By UTEP Zay 

Some will say it was a disaster. Some will say they expected it. All will say they’re disappointed. UTEP fell to FBS newcomer Jacksonville State in their season opener yesterday, 17-14.  

An all too similar feeling for Miner fans, UTEP was in position to tie or win the game down the stretch. UTEP was driving and had the ball at the Gamecocks’ 24 yard line when the Miners were faced with a 3rd and 1. Instead of running the ball, UTEP decided to pass.  Gavin Hardison took his shot to the endzone, where he actually had his wide receiver Kelly Akharaiyi with some separation on the fade route. Unfortunately, Akharaiyi was unable to track the ball and the Jacksonville State defender was able to break the pass up. On 4th and 1 with under a minute and a half left to play, UTEP decided to pass the ball once again. Hardison looked for his star receiver Tyrin Smith on an out route to the sideline, but it ended up coming out a tad bit late and Jax. State defensive back Jeremiah Harris jumped the route and intercepted the ball.  


But as is the case for every game, there were some positives to take away just as there were negatives.  

Welcome back to Stock Up, Stock Down, UTEP vs Jacksonville State edition. We’ll take a look at some players who improved their stock, and those who may have disappointed, and their stock went down.

Stock Up: RB Torrance Burgess Jr 

 After arriving late to the team last fall as a JUCO transfer, Burgess never really got the opportunity to showcase his broad skillset on the Miner offense. The quick 5-foot-6 scatback only played in two games last season, while backed up in a stacked UTEP backfield that featured senior Ronald Awatt and sophomore Deion Hankins. Now with a year of practice under his belt, Burgess burst onto the scene against Jax. State, leading the Miners with a solid 59-yard rushing performance on 12 carries. He also added in a reception for 6 yards. PFF gave him the highest grade of any offensive skill player, with a 74.6. Burgess’ stock has gone up exponentially and it looks like he may be the guy to compliment Deion Hankins throughout the season.  

Stock Down: QB Gavin Hardison 

It was a disappointing season debut for the 4th year starter. He went 17-29 with 208 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INT’s. For most Miner fans, it looked like the same Hardison they’d been seeing for the past three years. He struggled to find his receivers at times, but also made insane, needle-threading throws as well. He was unable to find the median between the two and was very inefficient throughout the second half. His stock is down especially because of the hype that surrounded him all offseason. Head coach Dana Dimel had made it clear that he was spending much more time with the QB’s over the summer and many UTEP fans expected Hardison’s development to take a much needed jump. Sadly, it hasn’t looked like the jump many expected. 

Stock Down: The TE/FB room 

The tight end/fullback room was expected to struggle a bit after losing two veteran starters in TE Trent Thompson and FB James Tupou. Those two developed into not only receiving threats, but they also became some of the best run and pass blockers on the team. Julian Lopez and Zach Fryar started in place of the now graduated Tupou and Thompson, respectively. Lopez and Fryar are two players that hadn’t seen much playing time in the past. JUCO transfer TE Marcus Vinson was also rotated in and out. Those 3 combined for the lowest grades on the offense, per PFF. Vinson and Lopez had pass block grades of under 25.0. Fryar did have a pair of receptions for 25 yards, but outside of that, the tight ends were a nonfactor throughout this one. 

Stock Up: The LB’s  

The loss of linebacker Cal Wallerstedt to graduation was going to be a hole the defense needed to fill. But it looks like yet another linebacker has stepped up. James Neal, a former JUCO transfer, was tabbed the starter alongside star Tyrice Knight, and he did not disappoint. He was second on the team in tackles with 10, and had a PFF run defense grade of 86.4, leading the team. Tyrice Knight had 13 tackles and 0.5 TFL’s. He continues to show why he is one of the best linebackers in the nation. They both get a huge stock up. 

Stock Down: WR Tyrin Smith 

UTEP’s returning 1000-yard receiver was somewhat silent throughout the game. He only had five receptions for 38 yards and averaged under six yards per catch, which is unlike the star receiver. He played some snaps in the slot and other snaps on the outside, and he didn’t exactly have a bad game, but he just didn’t play to the level fans have become accustomed to.  

Stock Up: UTEP corners 

UTEP struggled in the secondary last season, specifically at the cornerback position. They were hit with injuries and had to play a plethora of guys who weren’t expected to see the field much in 2022. Now, the Miners have a much deeper cornerback room with guys like Torey Richardson back from injury and AJ Odums in as a transfer from New Mexico. Those two played well against Jax. State, as did Illijah Johnson and Trez Moore, which are two guys who played a lot last year. They looked very physical and weren’t afraid to get down into the box and make a tackle. Their coverage was solid as well (albeit against a Jax. State team that isn’t known for their passing game). I was really impressed by the cornerbacks and they all get a stock up. 

Stock Up: Kelly Akahariyi  

This one may have been the most obvious. Despite the early dropped touchdown, Akahariyi looked great. He was finding separation against the corners and had soft hands. In crunch time situations, the Miners and Hardison looked for Akahariyi, not Smith. This could be a fun year for the Tyler JC transfer, who emerged late last season. He recorded 4 receptions, 102 yards, and added in a touchdown against a solid Jax. State secondary. 

Stock Down: Play calling 

Two plays. One yard. Two incomplete passes. In what was a surprise decision, the Miners elected not to go with Deion Hankins for the 1 yard needed to keep the game going. But it wasn't just that play call that confused fans, it was many throughout the game. As I noted during MinerTalk, at times it felt like UTEP was overthinking a lot of their play calls during the game, and that resulted in the Miners offense becoming very predictable.  

Stock Stagnant: 

  • HB Deion Hankins 
  • UTEP Offensive Line 
  • WR Jeremiah Ballard 
  • DL Maurice Westmoreland 
  • DL Tevita Tafuna 


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