UTEP Football: 5 keys to beating Boise State
Editor's note: Our coverage of UTEP football starts Friday at 6 p.m. on KLAQ (95.5 FM) with the Countdown to Kickoff Show with Jon Teicher, Cole Freytag and Mando the Monster Medina. Following the game, we will have MinerTalk, presented by the Oscar Arrieta Agency, on 600 ESPN El Paso. The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.
UTEP is 1-3 going into a Friday night showdown with Boise State in the Sun Bowl. After a bad 27-10 loss to UNM, UTEP will have to change a few things to compete with the Broncos. Boise State is coming off a 30-7 win against FCS opponent UT-Martin. At 1-3, bowl hopes are quickly fading away for the Miners.
What do the Miners need to do to beat the Broncos this Friday? Let's dive into this.
Simplify the offense, complete over 60% of passes
The term “simplify” can be used in many different ways. I am not saying UTEP has a complex offense by any means. However, simple football is doing whatever works for you, and for the Miners, using the short passing game and running the ball has worked for them. They must eliminate the deep passing game and just focus on moving the ball. Gavin Hardison has thrown the most passes in all of FBS football but has the lowest passing efficiency in all of C-USA. The Miners are forcing the ball down the field and are not completing any of those passes. Hardison has completed less than 50% of passes this season, and the only game that he has completed over half of his pass attempts was against 6th-ranked Oklahoma. Most fans agree that UTEP’s offense played their best game against the Sooners. There is no coincidence here because in that game, the Miners relied on the short passing game, and it worked. With the running game emerging, the Miner offense might be able to get it going and compete with the Broncos.
Run the ball early
The Miners went down 10-0 early to the Lobos last week, and after that, it felt like the Miners were playing like they were down 50-0. The sad part about this is that the Miner run game looked good for once. Before this matchup against the Lobos, UTEP struggled to get the run game going. Both Deion Hankins and Ronald Awatt ran successfully against the Lobo defense. The key here is to not abandon the run so early. The Miners did that against UNM and look how that ended. The Miners need to commit to the run, even if they fall into an early deficit. That can help open the passing game and make life easier for a struggling quarterback.
Stop the Bronco run game
The Miners and the Broncos both have one common opponent: New Mexico. However, both games went very different ways. The Lobos were held to 25 yards on 27 rush attempts against the Broncos, while the Miners allowed 188 rushing yards to the Lobos. The trend we are seeing is that anyone can run on the Miner defense. For the Broncos, they haven’t had a fantastic run game per se, but compared to the Lobo's run game, they are better. They have averaged 132 rushing yards per game and have three rushers who have already surpassed 100 yards on the year. The Miner defense has improved and they have another offense that hasn’t found its identity. Stopping the run is the biggest thing this team needs to improve on, and they have a chance to do it on Friday.
When the Broncos destroyed the Miners in Boise last year, the Miners gave the ball up six times. Just last week, the Miners had seven turnovers against the Lobos. The turnovers need to be limited if the Miners want to keep it close against the Broncos. In a perfect world, the Miners can play turnover-free. But the way the offense has looked, that probably won’t happen. The Bronco defense is stout and they have looked nice early on. Besides the loss to Oregon State in the opening week, Boise State's defense has looked better than last year. If you remember, the Miners only scored 13 points against the Broncos in their 2021 meeting. When UTEP loses, it's usually because they turned the ball over a lot.
More pressure from the Defensive Line
The Miner defensive line continues to disappoint this season. Throughout three games, they have only sacked the quarterback 2.5 times. It has been a rough start for star edge rusher Praise Amaewhule and his “Shake N’ Bake” counterpart Jadrian Taylor. Fans have seen the talent from both players, but they have just been shut down by opposing offensive lines. Three-year starting defensive tackle Kelton Moss has had some injury issues to begin the year. The other starting tackle is Keenan Stewart, who has been one of the only bright spots on this defensive line. He is looking like he has returned to his 2020 form, where Pro Football Focus named him the highest-graded interior defender in all of college football. Despite this, the Miners just haven’t performed well upfront. If they want to beat the Broncos, they’ll need their defensive front—especially these four guys—to show up and play well. Boise State is, in my opinion, the third-best offensive front the Miners will face all year.
The Bottom Line
The Miners will have to play a near-perfect game if they want to beat Boise State. There hasn’t been a game this year where it felt like the Miners have played a game even close to perfect. Despite being 1-3, fans make it seem like this team is 0-4. For the Miners, you would simply hate going into conference play at 1-4. If the Miners want to turn around their season, they have a perfect opportunity to do so today. Will the Miners upset the Broncos in the Sun Bowl on national TV? Or, will they continue to have struggles offensively and fall to a dreaded 1-4 record? Only time will tell.