Despite Late TDs ,UTEP Offense Still Lacks Consistency
After six games of the 2020 college football season, the Miners are a much improved club. This team has already won more games than it had each of the last three years combined, and they still have six games remaining on their schedule. However, the more you look at this team, the more you realize that the Miners are on the same level as each of their Conference USA opponents. They have been in every football game except for one, but they have not been able to win their first two league contests. The lack of consistency on offense has been their main issue.
It is easy to blame penalties for the Louisiana Tech loss and turnovers for Saturday's loss to Charlotte. However, in both games the UTEP offense struggled to move the football for a long stretch of time. After building a 14-7 lead over the 49ers this past weekend, the Miners were outscored 24-0 until a pair of late touchdowns made the game closer than it actually was.
Through six games, here is where UTEP sits among the 14 teams in Conference USA in various offensive categories:
1. UTEP is 11th in C-USA for scoring offense (20.0 ppg)
2. Miners are 11th for rushing offense (122.2 yards per game)
3. 9th in total offense (340 total yards per game)
4. 8th in pass offense (218.2 pass yards per game)
5. 10th in turnover margin (-4)
As you can see, even though the Miners offense is much improved, they are still in the bottom half of the league for many offensive statistics. Those numbers do include the 3-points that UTEP scored against Texas, but they still managed low offensive outputs against both Abilene Christian and Louisiana Tech.
We all know that the 2020 season is a developmental year for quarterback Gavin Hardison and the rest of the team. The sophomore has a ridiculous amount of talent but he had never started a Division 1 game until this year. Prior to his last two touchdown drives against Charlotte, Hardison's completion rate was less than 50% and he had also thrown a pair of interceptions while throwing a lot of deep balls downfield. He has a pair of excellent reliable weapons in Justin Garrett and Jacob Cowing, plus additional targets like Walter Dawn and Devaughn Cooper. Earlier this season, the Miners took many more high percentage short completions and gained six to ten yards, which also helped Hardison's confidence. It seems like they have taken more home run shots over the last few games which have resulted in more incomplete passes. I like the aggressiveness that head coach Dana Dimel is using with his passing game. However, I would like to see a greater mix of the shorter throws to help set up the home run shot.
If UTEP had a consistent passing game, it would make their running game even more dangerous. Deion Hankins rushed for 188 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries against Charlotte and Ronald Awatt had a nice game as his complementary back. Those two plus Josh Fields are strong enough as a trio to continue to get into the end zone. However, it is tougher for them to run when the passing game is struggling.
The good news for UTEP is that this week's opponent, North Texas, gives up a ton of points. The Miners also have not been home in six weeks to play a football game so it will be good to see them back at the Sun Bowl, regardless of whether or not fans are allowed to attend the game. If the offense can gain consistency moving the ball and limit their mistakes, there is no reason why UTEP cannot win at least half of their remaining games on their schedule.