UTEP Football Seeks Two Winnable Games to Close Out the Season
It's been a tough inaugural season for first-year head coach Dana Dimel and his staff, which has been plagued with a load of injuries, slow starts and nine losses.
But the Miners (1-9, 1-5 C-USA) have an opportunity to send off the 2018-19 season on a high note with two winnable games in their final two weeks, where they take on Western Kentucky (1-9, 0-6 C-USA) this Saturday, Nov. 17, and hosting Southern Mississippi next Saturday, Nov. 24.
And although Dimel might be looking at this season as a whole, for now, he will turn his team's focus to Western Kentucky, who is in a similar situation as the Miners.
"I think our team has to lock in to have great preparation this week," Dimel said. "We know we can execute at a high level, we just need to do it at a consistency for four quarters. We have to eliminate turnovers. Turnovers are losing us football games. If we can eliminate that like we did against Rice, we can do good things."
Western Kentucky has lost six in a row, dating back to their early-season victory against Ball State (28-20). They've lost all their six Conference USA games and are vying for their first win this week as seven-point favorites against UTEP.
Under head coach Mike Sanford, the Hilltoppers are also searching for their first win at home this season, having been 0-4 to start the season. The Miners are also winless at home this season, with a 0-5 record.
The Hilltoppers have lost four games this season by three points to Maine (31-28), Louisville (20-17), Marshall (20-17) and Old Dominion (37-34).
They are also among the worst in C-USA in red zone offense, scoring only 71.9 percent of the time, and has scored less than 20 points in seven of their 10 games.
The biggest problem for the Hilltoppers has been finding their quarterback on offense. Three different quarterbacks have made appearances for the Hilltoppers this season, including redshirt-freshman Davis Shanley (942 yards passing), sophomore Steven Duncan (765) and senior Drew Eckels (709). Last week it was Duncan starting for WKU in their loss to Florida Atlantic, where he completed 25-of-42 passes for 228 yards in the 34-15 loss.
"They’re going through some quarterback problems," Dimel explained. "Mike is in a rebuilding year. They’re very very competitive. Their whole defense plays with a lot of intensity. We need to be prepared to play a team that will compete with us."
For the Miners, their offense has been plagued deeply with injuries. Dimel said today that while senior wideout Warren Redix will be active against WKU, offensive lineman Zuri Henry is out for the season from a freak injury he suffered after the game against Middle Tennessee. In UTEP's 48-32 loss to MTSU this past weekend, injuries certainly played a factor.
"All five of our offensive captains did not play in the game," Dimel said. "Kai is nowhere near 100 percent. I would say 55-50 percent capacity, but he’s doing a lot of things for us and I’m proud of him."
Kickoff against the Hilltoppers is expected to be in the freezing temperatures at Houchens-Smith Stadium.
"Takes a lot of focus and it’s important to dress well," Dimel said regarding the weather. "Nothing about underdressing that makes players looks tough. We gotta make sure to properly dress well. Keeping players warm, keep them playing and out of the cold."
Kickoff for Saturday's game is set for 5:30 p.m. MT and will be televised on beIN Sports.