Four Things the Miners Need Going into UNLV
Things didn’t go the way the Miners expected their season opener would go Saturday evening, but head coach Dana Dimel and his squad are prepared to adjust this week in practice and prepare for improvement in week two against UNLV.
Here are four things the Miners need to work on going into Saturday’s road game:
1. Game Plan Around Locksley
After his 120 yards through the air and 77 yards on the ground against Northern Arizona, JUCO transfer quarterback Kai Locksley was named the starter for the team going into preparing for UNLV. Although senior Ryan Metz started the game, Dimel believed that Locksley’s performance in the home opener was enough to give him the starting job.
“I did like what Kai brought to the table as far as his energy,” Dimel said. “When you go back and critique his first game performance as a first-time starter in a new system and everything around him, the youth of the offensive line position, given our receiver position to mesh the way we want it to mesh, I thought his play, in general, was a solid performance. You saw some of the things he could bring to the table with his athleticism. He’s an intelligent player and he’s got a good skill set. We’ll improve as we go through the season. There’s a lot of excitement with what we’re going to do. We’re going to work to continue on improving.”
And as Dimel said, there’s areas for improvement for Locksley, as there is for every position. He needs to be careful on his release and decision-making. NAU was able to deflect seven passes on Saturday and take an interception from Locksley.
But his strengths are his dual-threat abilities that gave Miner fans a lot to be hopeful for. He could create plays on the ground and managed the ball well. If he can maintain composure this week and slide when he needs to, the Miners could game plan around Locksley for Saturday, and it could lead to more scores for the Miners.
2. Sharpen the O-Line
To sharpen the offensive line will be easier said than done for the Miners.
While the majority of the line made their collegiate debut on Saturday night, the Miners suffered in protection early on. With the losses of senior center Derron Gatewood and redshirt sophomore tackle Greg Long for the entire season to injuries, the Miners had to start completely anew on the line.
Against NAU, the line allowed five sacks for a combined loss of 37 yards and three quarterback hurries. This can’t happen against UNLV if the Miners hope to stand a chance to win on the road.
“The biggest things I think we need to improve upon schematically from that game looking as a full football team unit is the cohesion of our offensive line,” Dimel said. “With starting a true freshman at the left tackle position and as I talked about after the game, virtually starting all five starters were in a new role for them.”
The offensive line needs to take a big step forward in practice this week.
3. Apply Pressure to UNLV Defensively
On defense against Northern Arizona, the Miners were credited with only one sack and one quarterback hurry in the game. It allowed Case Cookus to throw all over the Miners, completing 19-of-26 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
UNLV, on the other hand, is more run-heavy. They put up over 300 yards on the ground against 15th ranked USC last Saturday, and sophomore Armani Rogers adds to their run game with his dual-threat style of play. The Miners will need to create opportunities for pass rushers like CJ Reese and Trace Mascorro on Saturday’s road game.
4. “Get Over the Fear of Losing”
During his weekly press conference, Dimel expressed how he wants his team to “get over the fear of losing.” He felt that the team last Saturday played like they had to win, or else there would be ramifications or backlash.
Dimel says his objective now is to change the sense of apprehensiveness for a loss to more of an improvement standard. He values the importance of improvement over the anxiety of winning a game and snapping their 13-game losing streak.
There’s no statistical solution to this. Nor is there a physical change the team can make. Dimel and the team have to be mentally strong to endure and overcome adversity in order to win.
The majority of the starters on this team have never won on the road with the Miners. Their last road win as a program came in October of 2016 when they beat UTSA 52-49 in a five-overtime thriller.
But streaks and narratives aside, the Miners are still only 0-1 on the season. They could turn their week one loss to a huge week two win on the road. Any win at this point would be huge.