UTEP dropped to 0-8 on the season following last week’s loss to UAB, extending the nation’s longest losing streak to 20 games. Despite that, the Miners are widely considered a 1.5-point road favorite this Saturday against Rice (1-8).
UTEP head coach Dana Dimel met with the media on Monday to preview the matchup with the Owls.
“I met with the team this morning. I always like to share kind of the feel of the team, and the things that I visit with the team about to get the general perception of where we are as a program. I talked about with them this morning again how proud I was of them, the way they played and the effort that they gave Saturday (vs. UAB). That was an extremely physical ballgame. To be on the sidelines and see the physicality that was going on out there, it was fun to watch. Every statistical category they (UAB) were good in. They were very much concerned about our football team because of the level that we have been playing at. They knew it was an important game, a tough hurdle for them to get through. They came out and played the style of game that they wanted to play. I talked about how we needed to stick to our gameplan. We had a very particular gameplan for this ballgame. We exercised that gameplan in two-thirds of what we did. We exercised it definitely on defense by getting a feel, making sure they didn’t get the ball over the top of us and get any cheap, quick scores. They did have a couple of scores early to get a 10-0 lead, but we kind of weathered the storm. We got a feel for what their gameplan was going to be. Formationally we knew they were going to try to run the ball, just formationally what their thoughts were going to be against our defensive scheme. Our defensive scheme is very much different than what most people play. So, you have to get a feel of how they plan on attacking it. Then, we made some really good adjustments and we ended up pretty much shutting them down the rest of the ballgame defensively. So, we stayed exactly true to what we wanted to do on that side of the ball. Our special teams have been very much challenged. We started off playing really solid special teams. They’ve been challenged because of the amount of injuries that we’ve taken. That hits you not only on offense and defense but in your special teams because special teams is all about being synchronized, having a good flow and repetitive reps. You don’t get as many reps in practice on your special teams just because of time parameters. Because of that, it’s important to have the same guys doing the same thing during your special teams practices. So, when you have the injuries that can affect your special teams. Now, we’re being forced to use some guys’ four-game redshirts to supplement our special teams. Guys have been stepping up and doing a good job. Some of them exhausted that four-game leeway that they got with the new legislation and are not able to play on them again. We’ve been utilizing every resource that we have. We made a nice step in the right direction with what we did on special teams (against UAB) because UAB is a really good special teams unit. We got better field position. We had some return yardage. Their guy always kicks it out of the end zone so we didn’t get any opportunities on kickoff return. Our punt return was better. Where we put them in the field position game was much, much better. So, there’s the two-thirds of the positive. The negative, obviously, was not having success with what we were doing offensively. That’s the side of the ball that has been hit the hardest with the injury bug. I’ve been coaching for 30 years, and the numbers that we have in the injury department for me are unheard of. They’re just off the charts for numbers. But what I’ve been so proud of is on both sides of the ball and in special teams, guys that are coming into play are guys that are very young. They have to jump into positions that they’ve never played before. They’re stepping up and they’re doing some positive things. It seems like what’s been the mode of operation for this ballclub is that if we a couple weeks with a new group (it comes together). We went into last week’s ballgame, we didn’t talk about it too much, but we had six of our guys that are really good offensive linemen for us that did not play. Those are numbers that at one particular position can be very, very damaging. So, whatever our (injury) numbers are, which are in the upper 20’s right now after this ballgame, when you have six offensive linemen out, that’s a really, really interesting number. We’re going to see how many of those we get back for this week. Elijah Klein played left tackle. We talked about him, he had been a back-up right guard as a true freshman that hadn’t played any tackle for us in practice. We had to move him over in practice because our latest injury came on Tuesday (last week). So, he had two days to prepare at the left tackle position having never played it. He went in and played a really solid game against the best defensive team in our conference and one of the tops in the country. So, that’s a positive moving forward again. That really made me feel good about where Elijah (Klein) is going to be as a player for us in the future, as we knew when we recruited him. He’s a big, long athletic guy that can move and has a lot of positives to him. Those showed up in the ballgame and that’s good. So, what we need to is to just get some synchronicity to what we’re doing with our offensive line again now that we’ve got a whole new group. That’s going to be the challenge moving forward. So, that’s going to be our big thrust right now. That’s what we’re working to do this week. We should get at least one of the linemen back this week, and that’ll help there for sure. That (playing UAB) was a tough test for that young group. Obviously, I look for them to improve. We put ourselves in positions, throughout the game, it was very much a one score here or one score there would have got us right back in and switched the momentum of the ballgame. I was very pleased with how we performed overall as a unit, just not pleased with the execution of things. I thought we could have executed things better offensively. You’re always striving to be the best that you can be, and that’s my big push to the players right now. We are all looking to improve as an individual performer. That’s the thing that many, many, many of our football players have done throughout the season. We’ve improved individually. So, we need to continue to do that. I still see that the team is gaining confidence with what we’re doing.”
