EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – After losing to Arizona over the weekend to fall to 1-3 to open the 2023 season, UTEP will host UNLV on Saturday in what is now arguably the biggest game of the season for the Miners.
It’s important enough that Miners starting quarterback Gavin Hardison held a players only meeting with the offense after practice on Monday. Hardison said it was a much-needed discussion about how UTEP can come together and turn its 2023 campaign around after a second straight 1-3 opening to the season.
“We just talked about things that we need to get accomplished for the rest of the season. It’s something I think we needed and something we needed to discuss,” Hardison said.
If the Miners are going to flip the switch and go to a bowl game, they have to get rolling now. UTEP needs wins in five of its last eight games to get bowl eligible and the Miners are about to embark on the portion of their schedule where head coach Dana Dimel thinks they can finally start playing up to their potential.
It’s a five-game stretch that includes three home games, starting Saturday vs. a 2-1 UNLV team coming off a win over SEC foe Vanderbilt this past weekend. Dimel stopped short of calling the Rebels’ first trip to El Paso in 30 years a must-win game, but he acknowledged that UTEP doesn’t have much room for error.
“It’s important because you don’t want to go three games below .500. You want to get back to where you’re one weekend away from getting back to .500,” Dimel said. “That’s what makes this game very pivotal. It gets you back within striking distance and it gets you a really quality win over a Mountain West team. There’s a lot of positives that can be gained by gaining a win this weekend.”
After UNLV comes to town, the Miners welcome Louisiana Tech to the Sun Bowl on Friday, Sept. 29, a team UTEP beat the last time the Bulldogs came to El Paso in 2021. Following a bye week is a road trip to FIU on Oct. 11, the Battle of I-10 vs. New Mexico State at the Sun Bowl on Oct. 18, then a road trip to play Sam Houston on Oct. 25.
All five games are winnable and three of them will be played at home, where UTEP is 12-3 since 2020 in games played inside the Sun Bowl.
“We look at every game like a must-win game, but we’re a little bit behind so we’re playing catch-up. We have to go get this one and keep the home record going in our favor,” said UTEP defensive end Praise Amaewhule.
UTEP’s offense once again struggled to put points on the board in the Miners’ 31-10 loss at Arizona over the weekend. The Miners rank 125th out of 133 teams in scoring offense through four games, putting up just 14.8 points per game.
Dimel said that he was more troubled by UTEP’s execution of the offense through four games than the scoring output, but said that the Miners still need to be putting more points on the board.
“(Our offense) isn’t where we want to be, but we’re never going to be like the most prolific scoring offense because we don’t try to be. That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to score one more (point) than the other team scores,” Dimel said. “But we don’t want to be where we are. We don’t want to have the few amount of points that we’ve got after four games because it’s not what we need. If we were scoring enough points, we’d be 4-0. I’m not as much concerned about where we stand nationally with points anymore. We’ve always been, even when we’ve been a really good offense, it’s been about our efficiency. Our efficiency is not good enough right now. So, we just need to continue to work on that and figure out how we can get better and improve on that.”
The Miners will try to pull UNLV down into the mud and force them to grind out a win, rather than get into a track meet with the Rebels. UNLV has scored over 40 points twice in its first three games, beating Bryan 44-14 and Vanderbilt 40-37, while lost on the road at second-ranked Michigan, 35-7.
Meanwhile, Dimel said in his Monday press conference that running back Mike Franklin and wide receiver Marcus Bellon are both, “day-to-day,” and the Miners hope to have them vs. UNLV. Franklin injured his ankle against Arizona, while Bellon suffered an ankle injury of his own against Jax State in UTEP’s season opener.
The Miners will also be wearing special edition camouflage jerseys vs. the Rebels, UTEP announced on Monday. It’s part of 915 Heroes Night on Saturday at the Sun Bowl. UTEP will look to pick up a big win over UNLV on Saturday at 7 p.m. The game will air on ESPN+.