Defense Rounds Into Form as UTEP Football Shocks Boise State, 27-10
The UTEP football team did the unthinkable on Friday night and upset Boise State 27-10 in their final non-conference matchup of the season.
In front of only 11,227 fans at the Sun Bowl, the Miners trailed just once (3-0) in the game and never looked back in their dominant win. Not many thought the Miners could pull off the upset at home, especially after falling 27-10 to New Mexico a week ago, which also included seven turnovers. But now the Miners (2-3, 0-1 C-USA) have life going into the full stretch of Conference USA play.
Against Boise State, the Miners held the Broncos to under 100 yards passing (93) and rushing (84). It resulted in Boise State firing offensive coordinator Tim Plough, who was replaced by former Broncos coach Drik Koetter. Following the firing of Plough, quarterback Hank Bachmeier entered the transfer portal. He completed just 13-for-34 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown against the Miners (38% completion percentage).
Listen to the full edition of MinerTalk from Friday night, which was nearly two hours of taking phone calls and hearing from fans after the game.
Defense returns to 2021 form
Last year, the UTEP defense was stacked with talent across the board. They were led by the same defensive front that leads them now—Praise Amaewhule, Keenan Stewart, Kelton Moss and Jadrian Taylor. But they had All-Conference linebacker Breon Hayward. They also had two experienced corners in Josh Caldwell and Kansas State transfer Walter Neil Jr. Not to mention, they had one of the toughest safeties they've had in years with Dy'vonne Inyang. This was one of the most skilled defenses UTEP has had in years, ranking No. 53 in FBS for total defense.
This year's squad was expected to get as much production as last year, but it has been a stressful road to start. Hayward didn't get an NCAA waiver as he expected for another year of eligibility. Safety Justin Prince is suspended indefinitely with no word from the coaching staff on his situation. Cornerback Torey Richardson is out.
Still, the team kept pushing forward despite the minor roadblocks, while up-and-comers have really stepped up across the defense to help this team. UTEP is now ranked No. 42 in FBS and 1st in C-USA in total defense, allowing 333 yards per game and holding teams to 16 touchdowns this year.
But how did they get here?
The short answer is the defense simply makes plays when they need to. This 2022 defense is less talented than last year, but they have guys that will step in and make the right play when needed. Linebacker Cal Wallerstedt has been the biggest surprise, as he slid into the linebacker role and has been a playmaker each game. He currently is third on the team in total tackles (32), tied for first in tackles for losses (6.0), and also leads the team in sacks (3). His counterpart in linebacker Tyrice Knight leads UTEP in total tackles (44), along with 5.0 TFLs, one interception and one forced fumble.
Lousiana transfer Kobe Hylton currently leads the secondary in total tackles with 37, as the safety has shown he can be a stopper in the run game and reliable in the pass game. Fellow defensive backs Dennis Barnes (21 tackles, three pass breakups), Latrez Shelton (18 tackles, three pass breakups), and Ilijah Johnson (seven tackles, six pass breakups) have stepped up and performed nicely for the Miners.
The one area fans might want to see more production from is the defensive line. However, it's obvious that teams have spent way too much time game planning against guys like Amaewhule (nine tackles, three hurries, 2.5 TFLs) and Stewart (nine tackles, four hurries, 1.5 TFLs). The defensive line is getting production from their backups like Maurice Westmoreland, Blake Thompson, Bryton Thompson and Jalen Rudolph.
Miners stump Broncos from the get-go
UTEP allowed just one touchdown drive against Boise State, which was an eight-play, 75-yard drive in the second half. Other than that, the Miners forced the Broncos to punt six times, which included a trio of three-and-outs.
On the Broncos' opening possession, which started on the UTEP 40 due to a botched punt by Josh Sloan, the Miner defense held them to just a field goal.
While the Miners didn't force a turnover on defense, they held Boise State at their own 1-yard line in the third quarter and ended up forcing a punt that would be returned 47 yards for a touchdown by Marcus Bellon.
Even when the Broncos went up-tempo on offense—something that has hurt UTEP's defense this year—the Miners were able to slow them down and stop them. They hurried Bachmeier 12 times, which was the most hurries since the 2009 season.
Next up: UTEP will face Charlotte to return to C-USA play, as the Miners hope to snap their 0-26-1 record in eastern time zone games. The game can be heard on 600 ESPN El Paso with a 4 p.m. MST kickoff on Saturday.