UTEP Kicks Off C-USA Action Saturday Against Southern Miss
Coming off back-to-back losses, the Miners (1-2) will need to regroup and get ready to start Conference USA play, as they travel to face Southern Mississippi (2-2) on Saturday, Sept. 28.
The Miners are coming off a 37-21 loss to Nevada at home, while the Golden Eagles were trampled by No. 2 Alabama last week, 49-7. Southern Miss was picked to finish second in the league preseason poll of the Western Division.
“Southern Miss is a really big challenge for us," said UTEP head coach Dana Dimel. "I think they are a really, really good football team in our conference. We know the kind of athletes and talent that they get. They are very diverse in their offense. It is as diverse of an offense that you are going to see anywhere in the country. They have multiple formations, shifts, different types of plays, schemes – just as much as you are ever going to see as a football coach. That will be tough preparation for us defensively."
Southern Miss features an exciting wide receiver in Quez Watkins, who was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Week on Sept. 16 after catching seven passes for 209 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns in their 47-42 victory over Troy. Watkins has had six 100-yard receiving games in his college career and is among the league’s top receivers.
“The first conference game of the season is a really exciting thing to look forward to. I said last week going into the Nevada game that I thought it was going to be a measuring stick for our football team. From the measuring stick that I saw, we have made some tremendous strides, but we just have to eliminate the mistakes and we win a football game against a really good football team.”
But the Miners need to rectify some struggles on the field. They flip-flopped between quarterbacks in seniors Brandon Jones and Kai Locksley during the Nevada loss. While Brandon Jones completed 8-of-11 passes and threw an interception, Locksley threw a pair of interceptions and had a rushing touchdown.
Jones was hurt in Saturday's game but Dimel assured the media that he would be ready for Saturday against Southern Miss.
"Overall, I thought Brandon played a good game," Dimel said. "I thought Kai (Locksley) made mistakes, but Kai also was electric in running the football, so we have to get Kai to eliminate the mistakes because his athleticism shows up in games as well.”
Three interceptions and seven penalties for 87 yards are among the other things that Dimel wants to fix right away.
"We were very physical, but we just didn’t throw the ball very well," Dimel said. "That was the issue. There was a lot of physicality to our play with what we did in all three segments. We had great effort from a lot of guys in what we saw in what they displayed in the game. The turnovers, like I said, we have to get that stuff fixed and the penalties.”
Even the thought of putting in sophomore quarterback Gavin Hardison crossed Dimel's mind during the Nevada game.
"I won't lie that it did cross my mind this past weekend to start processing where we are with Gavin and how we want to accelerate that process," Dimel said. "He's picking up [the playbook] each and every day."
Despite the loss to Nevada, the program believes it is taking the right steps in the growing process by competing against better programs like Nevada.
“I think our team really gained a lot of confidence. They saw where we were in comparison to where we were a year ago at this time," Dimel said. "We are at a point now where some of those games last year we were very competitive in the middle part of our season, but they weren’t games where you said we could have blown this team out. That game Saturday really showed them the capabilities that if one or two things happen differently and it is a big victory for us. I was really pleased with our performance overall, just not the outcome.”
Kickoff for UTEP and Southern Miss will be set for 5 p.m. MT and we will have the pregame action for you starting at 3:45 p.m. on 600 ESPN El Paso.