Improved UTEP defense key in early season success


EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Five games into the 2021 college football season, UTEP is turning heads with its 4-1 start.

A big key to the hot beginning to the season for the Miners, has been UTEP’s defense and the amount of turnovers the Miners have forced have led directly to the turnaround.

UTEP has been much improved through five games under the new scheme of first-year defensive coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto. Currently ranked 31st in total defense in all of college football, the Miners have already forced eight turnovers (three interceptions, five fumbles) and recorded 11 sacks, while giving up just 23.8 points per game.

That number includes the 54 points UTEP allowed in its lone loss to Boise State, a 54-13 defeat on Sept. 10. Remove the Boise State game and the Miners are allowing just 16.3 points per game.

“I think our defense is playing aggressive and it’s huge,” said UTEP head coach Dana Dimel. “The turnovers and disruptive plays, like Dennis Barnes had 3 tackles for loss and a sack as a secondary player (in the 28-21 win over Old Dominion). That’s the kind of plays that’s making a difference.”

Additionally, that total turnover number is the same at the Miners managed in the entire 2020 season and just two less than the 10 they forced in 2019. The Miners are also already close to eclipsing their sack numbers from the last two seasons (13 in 2020, 12 in 2019) and they are no longer bleeding points the way they did in 2019 (35.9 ppg) and 2020 (31 ppg).

It’s been due in large part to a mindset shift brought in by Peveto. A veteran of the SEC, who won a national championship in 2007 as a member of the LSU coaching staff, Peveto’s four-man front has allowed the rest of the defense more freedom to make plays.

Last seen as a linebackers coach at Texas A&M from 2018-2019, Peveto also emphasizes turnovers every single day in practice.

“As soon as coach Peveto got here, he started stressing more turnovers and as soon as he did that, we started forcing more turnovers,” said UTEP defensive back Dennis Barnes. Barnes said that if the Miners don’t get at least three turnovers every practice, Peveto makes them do up-downs as punishment. “That’s what we have to do to flip the momentum as a defense, because as we know, defense always wins championships.”

UTEP (4-1, 1-0 Conference USA) will hit the road this week to play Southern Miss (1-4, 0-1 C-USA) in Conference USA action Saturday at 5 p.m. in Hattiesburg, Miss.

The Golden Eagles offense has already turned the ball over 12 times in five games this season, so it could once again be an area of success and a point of emphasis for UTEP’s defense.

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