UTEP Football 2020 Outlook: Five First Takeaways on Stephen F. Austin
It's UTEP football game week, as the unusual season gets ready to kick off this weekend. The Miners will host Stephen F. Austin in their home opener on Saturday, Sept. 5 and kickstart their 12-game season.
Here's a glimpse at the Lumberjacks.
Who: Stephen F. Austin
Conference: Southland (FCS Divison I)
2019 record: 3-9 (3-6 Southland)
Head coach: Colby Carthel (2nd season)
Here are five takeaways of the Lumberjacks before game day:
1. SFA wants to make the most out of the fall
Stephen F. Austin Director of Athletics Ryan Ivey told Texas Football that the Lumberjacks will opt out of the Southland's spring 2021 schedule to focus on fall 2021. Due to NCAA sanctions they received in May, they are prohibited from competing for the 2021 FCS Playoffs.
Head coach Coby Carthel aims to develop the roster during this time and use the most of their shortened fall season. Aside from the Miners as the season opener, the Lumberjacks will face UTSA (Sept. 19), SMU (Sept. 26), West Texas A&M (Oct. 3) and Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 7). SFA has an opponent scheduled on Oct. 10 but their athletics schedule says the opponent is "TBD."
They finished 3-9 last year and 3-6 in the Southland Conference. They earned a bit of momentum leading into the offseason after they won two of their final three games in 2019.
2. QB Trae Self—WR Xavier Gipson connection will dictate the offense
Highlighting the returning group for SFA are senior quarterback Trae Self and sophomore wide receiver Xavier Gipson. Self threw for 2,550 yards last year, with a 53% completion rating, 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The All-Southland Second Team wideout in Gipson impressed in his freshman season with 934 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
While the Lumberjacks have a duo tailback group in Da'Leon Ward and Josh McGowen — who combined for 921 rushing yards in 2019 — the team might find most of its success passing game with the returning QB-WR duo.
3. All-Conference CB Willie Roberts is a force in the secondary
SFA features another talented young player in sophomore Willie Roberts, who finished with All-Conference Third Team honors in 2019. He knocked down seven passes last year and totaled three interceptions. He also chipped in with 38 tackles defensively.
Besides Roberts, the SFA defense will enter the season inexperienced in playing time. However, the secondary aims to create turnovers and be the anchor of the defense.
4. SFA adds significant pieces with a strong recruiting class
Last year wasn't exactly the brightest year defensively for the Lumberjacks. But coach Carthel is determined to fix it through recruiting.
They allowed an average of 419 yards per game in 2019, while also giving up an average of 35 points per game and an average of 5.8 yards per play by opponents.
Not only did the Lumberjacks get the two FCS recruits in back-to-back seasons with defensive linemen Carl Williams and Branard Wright, but they also made a splash in the transfer ranks. Oklahoma State safety Kris McCune, Arizona linebacker Day Day Coleman and UMass defensive lineman Dennis Osagiede are transfers that are expected to see action this year for SFA.
5. Despite the apparent rebuild, the 'Jacks could catch the inexperienced Miners off-guard
In recent years facing FCS opponents, the Miners haven't been rolling away with easy victories by any means. In fact, in the first game of the Dana Dimel era, the Miners lost to FCS affiliate Northern Arizona (30-10). For their season opener in 2019, the Miners barely squeezed past Houston Baptist (36-34) for their only win of the year.
If SFA comes to play and the Miners aren't ready, they might make the Miners regret adding them to their schedule. However, if UTEP can take advantage of the inexperience SFA has, the Miners can use Saturday's game as a perfect building point in anticipation of the Texas game on Sept. 11.