UTEP vs. North Texas: Three Things to Watch on Saturday
The Miners football squad (1-6, 0-4 C-USA) will hit the road this weekend to face a struggling North Texas team (3-5, 2-2 C-USA) at Apogee Stadium in Denton, TX.
But struggles aren't just on the Mean Green's side.
UTEP has lost six straight since defeating FCS-affiliate Houston Baptist (36-34) in their season opener. They have struggled to find consistency offensively, scoring 21 or fewer points in their six losses, while riding game-to-game inconsistencies on defense. Head coach Dana Dimel and the Miners hope to shed some life on the team this week on the road if they are able to hang with a talented Mean Green team.
Head coach Seth Littrell and North Texas had high expectations coming into this season, riding the momentum set forth by senior standout quarterback Mason Fine. But the Mean Green have lost three of their last four, including an ugly loss to Charlotte (39-38) last week.
Stat breakdown by Danny Lopez
UTEP (FBS Stats)
Total Offense: 122th (299.9 yards per game)
Passing Offense:117th (166.4 yards per game)
Red Zone Offense: 28th (.905 scoring percentage)
Total Defense: 92th (421.2 yards per game)
3rd Down Percentage Defense:130th (52.9%)
North Texas (FBS Stats)
Total Offense: 27th (460.1 yards per game)
Passing Offense:19th (296.5 yards per game)
Red Zone Offense: 42th (87.9%)
Total Defense:101 (434.5 yards per game)
3rd Down Percentage Defense: 80th, Percentage .400
Here are three things to watch for Saturday's game:
Does Locksely play the entire game?
The short answer is probably yes.
Senior quarterback Kai Locksley will probably take the majority of snaps against the Mean Green for the Miners since Brandon Jones is still doubtful following his concussion against FIU and it seems like the coaching staff wants to keep sophomore quarterback Gavin Hardison ready for next week against Charlotte so he can still be redshirted this year.
Locksley played his most complete game as a passer against Louisianna Tech last week, throwing for 227 passing yards (17-of-30) along with two total touchdowns. The downside was a few costly turnovers by Locksley which led to 21 of the 42 Bulldog points. Admittedly so, the turnovers felt more accidental and misfortunate than actually being a serious issue.
He did spread the ball out to a plethora of receivers though, including Justin Garrett who had his career-high five receptions for 60 yards last week. If Locksley can get more receivers working and get players like Jess Trussell back in the mix, maybe this passing game for the Miners can build upon its successes from last week. Keep an eye on the turnover margin, though.
“Right now, Kai (Locksley) is going to be the starter for the ball game," Dana Dimel said. "Brandon’s status is up in the air right now and still questionable at this point for the upcoming ball game. That’s where we are at right now.”
UNT's high-flying offense versus UTEP's struggling secondary
Ranking 19th in the nation for its passing offense (296.5 yards per game), North Texas continues to find success airing the ball out using Fine's skills at a high level. FIne has thrown for over 2,000 passing yards this year, averaging 284.6 yards per game and has 20 passing touchdowns under his belt.
He has a trio of formidable targets in the system, including Jaelon Daren (72.4 rec yards per game), who leads the way with eight touchdowns. Running back in Tre Siggers averages over 100 yards per game on the ground as well.
On the flip-side, UTEP's secondary was roasted against a veteran college quarterback last week in J'Mar Smith, allowing 338 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air. Teams average 239.4 passing yards per game against the Miners and this one will definitely be an uphill battle for them.
The one way the Miners could find success in defending the pass is doing something they haven't done successfully all year long—pressure the quarterback. If the Miners can disrupt Fine's passing game, the Miners might stand a chance in the passing game.
How close to a complete game can the Miners play?
One week it's penalties, the next week it's turnovers. It all adds up for the Miners not being able to overcome mistakes in the game that leads to their ultimate downfall. Take the loss to Florida International (32-17) for example, where the Miners racked up 106 yards in penalties. Three turnovers killed UTEP at the end of their loss to LA Tech (42-21).
I'm really interested to see just what kind of offense the Miners are going to unload against North Texas. It was a pass-heavy attack we saw against LA Tech but maybe they dial it back this week and get Treyvon Hughes and Josh Fields working on the ground. In recent weeks, the running backs have not been prioritized enough in their offense so it will be interesting to see which way they lean on Saturday.
Unfortunately for this young Miners group, it is difficult for them to start falling behind in one category on the field and make up for it on another category.
Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. MT and you can catch the game on 600 ESPN El Paso.
On facing North Texas on the road this week
“I talked a little bit about (Mason) Fine and what type of quarterback he is. He has two receivers that he likes to go to who are really good players for them. He is going to try and work those guys as much as he can. They have a good stable running back in the backfield. They have a very good offense. They have been good in the conference for the last three or four years. It is going to be a big test for us.”
“Defensively, I know they have some experienced defensive linemen that have played well for them. They are coming off a really tough loss last week to Charlotte where they were ahead for most of the game by two touchdowns and then lost the game with 16 seconds left on a long pass play from scrimmage from the quarterback. It was a tough loss for them.”
“It will be a challenge for us, but again, I think that in a lot of ways we are getting closer and we just have to play better defensively, eliminate the mistakes on offense, continue to be balanced with what we are doing offensively, continue to throw the ball downfield like we did last week. I thought that was really positive. I thought our offensive line at times was coming off the ball and doing some really effective things in the run game last week as well. There were really some spurts where we were playing good, quality football. The things that have to be eliminated are just the mistakes that cost us momentum and field position. That is what we will work on all week. Now, it is just about showing improvement. We have five games that we can be very competitive in and they are exciting opportunities for us. We just take it one practice at a time and keep working to improve because that is what the season is all about.”
On preparing to face a team similar to LA Tech:
“Monday is our day to get things fixed. It is going to be important for us to be diverse with what kind of coverages and what kind of looks that we give them defensively. The thing we need to do better that we didn’t do well was with detachments and the perimeter passing game. That really hurt us. They threw a few balls downfield on us last week, but it was more just the short game and North Texas will take advantage of that if you don’t get those things fixed. Again, we have been really good for the most part defensively against that, so last week was something that we have to get fixed fast.”