EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — UTEP boasts the No. 9 ranked defense in the country, but head coach Dana Dimel is more concerned with Florida Atlantic’s defense in this week’s matchup against the Owls. FAU has the top ranked red zone defense in the nation, an area the Miners offense has struggled to put up points so far this season.
It goes even further for the Owls. They are also ranked No. 6 in the country in 3rd down conversions, No. 9 in team passing efficiency defense, and No. 15 in net punting. The Miners, who are currently an 11-point underdog, will have to take advantage of every opportunity they get inside the red zone.
“We haven’t been as good as we need to be in the red zone on finishing drives,” said Dimel. “In a game like this when you’re on the road and you need to maximize every opportunity, we’re not going to be able to settle for field goals.”
So far this season, UTEP has made 26 trips to the red zone, but have only scored 13 touchdowns (50%) in those trips. The Miners have come up empty-handed in four trips to the red zone.
“We aren’t going to be able to settle for not scoring in the red zone,” said Dimel. “We really have to finish drives and put a lot of emphasis on getting the ball in the end zone when we get down there, but it’ll be more critical for this game.”
UTEP has not had to outscore anyone this season, but they know that game could be coming as soon as Saturday at FAU. The Miners haven’t scored over 30 points since their first two games of the season, and have benefited from their own defense holding opponents to 21 points or less in their last four games for the first time since 1966.
“They’re [FAU] big up front, they’re physical, and we just need to go out and execute. We have to do our part,” said UTEP redshirt freshman running back Deion Hankins. “They like to cause disruption up front and in the run game, so we need to play with our eyes up and execute.”
With everything going on outside this game and half the fan base already looking ahead to next week’s game against No. 23 UTSA, UTEP is making sure they remain focused on what’s in front of them. They have no other choice as a big underdog against FAU, and playing on the East Coast. In fact, the Miners have never won game in program history playing in Eastern Time Zone games (0-25-1).
“They’re [FAU] really, really big and really good,” said UTEP senior fullback Forest McKee. “We have to block out the outside noise and focus on the current snap. I think we can be successful, but they’re good athletes and they’re good football players.”
Kickoff at FAU Stadium is scheduled for 4 p.m. MT — or — 6 p.m. ET. The game will stream live on ESPN+.