EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – It is crunch time for UTEP football. If UTEP wants to make a bowl game for the second year in a row, they will have to win out to finish the regular season.
With a 4-6, 2-4 Conference USA record, the Miners need to win their last two games of the regular season to qualify for a bowl game. UTEP is set to host FIU (4-6, 2-4 C-USA) on Saturday at the Sun Bowl. If UTEP can grab a win against FIU, they’ll have to win their last game of the regular season against C-USA leader, UTSA, at the Alamodome.
It’s a big task at hand for the Miners and it all starts on Saturday against FIU.
“We’ve obviously been a really good home team, and this is a big game,” said UTEP head coach Dana Dimel. “This one gives us a chance to get to playing on the last weekend of the year to go to back-to-back bowl games, which is something that’s a pretty special accomplishment for a football team, so that’s where we are right now.”
UTEP enters this game coming off an open week. Prior to that, the Miners suffered a 37-30 loss at Rice. That extended UTEP’s losing streak to two games heading into Saturday. It’s a streak they’ll look to snap.
One of the biggest questions for UTEP heading into the FIU game is who will be starting at quarterback?
Junior quarterback Gavin Hardison injured his ankle during the Rice game on Nov. 3, and UTEP head coach Dana Dimel is staying quiet on his status ahead of Saturday. If Hardison is unable to go for UTEP on Saturday, the Miners would turn to backup Calvin Brownholtz, who played well in relief of Hardison after he was injured at Rice.
Regardless of who ends up getting the start, UTEP is focused on making sure nothing about their offensive gameplan changes.
“Just our plan of attack for this game is going to be important for us to stay balanced with what we’re doing. I don’t think we ever want to lean one way or the other to what we’re doing, run or pass. I think we operate the best when we’re staying balanced with what we do,” said Dimel. “That’s going to be a big focus for us going into this game, and I think that’s obviously going to be important for us to reestablish our run game in this game. But also, we’ve got to throw the ball well. We got to throw we got to complete a high percentage of passes. That’s one of the goals for us offensively.”
UTEP hopes to get win number five on the season against an up and down Florida International team. After they collected back-to-back wins at Charlotte and Louisiana Tech, the Golden Panthers have lost their last two to North Texas and Florida Atlantic.
FIU sits with a similar record as UTEP and are tied in the lower half of the C-USA standings.
The Golden Panthers are averaging 19.0 points per game while giving up 37.4 points per game. FIU is averaging 331.7 total yards per game is is giving up 445.1 total yards per game. FIU quarterback Grayson James has thrown for 1,913 yards on 204-of-342 passing. James has also recorded 11 touchdowns along with 10 interceptions. Defensively, the linebacker duo of Gaethan Bernadel and Shaun Peterson will be one UTEP will keep a close eye on Saturday. Bernadel leads the team with 82 tackles and ranks sixth in C-USA. Peterson leads the team in sacks with 5.0 sacks.
UTEP is aiming to grab its first win over FIU since 2013. The Miners won the first ever meeting between the two programs when they took a 33-10 victory at the Sun Bowl on Nov. 16, 2013. The last three meetings have gone FIU’s way including the last meeting on Oct. 19, 2019, when the Golden Panthers secured a 32-17 win in Miami, Florida.
UTEP knows their game against FIU is a must-win if they want a chance at becoming bowl game eligible this season.
“Live where your feet are at, we can’t look to the week ahead. We got to handle this week first because it is do or die because if we lose it is over,” said UTEP senior wide receiver Rey Flores. “We need to focus on the week at hand, get this win this week, everyone has their eyes on the prize and just execute on day at a time.”
UTEP and Florida International will face off on Saturday, Nov. 19 at the Sun Bowl. Kickoff is set for 2:00 p.m. MT. The game will serve as UTEP’s “Senior Day” game. 22 Miners will be honored prior to kickoff. UTEP is listed as 14-point favorites as of Wednesday.