduation but you also have to be really smart to be a quarterback in college football. Playbooks grow exponentially from high school to college and you have to spend hours going over the terminology and the signals just to get to where you can and run call plays.

It's just like working towards a major, except in football and Gilbert began the learning process all over again starting over with SMU.

In Gilbert's short time with SMU, he has faced Baylor, Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M and TCU so far this year and have managed a 1-3 record with the lone win coming against SFA.

In these four games, he is 91 for 184 for 884 total yards through the air with nine interceptions and four touchdowns. He has a 49.5 passing percentage with an average of 221.0 yards per game and an efficiency rating of 87.2.

Those are the positives.

Gilbert has also been sacked 11 times this year. His offense has not fared well on third down conversions, as the Mustangs are 21 for 65 for a 32.2% conversion rate. When you look at these numbers, aside from the third downs, the glaring stat is the nine interceptions, with five of them coming against TCU.

So how the Miners should fair against Garret Gilbert and his passing attack?

Through five games, opposing quarterbacks have gone 97 for 163 for 1186 total yards through the air with five interceptions and 10 touchdowns against UTEP. The Miners also have produced 10 sacks and are holding opponents to 26 for 66 on third down conversions for 39.5%.

Where you may have thought Gilbert was having a bad year -- and he does have a poor completion percentage -- this looks to be an even matchup and will pose a stern test for a Miner secondary that is missing Richard Spencer. The time is now for DeShawn Grayson, Darren Woodard and Shane Hunn to step up. The void Spencer left is huge this secondary has to fill it.

It's still too early to say Gilbert is the phenom quarterback he was in high school when Texas recruited and signed him and given the complexity of Jones' offense, it's pretty safe to say he has not mastered it yet. However, Gilbert has still found a way to move the ball and has accumulated yards on the stat sheets, they just aren't as good as you might expect.

So will UTEP be able to matchup well against him?

I have tried all year to figure out the Miners. The hardest part to figure out is who is going to show up, will it be the team that played so well in week one and caused Landry Jones issues or will it be the team that laid the egg last week against ECU as a result of an exhausted defense because the offense couldn't stay on the field?

Whoever shows up, one thing is certain, they need to be prepared for the fact that Garrett Gilbert is going to have four games under his belt and the offense is going to be a little more familiar to him.

Keep in mind, Gilbert has played under the greatest pressure of all; he came on for Colt McCoy in the National Championship game three years ago.

But then again that was three years ago.

Chad Middleton, also the producer for 600 ESPN El Paso's SportsTalk, can be reached at show@minerillustrated.com or you can follow him on Twitter at @chad600espn. Make sure to follow Miner Illustrated on Twitter at @minermaniac for more up-to-date news and information about UTEP.


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