UTEP football preview: Miners looking for improvement in win column


EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — It’s no secret, the UTEP football team has been one of the worst teams in college football over the last three years. During that span, UTEP is 2-34 and the lack of production on offense is largely to blame — more specially, the play at quarterback.

In what is sure to be a season unlike any other during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Miners desperately need more from their quarterback in 2020. UTEP has been a revolving door at the position and typically we have seen two, sometimes even three quarterbacks play in one game. In 2017, it was Ryan Metz, Zack Greenlee, and Mark Torrez splitting time. In 2018, it was Metz, Kai Locksley, and Brandon Jones. In 2019, it was Locksley and Jones sharing the duties. As the age-old saying goes, ”if you have two quarterbacks, you have none.”

This season, redshirt sophomore Gavin Hardison is the man under center. The junior college transfer was named the starter one week into fall camp after redshirt freshman TJ Goodwin announced we would be opting out of the 2020 season. Hardison saw limited playing time in 2019, but even that counts for something.

“Just knowing what that game speed is like and getting some experience under my belt was huge last year. I’m excited for this year,” said Hardison.

In two games last season, Hardison threw for 335 yards and one touchdown, completing 44% of his 61 attempts. His job this season in simple: get the ball to the playmakers.

“I’m expecting him to get out there and use the year of preparation,” said UTEP head coach Dana Dimel. “He got some action in the UAB game and the Rice game last year. He needs to tighten up his fundamentals of what he does — all the little things with his fundamentals need to be tighten up. I’m looking for him to orchestrate the offense and get us into plays we need to get into and get out of plays that we need to get out of.”

Hardison has plenty of talent around him. Senior running backs Quardraiz Wadley and Joshua Fields returns, as does redshirt freshman Deion Hankins. At wide receiver, Hardison will be looking in the direction of seniors Justin Garrett, Devaughn Cooper, and Walter Dawn Jr. The big play threat will come from sophomore Jacob Cowing who caught 22 passes for 355 yards in his last four games of the 2019 season.

The success of a quarterback — or lack there of — is dependent upon the offensive line. Junior Bobby DeHaro will anchor line, along with senior Darta Lee. Look for junior tight end Trent Thompson to contribute as a blocker and a pass catcher.

UTEP’s defense is the unit that kept them in games last season. The Miners return senior defensive backs Duron Lowe and Josh Caldwell. They also get back junior defensive back Justin Prince who was sidelined most of last season with a leg injury. The secondary will no doubt be the strength of the defense and they have the ability to come up with some takeaways.

The Miners will have a couple new faces at linebacker, but they need to be able to rush the passer. Sophomore defensive lineman Praise Amaewhule saw significant playing time last season as a true freshman, playing in all 12 games and leading the Miners in sacks (3.0) and tackles for loss (5.5). His work earned him a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman team, but he wants to do even more this fall.

“I know how good I can be if I just get the technique right,” said Amaewhule. “I just have to get in and work on my footsteps — it’s the small things. My hand placement, eyes being at the right place at the right time and that’s all it is. I already know all the plays so it’s just about working on my technique and my pass rush.”

Dimel believes the Katy, Texas, native can be one of the top pass rushers in Conference USA this season.

“He’s got a chance to be really special,” said Dimel. “He likes to play and he likes to practice. Guys like that are usually successful.”

The special teams unit will be highlighted by junior kicker Gavin Baechle who should be more reliable in the kicking game this season. Field position will be another important factor in 2020 and the Miners have Lowe, Garrett, and Dawn Jr. to give them a threat in the return game.

UTEP has a chance to start the season 3-1 after trading nonconference games against Texas Tech, Nevada, and New Mexico State for Stephen F. Austin, Abilene Christian, and Louisiana Monroe. It just might be the toughest rebuild in the country, but if the Miners want to see some actual improvement this season in terms of wins, it is going to start and end with getting more consistent play at quarterback. That will be the key.

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