UTEP vs. UTSA Preview: Three Things To Watch Before Kickoff
As Saturday draws closer and closer, it seems like the UTEP football team (3-3, 0-2 C-USA) will have an opportunity to play their first game since Oct. 24, as they get set for their fourth straight road game against UTSA (4-4, 2-2).
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. in the Alamodome (SA). You can catch all the coverage on 600 ESPN El Paso, featuring MinerTalk following the broadcast, presented by Longhorn Distributing.
Who: UTEP vs. UTSA
When: Saturday, November 14th
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio (20% capacity)
Betting Line: UTSA (-6)
All-time series: UTSA 5-2
Here are three things to watch before kickoff:
First, let's make it to Saturday
Uncertainty before kickoff. The Miners have been here before.
After enduring a postponed game against North Texas and a Florida International cancellation over the past two weeks, the Miners are as anxious as any team to get on the field. If they kick off on Saturday, it would be only their third game in seven weeks.
While head coach Dana Dimel admitted to not being as high on the FIU game actually happening early last week, he felt like this game is way more likely to take place on Saturday.
"UTSA has played eight games. They've only missed one—that being last week. There's a lot, lot higher opportunity for this game to happen," Dimel said.
Traylor, who spoke to media members earlier this week, won't be completely certain until the game gets underway as scheduled in the Alamodome.
"Like I've said many times before, I won't feel good until my headset is on and I see the ball kicked off the tee. There are so many things that are uncontrollable."
The game would mark the fourth consecutive road game for UTEP, which is the first time since the 1986 season. The Miners haven't played at the Sun Bowl since Sept. 19.
The Roadrunners have had a very interesting start under first-year head coach Jeff Traylor. UTSA (4-4) fired their head coach Frank Wilson after the 4-8 finish in 2019. Traylor was previously a prominent high school football coach in Texas (Gilmer High School, 2000-2014) and a former running backs coach at Arkansas.
Stellar running back Sincere McCormick leads the Roadrunners offensively, as the tailback is one of the top rushers in the country. His 921 rushing yards rank second among FBS running backs. He earned the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose national player of the week after UTSA beat Louisiana Tech earlier this year.
"We can't let him get started because [McCormick] is so strong," Dimel said. "He's a strong runner and they have a good offensive line. The key for us is to play physical, sound football."
Their quarterback Frank Harris leads the way through the air, totaling 895 passing yards and four touchdowns. He averages 127.9 passing yards per game.
Shaking off the rust
One of the biggest keys for the Miners for this game is to start off fast. Turnovers and penalties were difference makers in their last two losses against Lousiana Tech and Charlotte. In order for UTEP to hang in with a vastly improved UTSA squad, they will need to get off to a commanding start.
Redshirt sophomore Gavin Hardison, who opened last game with an interception against Charlotte, will be important for the Miners in this matchup. Hardison has already eclipsed 1,000 passing yards with 1,260 yards and six touchdown passes. His dynamic receiving duo in sophomore Jacob Cowing (515 yards) and senior Justin Garrett (445 yards, 3 TDs) will both be relied upon to have big outings.
Offensively for the Miners, establishing a run game will be critical for this group. Redshirt freshman Deion Hankins is averaging 83.8 yards per game and averages one touchdown per game. But it's about getting Hankins started and sprinkling in senior Josh Fields and junior Ronald Awatt when they see fit.
The defensive line has been the anchor for this bunch while the secondary continues to be the area of focus. Praise Amaewhule, Kelton Moss and Keenan Stewart have been game-changers on the defensive line. Opponents are averaging over 218 passing yards and around 100 rushing yards against the Miners this year. Against a talented runner like McCormick, the Miners need to first stump the UTSA run while also putting pressure on Harris in this game.
Prediction: UTSA 31 - UTEP 28 - It's hard to pick a UTEP team that hasn't been on the field enough in the past several weeks to warrant a sure-fire win. UTSA has been tough all season long and in this one, expect the Roadrunners to get off to an early lead. If the Miners are in a nail-biter, it will be a great test to see how far along they have come since the close loss to Charlotte.
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