Special teams doom UTEP in regular season finale loss at UAB, 42-25

UTEP

BIRMINGHAM, AL (KTSM) — Special teams has been anything but special for UTEP this season. It burned them again in a 42-25 regular season finale loss to UAB at Protective Stadium in Birmingham on Friday. The Miners fumbling two kickoff returns and shanking two punts — all deep in their own territory — that led to four Blazer touchdowns.

Rushing touchdowns from Quardraiz Wadley and Deion Hankins gave UTEP (7-5, 4-4 Conference USA) a halftime lead over UAB (8-4, 6-2 Conference USA), 17-14, but the Miners were outscored 28-8 in the second half.

“In the first half, I was really excited about the effort the guys gave. We played great on both sides of the ball and had the lead,” said UTEP head coach Dana Dimel. “Special teams kind of cost us [the game]. We haven’t been good all year on special teams, and it’s a huge concern for our football team.”

Dennis Barnes fumbled away the first kick return in the third quarter that setup a Dylan Hopkins touchdown pass to Hayden Pittman to give UAB a 28-17 lead. Later in the quarter, UTEP responded with a 30-yard scoring toss from Gavin Hardison to Jacob Cowing. The Miners added a two-point conversion to make it a three-point game (28-25) with a quarter left to play, but the fourth quarter was dominated by the Blazers. Jermaine Brown Jr. started the frame with his third rushing touchdown of the game to extend UAB’s lead to 10 (35-25), and the ensuing kickoff was, again, muffed by UTEP’s kick return unit. It led to another Hopkins touchdown pass, this time to Gerritt Prince to put the game on ice for the Blazers.

UAB outgained UTEP with 328 total yards to the Miners’ 303, and the Blazers came away with three takeaways and only turned it over once themselves. Hardison finished the game 21-of-34 passing for 204 yards and one touchdown. Hankins rushed 16 times for 68 yards and his first touchdown since the LA Tech game, while Cowing hauled in five receptions for 63 yards and a score.

After starting the season 6-1, the Miners lost four of their last five games to close out the regular season. It is hardly how the team wanted to finish what will be their first winning season since 2014, but the season is far from over. UTEP will make it’s first bowl appearance in seven years next month, and will look to pick up their eighth win for just the 11th time in school history, the first since 2005. College football’s version of ‘Selection Sunday’ is one week from Sunday on Dec. 5.

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