UTEP vs. UNT: Quarterback Play Will Be Key in the Homecoming Matchup
Saturday's homecoming matchup between UTEP (0-5) and North Texas (4-1) will be contingent on which quarterback can out-perform the other.
It will be the star-studded arm of North Texas' Mason Fine, who has lit the nation on fire with his impressive numbers. He's already ranked the fourth best for passing yards among all FBS quarterbacks (1,624 yards) through five games.
On the other end, the Miners have worked their offense through JUCO transfer Kai Locksley, who, unlike Fine, finds his best skills for UTEP on the ground.
Both are vital to each team's offense and, coincidently, both are day-to-day at practice with injuries that both quarterbacks sustained during last Saturday's game. Locksley injured his ankle on a crucial drive for the Miners in their 31-20 loss to UTSA, while Fine was injured in the fourth quarter against LA Tech, but stayed on the field, as the Mean Green fell 29-27.
After Tuesday's practice, North Texas head coach Seth Littrell had some good news regarding Fine:
But for the Miners, it's a little more complicated than Fine's situation. Locksley was in a walking boot since Saturday and has an ankle injury. Dimel said that he will be day-to-day, suggesting that senior Ryan Metz could be the Miners' gunslinger on Saturday if Locksley's status doesn't improve.
“That’s too early to say. I’m always optimistic," Dimel said. "Knowing Kai (Locksley), knowing how competitive and how tough he is. That’s the thing that Winston (Dimel) said about him because he’s out there playing with him. He said ‘Dad, he’s the toughest, most competitive quarterback that I’ve been around.’ So, with that being said, he’s got a good chance of playing just because of who he is, how tough of a kid he is, how competitive he is and how much he enjoys playing. So, we’ll see."
Should Metz play on Saturday, the Miners would definitely have to adjust their gameplan against North Texas. Locksley carried the ball 24 times for 117 yards against UTSA, which is something Metz will not do if he's their guy on Saturday.
"We wouldn’t run Metz (Ryan Metz) nearly as much as we would run Kai (Locksley)," Dimel said. "Kai’s ability to run is so tremendous. You saw it in the game Saturday how he can get outside. There were a couple of plays (at UTSA) where Kai got outside on defense and outran three or four guys getting to the boundary.
He’s one of the fastest guys on the football field and one of the most athletic guys on the football field.
Metz has been off to a rocky start thus far, completing just 8-for-19 through the air with 99 yards and two interceptions, compared to Locksley's 527 yards of passing with two touchdowns. Despite his rough first couple outings, Dimel is confident in Metz as a potential starter for Saturday's game.
"Metzy (Ryan Metz) is a solid runner," Dimel said. "He can create some things if we have to in crunch time, but we wouldn’t do as much (running) with him. Obviously, we’d play more to his strengths, which would be running an offense, experience and throwing the football. So those are the things that he does best.”
As far as defending North Texas' air-raid game, Dimel is excited for the challenge.
“They’re driven by their quarterback (Mason Fine) and what he does and how he leads the team," Dimel said. "He does a tremendous job with that. They're versatile with what they do offensively. They run the ball and they throw the ball well. It’s going to be a big challenge for our defense.
"It’s a different type of challenge, more of a passing team. As you look in our last four or five games, we haven’t really played against team that is known for their passing game. So that will be the challenge this week. We’re going to try to slow down their offense and what they do when they throw the football."
At the end of the day, whether it's Locksley or Metz, the Miners will need to score in order to have any chance at beating the Mean Green at home. They are averaging an FBS-worst 15.0 points per game.
Dimel and the Miners will put the program's 17-game losing streak on the line, as they kickoff against North Texas on Saturday, Oct. 2, in the Sun Bowl at 5:30 p.m.