EL PASO, Texas – Gavin Hardison threw for 293 yards and a score, while Reynaldo Flores (122 yards) and Tyrin Smith (127 yards) each recorded career highs in receiving yards, but it wasn’t enough as North Texas rolled by UTEP, 31-13, on a humid Saturday night in the Sun Bowl.
The game kicked off late as lighting delayed the contest to an 8 p.m. MT start in front of a sold-out crowd (45,971).
The Mean Green took control of the game and outscored the Miners 17-0 in the second half. UNT rushed for 163 yards led by Ayo Adeyi’s 80. North Texas quarterback Austin Aune threw for 236 yards and three scores. Roderic Burns tallied 72 yards on three receptions, while Jake Roberts, Isaiah Johnson and Tommy Bush were on the other ends of Aune’s TD passes.
Flores exceeded his career high with eight receptions and registered his first career 100-yard game. Smith reached the century mark for the second time in his career. Newcomer Kelly Akharaiyi hauled in a trio of receptions for 29 yards.
But the Miners left points on the board as Gavin Baechle missed a 40-yard field goal attempt on the Miners’ first drive. UTEP also came up short on its second possession as Hardison’s pass to James Tupou in the end zone fell short on a fourth-and-goal.
“The overall summary of the game is that we just didn’t finish,” UTEP Head Coach Dana Dimel said. “We moved the ball right offensively, but we didn’t finish drives. Then defensively I think we got a little bit frustrated. We weren’t good enough on third down defensively and after a couple of those drives, we gave up some critical third down conversions for them.”
UTEP gained 399 yards of total offense, and UNT tallied 400. The Mean Green were 6-of-12 on third downs, while UTEP finished 7-of-18. The Miners also went 2-for-6 on fourth down conversions after ranking in the top three nationally in that category a season ago.
“As you look at that, third down conversions for them were 50 percent on third down while we were seven of 18 on third downs,” Dimel added. “So, we were pretty decent on that. We played the ball one time, and I turned it over one time. So that means two drives where we didn’t have some sort of success to the drive. So, it’s a big part of just finishing.”
The Miners got on the board first when Hardison found Smith for a 32-yard score on a fourth-and-1 early in the second quarter. UTEP took the ball 90 yards on five plays in only a 1:05.
The Mean Green answered on their ensuing possession, scoring on a 12-play, 88-yard drive (3:50) that resulted in a Bush seven-yard catch from Aune.
UTEP took a 10-7 advantage after a Baechle 29-yard field goal at the 5:14 mark.
UNT answered again with another scoring drive on its next possession. Oscar Adaway III took the ball eight yards into the end zone to take a 14-10 lead with just under two minutes left in the first half.
After forcing the Miners to punt, Aune muffed the handoff to the running back in which Praise Amaewhule fell on the ball, giving the Orange and Blue possession with under a minute in the half. Baechle connected on his second field goal, a 26-yard kick that put UTEP within a point (14-13) going into the locker room at the half.
Aune struck first in the second half, when he found Johnson on a nine-yard score that made the count, 21-13, at the 10:27 mark.
Following a Hardison fumble that was forced by Fatafehi Vailea and recovered by Kortlin Rausaw. Aune, on the first play, found Bryson Jackson on a 41-yard reception to the UTEP nine-yard line. A few plays later, Aune threw his third TD, this time to Roberts on an 11-yard toss.
UNT capped the contest with a 28-yard field goal with 8:05 left to play.
The Miners were led by Tyrice Knight’s 11 tackles, while transfer safety Kobe Hylton posted nine stops, along with 2.5 tackles for loss. Josiah Allen tallied six tackles in his UTEP debut.
KD Davis led the way for UNT with eight tackles, while Kadren Johnson posted a sack.
UTEP will take its first road game of 2022 to no. 9/9 Oklahoma on Sept. 3. The Miners and Sooners will kick off at 1:30 p.m. MT in Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in OU’s first game of the campaign. The contest will be televised on FOX. The Miners’ last trip to Norman was in 2017.