UTEP Hosts Top C-USA West Opponent LA Tech on Saturday
The Miners (1-5, 0-3 C-USA) will be playing host to one of C-USA's best in LA Tech (6-1, 3-0 C-USA) on Saturday, Oct. 26, at the Sun Bowl.
LA Tech is 12-2-1 all-time versus the Miners and enters this game on a six-game win streak, including a huge come-from-behind victory against Southern Miss (45-30) this past weekend.
The Miners, on the other hand, are coming off five-straight losses and have been held to 21 points or fewer in each of the games. Florida International handed UTEP its most recent loss (32-17), where the Miners totaled 106 yards of penalties and were unable to overcome an early interception and safety to win on the road.
"I made that statement that I felt like when we were ahead 7-3, I was comfortable in my mind that’s how I saw the night going," said head coach Dana Dimel at his weekly presser. "I really felt that way. I am just not sure yet that I have been able to get the confidence into our football team where they felt the same that I did that this was a game that we could and should have an opportunity to win even though we were a huge underdog. From that point on after we lost the lead, we just didn’t play with consistency and there were way too many critical unforced errors. We had the mechanic problems with the snap. Some of the momentum we had was broken. It seemed to escalate from there.���
In the loss, the Miners again saw two quarterbacks in seniors Brandon Jones and Kai Locksley share the workload. Jones left the game with an injury and Dimel said his status is still questionable. After putting up 117 passing yards and 63 rushing yards, Locksley will likely be the starter for the Miners against the Bulldogs.
However, Dimel did say something interesting at the press conference regarding UTEP's third-string quarterback in sophomore Gavin Hardison. In theory, UTEP probably wanted to save Hardison—along with other redshirts—for the final four games. Per the NCAA redshirt rule, players can play up to four games and not lose their redshirt.
And on Saturday, should something happen to Locksley, Hardison will be UTEP's next guy.
“Right now, Gavin (Hardison) is going to get more and more reps this week," Dimel explained. "He has the four games and we have six left. We definitely want to see if we can start getting him into action and start working him in. It would not be out of the realm of possibility that he might play some in this ball game this weekend. We are going to work toward preparing him toward that angle and getting him more and more reps and just see how the week plays out."
He would be the first guy that would have the opportunity to get in there and play. He had a good workout today. Today is less of a dynamic practice, but it is still a practice to work on some things. He had a good day today, so as the week goes along, we are going to keep trying to bring him along and see if we can get him in some of these games. - Dimel on Hardison
Still, Dimel advised that playing Hardison may or may not happen as early as Saturday. Figuring out ways to stagger playing time for redshirt hopefuls will be a challenge he and his coaching staff have to face. As other injuries start to pile up, including a season-ending injury to receiver Devaughn Cooper last week and a recent injury to backup running back Josh Fields, the depth of this team will be tested.
"There's quite a few that we've held off and not played any of them," Dimel said. "Now we are getting down to six [games] left, four to play. This ball game, I talked to some of the coaches about sprinkling some of these guys in here and see how the game plays itself out. We definitely want to get these guys in, so they're going to play. We've got some freshmen we want to play."
The Bulldogs enter this game after gaining some votes in the Coaches and AP Polls. Their senior quarterback J'Mar Smith, who has lit up the Miners during his career, has 43 career touchdown passes under his belt, which is sixth-best in program history.
Running back Justin Henderson's 10 rushing touchdowns leads C-USA and is tied for seventh-best in the nation.
Junior cornerback Amik Robertson was named C-USA Defensive Player of the Week after a monstrous three-interception performance against Southern Miss. He leads the nation with 16 passes defended this year.
“You can tell that Skip (Holtz) has developed a good program there through the years and he has had time to put together some good depth in his program," Dimel said. "He has some talent that has been working its way up through the system. They just consistently have a good football team. It will definitely be a big challenge for us. Again, this is a game that we just have to control the things that we can control and make it a very competitive game to give ourselves a chance to win.”
UTEP enters this game among the worst offenses in college football, averaging 295.7 yards per game, which pins them as the eighth-worst in total offense. They are the second-worst in FBS for third down conversion percentage (.292) and third down defense (.520). Among these, the Miners average the fifth-most penalty yards per game in the country (79 ypg).
They are third in the country for fourth down conversions (10-for-11). Their efficiency in the red zone is also commendable, ranking 12th in the nation (17-for-18). Running back Treyvon Hughes ranks fourth in C-USA and 37th in FBS for his six rushing touchdowns this season.
“We have to be more disciplined with what we are doing and just be better fundamentally," Dimel said. "To me, we are just still not playing well enough fundamentally at times. When you don’t play well fundamentally, you get penalized. Some of them were undisciplined and some of them were not good enough fundamentals to put us in the position to not get those penalties called. We just have to execute and be more fundamentally sound on these instances that occur.”
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. on Saturday evening at the Sun Bowl. You can catch the coverage right here on 600 ESPN El Paso.