After ‘Slow’ Start, UTEP Football Looks Inward for Answers Ahead of Boise State
After four weeks into the college football season, the UTEP football team (1-3) is searching for answers to turn their season around before it's too late. Head coach Dana Dimel took ownership of their most recent loss to New Mexico during Monday's weekly press conference, but as the non-conference slate finishes Friday against Boise State, time is running out for this team to get back to where they were last year.
This year's squad is far from the 6-1 start that the 2021 Miners had. If UTEP can somehow win five of their last eight games, it will be the first time the program makes it to a bowl game in consecutive seasons since 2004-05 under Mike Price.
"It's important to get to back-to-back winning seasons," Dimel said this week. "It helps in your recruiting and I think it helps in all aspects of your program. That's why it's important for us to handle this slow start and get back into and really play good football."
The Miners are trying to shake off their ugly 27-10 road loss to New Mexico, in which the offense totaled a whopping seven turnovers. Boise State (2-1) enters Friday night's game with two consecutive wins, including a 31-14 thumping against the Lobos on Sept. 9.
"We got too aggressive, we gave (New Mexico) too many opportunities and obviously the turnovers kept growing as the game went along," Dimel said. "I didn't do a great job of managing the game and giving us the best chance of winning that game. Live and learn from that. Not good management of a ball game in that retrospect."
Most of the struggles come on the offensive side, specifically issues with execution. The Miners are among the bottom ten in FBS for several offensive stats like team passing efficiency (121st), scoring offense (123) and rushing offense (123). Quarterback Gaviin Hardison currently has a 48% completion rate and has more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2). Running backs Ronald Awatt (52 attempts) and Deion Hankins (25) are totaling under 20 carries combined per game.
They have scored just five touchdowns in four games, including a discouraging 3-of-8 in red zone touchdowns (38%).
"I don't think we were patient enough with our pass game, and we took a lot of shots. Our shots are usually a little bit more calculated than what they were (against New Mexico)," said Dimel. "I'm very frustrated with the way we've been performing with our lack of production, but I know we've got the talent to do better. So that's the encouraging part.”
Like in 2021, the Miner defense is the team's strong point. They have forced six turnovers thus far, including four forced fumbles and two interceptions. The two categories they can improve on defensively are their rush defense and getting more pressure on the opposing quarterbacks (six sacks, seven hurries in four games).
Linebacker Cal Wallerstedt has delivered as a replacement for the injured Jerome Wilson Jr. The linebacker leads the team with 5.5 tackles for losses and totals 23 tackles n the season. Tyrice Knight currently leads the team with 37 tackles and one interception.
They will be challenged greatly against a balanced Broncos offense that is led by quarterback Hank Bachmeier and running back George Holani. Boise State averages 318.7 yards per game on offense while scoring 26.0 points per game. Last year, the Broncos ran up 461 yards of offense against the Miners in their 54-13 win.
“They're really a physical defensive football team," Dimel said. "They got very good talent on their front. Offensively, they're versatile, they're multiple in what they do. They can run the ball well.... Last year they got a special teams touchdown against us. So again, that'll be an emphasis for us to match them with our special teams plays as we go forward.”
Our coverage starts Friday at 6 p.m. on KLAQ (95.5 FM) with the Countdown to Kickoff Show with Jon Teicher, Cole Freytag and Mando the Monster Medina. Following the game, we will have MinerTalk, presented by the Oscar Arrieta Agency, on 600 ESPN El Paso. The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.