Through the first couple weeks, first-year head coach Dana Dimel tossed around the word "improvement" when describing the Miners week after week.

Fans weren't happy with what they saw through the first couple weeks—from losing to an FCS school like Northern Arizona (30-10), to falling at home to rivals NMSU (27-20).

But as of late, the only things to grumble objectively about are the Miners' turnover margin (-9), their amount of penalties per game (seven) and their winless record.

Here are the areas that the Miners have improved on from 2017 to now, as noted by UTEP athletics:

 2017                                2018

  • Scoring offense                11.8                                 17.6
  • Rushing offense               95.8                                146.7
  • Passing offense               134.9                               174.7 
  • Total offense                     230.5                               321.4
  • Rushing defense              234.3                               202.1
  • Passing defense              212.2                               184.3 
  • Total defense                    446.6                               386.4
  • Sacks                                   11                                     13

And of course, they've regressed in other categories:

The main stats to look at are total offense and total defense, which UTEP should be most concerned with looking at—aside to fixing turnovers and eliminating penalties.

For overall team offensive efficiency, on 0-100 scale based on the offense's contribution to scoring margin on per-play basis, adjusted for strength of opposing defenses faced, the Miners have been given a score of 17.6, which is higher than UTSA (8.7) and Rice (8.5).

Their defensive efficiency, an 0-100 scale based on defense's contribution to scoring margin on per-play basis, adjusted for strength of opposing offenses faced, is better at a 24.5 grade.

Offensively, they've out-gained their opponents in three of the last four games—NMSU (429-311), UTSA (297-278) and LA Tech (356-325). The last four games they've also averaged 374.8 yards of offense to their opponents' 335.5.

Defensively, they've allowed under 350 yards in three of their last four games as well, putting them at No. 65 in FBS for total defense (386.4 yards per game).

So how did this team turn one of the worst offenses the program's ever seen to something formidable and competitive?

First off, the Miners have really opened up the passing game in the past couple games. No matter who is at the helm at the starting quarterback position, this team has been airing the ball out a lot more, which is conducive to what Dimel wants to do offensively.

They had their season-best 19 completions at LA Tech, which was their most in nearly two years. Their 313 passing yards by Metz against North Texas was UTEP's most since 2013. The Miners haven't had back-to-back 284-plus passing yards in C-USA games since 2008.

More passing attempts was possible because there has been more involvement at the receiver position and the offensive line is starting to generate better pass blocking.

Receivers like Keynan Foster (four catches, 84 yards), Erik Brown, Alan Busey and Josh Weeks have been more involved in the mix through the past three games, while Warren Redix and Terry Juniel continue to stay consistent.

Jerrod Brooks returned this week at right tackle, while giving the first official start to Darta Lee on the line. Lee joined the Miners late as a JUCO transfer and did not finish the game due to an injury. Zuri Henry is dealing with an injury, per Dimel, making his status is day-to-day, like Lee.

Despite rushing for just 72 yards last week—which Dimel called a “matchup” issue— the Miners have rushed pretty efficiently overall this season, averaging 146.7 on the ground. Getting Kai Locksley back at quarterback helps further their ground game, as he’s averaging 72.6 yards per game. If they can create opportunities for Locksley on the ground and involve running back Quadraiz Wadley more (Wadley has just two carries for 12 yards last week against the Bulldogs), they might truly develop Dimel’s balanced, Kansas State-esque offense. Wadley is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, while the offense also uses running back Treyvon Hughes and Josh Fields in the mix.

Defensively, they’ve turned early inconsistencies to more efficient stops. For example, against LA Tech, whose offense usually generates big numbers, the Miners held them to converting just 1-of-10 on third downs.

Linebacker A.J. Hotchkins leads the team with 9.9 tackles per game, which is the third best in C-USA, 31st overall nationally.

Here's what Dimel had to say on improvement:

So many positives from our ball game over the weekend. I have told our players many times how proud I am. Sometimes when you’re not winning games it’s hard to come into the locker room after the game and talk to your team, and find ways to keep them up and keep them excited about what they are doing. It has occurred to me that is not the case right now with this football team with the way they are playing, and the energy that they are bringing to the football field. I have told them this time and time again, it is really enjoyable to compete with them. I love the way that they are competing. I love the way that they are taking on adversity, and overcoming adversity, and meeting the challenges that they have ahead of them. They are playing really good road football, which is important too.

“Learn how to finish, and eliminate the mistakes that are still costing us games. These three games that we have had in a row, we have elevated our play. We have elevated it against three really good and competitive teams. With these competitive teams we have to be flawless in what we are doing.

"We cannot play scared, but have to play really pristine football. That is what we are looking to accomplish moving forward in these ball games. I could say we had two costly penalties and a turnover and that is why we didn’t win, but that isn’t a lot of mistakes in a football game when you really put it out there. In order to beat UAB, we are going to have to play a real pristine ball game.”


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