Hardison, UTEP expects bounce back performance against UNM


EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — UTEP has had to sit on their loss to Boise State for nearly two weeks, and it has been an especially long couple weeks for sophomore quarterback Gavin Hardison.

Hardison turned in perhaps his worst start as the Miners’ starting quarterback against the Broncos, throwing three interceptions and fumbling once in the shadow of his own goal post. He did, however, connect with Jacob Cowing on a 48-yard touchdown in the first half, but overall did not meet the expectations of his head coach.

“His position is so critical to protect the football, and he didn’t do a good job of that,” said UTEP head coach Dana Dimel. “If he doesn’t protect the football, we aren’t going to have a lot of success.”

Following the bye week, UTEP will have had a full two weeks and chance to prepare for New Mexico, who is coming off a 34-point loss to No. 7 Texas A&M. In fact, Hardison started his prep on the plane ride back from Boise.

“I’m locking in mentally on what I’m supposed to be doing and keying in on what we’re expecting defensively,” said Hardison. “I need to make sure that I make good decisions and that’s all I really can do. I felt like I had some good areas in Boise, but I also had some bad areas. I just need to eliminate those bad things and help this team as much as possible.”

Hardison has been mostly solid for the Miners so far this season. He’s averaging 218 yards through the air with five touchdowns, completing 64 percent of his passes. Hardison’s quarterback rating is 164.3, nearly 47 points better than his rating in 2020.

The Lobos defense, however, provides another challenge for the Miners quarterback. Their defensive coordinator, Rocky Long, is well-known across college football circles for having an aggressive defense that generates pressure and creates turnovers.

“They are absolutely as sound as you need to be as a defensive football team,” said Dimel. “It’s a proven system that they have there and one that’s a difficult test for us.”

UTEP had had great success running the football this season and will get back freshman running back Deion Hankins (shoulder) for the first time since the opener. With UNM’s defense likely focusing on stopping the run, Hardison believes there will be plays to be made down the field in the passing game.

“I’m going to control what I can control and just make good decisions,” said Hardison. “I don’t want to force anything, I can’t guess and I just have to know what I’m looking at. That’s where film study comes in and knowing what’s going on. I need to have confidence in what they’re doing so I have confidence in what I’m doing.”

Hardison and the Miners will look to improve to 3-1 for the second straight season in the 79th all-time meeting against the Lobos, and the first since 2014. Kickoff at Sun Bowl Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m. MT.

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