Building the Future Starts Now for UTEP Football
Year two of Dana Dimel has fallen short of most fans' expectations but in the middle of a complete rebuild, the UTEP football team will really need a few more seasons in order to evaluate the true progression of this program.
And the time to build for years three and four starts now.
According to the NCAA redshirt rule, players are allowed to compete in four games without burning their redshirt. Now that the Miners head toward the final games of the season, some of the redshirt newcomers are starting to see the field.
In the midst of Saturday's 37-10 loss to UAB, the Miners threw in a couple of the newcomers like sophomore quarterback Gavin Hardison and freshman running back Deion Hankins. Dimel has previously called these minutes "valuable" for the newcomers and looks to find a balance between competing to win these last two games along with plugging the newcomers in.
"Huge game for us," Dimel said in preparation for playing NMSU Saturday. "We're trying to build, we're trying to gain confidence and we're trying to finish the season on a positive note playing a lot of young players. This is just the biggest game of the year for us. In a big-picture moving forward, being competitive in these last two games will be important for us."
Building the future starts at the quarterback spot. The Miners have had a carousel of eight different quarterbacks attempt a pass in games since 2015, including Ryan Metz, Zack Greenlee, Kavika Johnson, Mack Leftwich, Mark Torrez, Kai Locksley, Brandon Jones and now, Hardison. No quarterback at the beginning of the season has closed the year as the clear-cut starter for the UTEP football team.
There needs to be some quarterback consistency moving forward.
Hardison replaced a struggling Locksley for the Miners on Saturday against UAB, where he finished by completing 17-of-37 passes for 222 passing yards, a touchdown pass and no turnovers. It was not necessarily a jaw-dropping performance by the New Mexico native but it was encouraging to see his arm strength and ability to move the ball against a tough defense. The drawbacks were that UTEP could not score twice when Hardison was in the red zone and only scored a touchdown on a 37-second up-tempo drive to close the first half.
"I was very pleased with him because he was put in a really tough situation—and that's great for him," Dimel said. "The thing he does well is get the ball out when it's supposed to go out. He made some throws in windows that were extremely tight windows."
"We made some plays and he helped to stimulate what we did," Dimel continued. "He'll just get better and better. His progression in the last two weeks has been exciting for us... We open the offense up when he's in there. We change the style for what we do when he's in there. He went through the progression really well."
They cannot forget about Goodwin, Mark Torrez, Isaiah Bravo and Calvin Brownholtz, who are other quarterbacks on the depth chart. While Torrez has in-game playing experience, Goodwin is a highly-touted, 3-star quarterback that can step his game up during the offseason. There is still a possibility that this team could get another quarterback as a graduate transfer or JUCO transfer.
The Miners will return other important talents to their skill positions at tailback and receiver next year too. They will have a triple-threat at tailback with Quardraiz Wadley, Josh Fields and Hankins coming back. At the receiver spot, they are even more loaded—Jacob Cowing, Justin Garrett, Tre'Shon Wolf and Devaughn Cooper. Not to mention the fact that they will only graduate Derron Gatewood and Ruben Guerra on their offensive linemen.
Defensively, the Miners are split with players approaching graduation and newcomers coming in. Similar to the last offseason, expect the Miners to go big in the JUCO transfer market for some secondary members and defensive linemen for the future.
Key returners for the Miners defense next year include defensive tackle Praise Amaewhule, linebackers Sione Tupou and Jayson VanHook, cornerbacks Duron Lowe and Josh Caldwell and defensive backs Justin Prince and Broderick Harrell.
Wins over NMSU and Rice will not matter as much as investing in the future of this program. Experience matters for these newcomers and they need as many snaps on the field as possible.