“We’ve got a big challenge with Rice University. They obviously are getting better too. Mike (Bloomgren) is in his first year there. He’s trying to develop a culture with what he wants to have as a football team. I don’t know if the personnel that he has right now matches the culture that he wants to have schematically. So, what’s he’s doing is that he’s trying to shape his players to best fit what they can do well. You can see that as he goes through gameplans of trying to find the things that his guys can do best. So, he’s doing a really good job of coaching them. He’s a very fine football coach. His teams continue to improve. So, it’s going to be a road game for us where we go down, and we need to have great preparation all week. (We need to) look at the day-by-day preparation of getting the things I talked about fixed with what we’re doing. Then, working toward improving throughout the week and going down and taking the field and playing a really fundamentally sound football game in all three segments of what we do. If we can play all three segments, we’re going to need to do that as two out of three isn’t good enough, we got a chance to put a good product out on the field as we move forward.”
(On the team’s play recently)
“We’ve weathered a pretty tough three-game stretch here. During that three-game stretch, there was a lot of positives to grow from. Our football team understands that. We have four more games, but it’s going to just be one game at a time right now. If we keep improving and focusing, then we can have some successful results down the stretch.”
**QUESTIONS FROM MEDIA**
(On the QB depth chart)
“Right now, Kai (Locksley) still has a chance to play. So, we’re still looking at him to be the possible starter for the game with Brandon (Jones) backing him up. Then, Mark Torrez and Alex Fernandes are battling for that spot there. (Ryan) Metz still hasn’t come back to be able to attend meetings or workouts yet. So, his time frame he’s still a way away. We’re hoping to get him back before the season is over, but right now he’s not even back with us yet.”
(On the defensive effort vs. UAB)
“We accomplished seven of our 11 goals defensively (against UAB). We’ve played some really good defensive games the last four or five weeks. Really since Tennessee we’ve played consistently good defense. To get seven out of 11 (goals) was one of the highest numbers that we’ve had because our goals are pretty tough goals. Our goals are ones that if you get them, you should win the football game. That’s what goals should be. So, seven of 11 was one of our highest outputs throughout the season. They executed the gameplan to the T of what we needed to do to win the football game. Obviously, we would have liked to have had that other turnover down inside the red zone there. We had the tipped ball that went up in the air. Kalon (Beverly) and Jamar (Smith) both had the chance to make the play on it. That would have given us another great opportunity for field position offensively. Overall, they performed at a high level and did some really positive things.”
(On his message to the team heading into the Rice game)
“We’ve got to be careful looking at a game where we’re not a heavy underdog. We have been a heavy underdog in our last three ballgames. Really need to be locking into our preparation. We can’t think about who we are playing and change the way that we are preparing. We have to understand that in order for us to win this weekend, we have to play like we’ve been playing defensively and we have to play like we played special teams wise and then we have to improve offensively. That’s the message that’s being sent. Everybody has to (ask), ‘what am I doing, what is my role on this football team and how can I amp that role up in order for us to have success?’ Because in order for us to win, we’re going to have to play at a high level Saturday. That’s the big thing. I don’t want them to get caught up in that we got through a real tough three-game stretch and now we’ve got these winnable ballgames. Now we’ve got to go out and execute to do that.”