UTEP Prepares to Host Nevada Coming Off Bye Week
If UTEP wanted some foresight to the rest of this season, they might get their closest matchup to date when they host Nevada (2-1) on Saturday, Sept. 21 at the Sun Bowl.
It's hard to gauge the level of a Miners team that faced two polar opposites through the first two weeks. Houston Baptist plays in the FCS ranks, while Texas Tech is a Big 12 affiliate.
But against Nevada, the Miners might find themselves in a matchup against an opponent that might be more equal to them. This could be a good test for UTEP in anticipation for C-USA play.
"All in all, it was a good open week," said Dana Dimel in the press conference on Monday. "There are pros and cons to having an open week this early in the season. The pro is obviously it gives you more time to prepare for Nevada. The con is you would like to have it later as the season goes on when your guys need to rest a little bit more. Academically and organizationally, I thought it would have been good to have this open date a little later just because guys are starting to get into good habits and good work-study habits with their school work, so I didn’t want to break up the consistency we were having there with that. Open weeks are always interesting.”
Nevada has seen some highs and also some lows this year. The Wolfpack shocked Big-10 affiliate Purdue in week one (34-31) on a walk-off field goal as time expired. Then, they were clobbered against a tough Oregon team (77-6) before struggling at home against FCS-affiliates Weber State (19-13).
"[Weber State] is definitely a game to learn from," Dimel said. "Thing to know about Weber State is they have some great defensive linemen that can play anywhere. They created a lot of issues coming in on four-man rushes against Nevada. That's something we learned on tape."
This will be a former WAC matchup renewed for the Miners and Wolfpack, meeting for the first time since 2002. Nevada is 2-1 all-time against UTEP.
"They are going to be a huge test for us," Dimel said. "Obviously a team that went 8-5 last year, a team that beat a Big 10 opponent already this year. They are a well-coached team, plays physical football on both sides of the ball."
During the bye week, one of the main emphasis points for the Miners was the offensive struggles seen against Texas Tech. The team put up just 131 yards of offense against the Red Raiders, whereas they totaled 508 against Houston Baptist.
"Continue to increase the continuity for what we're doing at the offensive line," Dimel said. "I didn't feel we were protecting enough to let the quarterback make a pass [verus Texas Tech]. But also, I don't think anyone played well for us [offensively]. It could have been protection, route running and making sure we place the ball where it needs to be."
And yes, the quarterback situation was also evaluated during the week off. While the team will likely use a two-quarterback system on Saturday, senior Brandon Jones will still be the starter and Dimel plans to integrate Kai Locksley in as well.
"We plan on playing both of those kids," Dimel said. "Brandon is going to start this game. They both have a lot of reps banked. They both have a lot of experience that they bring to the table. They both are different in preparation as you prepare for them. We need both of them to continue to improve as they get more experience. Both of them played just last year, so they don’t have a ton of experience, but what I want to see out of those guys is them continuing to elevate their games."
"Rotation right now is going to be the call I feel during the game."
Despite their inept to score points against the Red Raiders, UTEP is a perfect 7-for-7 in red zone scoring going into their game against Nevada. That puts UTEP as just one of 20 FBS programs with a perfect clip in the red zone.
"[Nevada] plays extremely hard and they are just such a good football team," Dimel said. "Extremely great challenge for us but a great opportunity because how I feel about them is they are an upper echelon Mountain West team... so if we perform well against them, we are performing against some of the better programs that we will face on the rest of our schedule."
The defense comes off a nice outing against Texas Tech, where they allowed 264 passing yards and forced a turnover. It was a slight improvement from allowing 300 passing yards against Houston Baptist in week one.
"The things I want to see us do well is be good on third down, turnovers and sacks," Dimel said. "Just continue to inrease the numbers that way where our defense makes a dramatic impact in a positive way on our football game."
UTEP hosts Nevada with kickoff starting at 6 p.m. at the Sun Bowl. Make sure to listen in starting at 4:45 p.m. on 600 ESPN El Paso for the pregame show.