EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – UTEP (3-3, 1-1 Conference USA) is in form right now after securing a 41-35 at Charlotte last Saturday. The Miners are currently on a two-game winning streak.
The Miners collected wins over Boise State and Charlotte the last two weekends to bring them back to .500 after starting the season 1-3.
A big reason for the success has come from their offense coming alive after struggling to begin the season. Specifically, the Miners’ run game has opened up the doors for other aspects of the offense to be put on display.
In the first four games of the season, UTEP racked up 297 rushing yards in 113 rushing attempts and three rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Miners threw the ball 172 times and had 84 of them marked as completions, which led to a completion percentage of 48.8%. Junior quarterback Gavin Hardison also threw five interceptions in that span. It wasn’t working for the Miners during that stretch as they went 1-3 to start the season.
It was the Boise State game where UTEP found that winning formula for their offense. The Miners ran for 199 yards and 54 attempts, the most rushing attempts by the team so far this season, against the Broncos. That led to the passing game opening up, which allowed Hardison to throw 10 completions on 11 passing attempts and one passing touchdown. The run game also allowed the Miners to eat up the clock, as they had possession of the ball 40:35 of the game.
The very next game against Charlotte, the Miners did it again. UTEP ran for 252 yards, a season-high, on 45 attempts. Once again, it opened up the passing game for Hardison, who threw for 173 yards, had 10 completions on 14 attempts, and three passing touchdowns in the Miners’ 45-31 win over Charlotte.
“If you guys look at the Boise State right now, I think they’re the number six or number five team defensively in the country. So, if you can run the ball like we did against them, against a team of that caliber that’s that especially that good on defense. They were really, really strong on defense. It just shows you that that’s probably something we should be doing more of,” said head coach Dana Dimel. “That is really allowing Gavin [Hardison] to be precise and his game has really picked up because he can start attacking people with his arm talent and he’s just running our offense at a high level. So, I think he’s feeling really comfortable with what we’re doing. So, it’s just morphed us into the type of offense that we need to be in the game. We held the ball for 40 minutes against Boise and 33 plus last week, and so that always is a real positive for you. Knock on wood, we’ve been minimizing our turnovers because of it too. So, it’s been a real positive turn for us and it’s going to be important in these games down the stretch here for sure.”
“I feel like running the ball opens up the passing game, so the success we’ve had in the run game just helps everything out,” said sophomore running back Deion Hankins. “As long as we continue to do that, we will see an upward trend.”
Not only has UTEP gotten great production from the running back trio of Ronald Awatt, Deion Hankins, and Rey Flores but they’ve seen an increase in rush attempts from quarterback Gavin Hardison. Hardison rushed for 50 yards on five attempts last game against Charlotte. Against Boise State, Hardison ran for 20 yards on seven attempts. The ability to run out of the pocket is something people forget about Hardison’s game. It’s been a major help for the UTEP offense.
“Anytime you get over 35 to 40 yards from your quarterback position, it makes a big difference in how people have to defend you,” said Dimel. “He’s [Gavin Hardison] is really doing a good job with that and he is throwing the ball well on the move. So, he is using his athleticism to help our football team win games.”
Running the ball may be the best thing for UTEP to do when they play at Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs currently allow the second most rushing yards per game (230.5 YPG) in all of Conference USA.
UTEP will face off with LA Tech (1-3, 0-0 Conference USA) on Saturday at Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston, La. on Saturday, Oct. 8 at 5 p.m. MT