UTEP Football Continues to Have Execution Issues on Offense
The good news for UTEP fans is that the Miners won their first game of the 2022 season Saturday night at the Sun Bowl against their I-10 rivals from Las Cruces. The bad news is that after three games, the team is still struggling to move the ball consistently on offense.
The Miners struggled to run the football against North Texas and Oklahoma, but Ronald Awatt had a huge game against NMSU, rushing for 115 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown. Awatt's success meant that Deion Hankins only received four carries and he gained just six yards. The former Parkland star has been Awatt's backup over the last two seasons, and he is yet to break out the way he did his freshman season.
Quarterback Gavin Hardison struggled to find his rhythm against the Mean Green but he played much better against nationally ranked Oklahoma. The junior from Hobbs, New Mexico struggled mightily against the Aggies last weekend, completing just 13 of 27 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown. He underthrew a deep ball that looked like a touchdown and he also missed a few receivers on shorter passes. Hardison's consistency continues to be an issue for UTEP, but he has yet to throw an interception this season.
Another issue facing the Miners has been the lack of a true #1 receiver, although they have a pair of players who are getting the bulk of Hardison's throws. Smith has been the closest thing to Jacob Cowing thus far, with 263 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Rey Flores is UTEP's top possession receiver, with 19 catches for 232 yards. Kelly Akharaiyi and Jeremiah Ballard have combined for 12 catches and 104 yards. The Miners still lack a tight end that is a part of the passing game, although fullback James Tupou does have four catches for 56 yards.
UTEP's veteran offensive line has given up nine quarterback sacks in the first three games. That stat is a little deceiving, since Oklahoma registered six sacks in their win over the Miners. The biggest key with the OL is opening up holes for the run game. The Miners are very good when either Awatt or Hankins has a big day. It also eases the pressure on Hardison to have to throw the football.
One final point when it comes to the UTEP offense is their scoring by quarter. In three games played, the team has scored 3 points in the first quarter, 37 in the second, 3 in the third, and 3 in the fourth. In contrast, they have been outscored 47-6 in the second half so far this season. Those extended point draughts are a major reason why the Miners are 1-2 and not 2-1. They also scored just a field goal in the second half against the Aggies and their defense was on the field for more than 13 minutes in the fourth quarter. The Miners cannot expect to win many football games if their offense goes dry in the second half.
The team has a road game against New Mexico followed by a huge Friday night home contest with Boise State before resuming Conference USA play. Hopefully head coach Dana Dimel can sure up his offense in these next few weeks and give the Miners a chance to fulfill the high expectations that so many fans had for this team.