UTEP looks to close 2018 on high note against Southern Miss


UTEP (1-10, 1-6 C-USA) concludes the 2018 season by hosting Southern Miss (5-5, 4-3 C-USA) on Saturday. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. The Miners are trying to win their season finale for the third time in four years. UTEP prevailed at North Texas to end the 2015 campaign (20-17), then routed the Mean Green in El Paso (52-24) to put the finishing touches on the 2016 season. Southern Miss is trying to become bowl-eligible for the fourth straight year. The Miners are playing their final game of the season versus the Golden Eagles for the third time. The previous two matchups occurred in postseason play. On Jan. 1, 1954, Texas Western (now UTEP) upset 14-point favorite Southern Miss, 37-14, in the 19th-Annual Sun Bowl. On Dec. 29, 1988, Brett Favre threw for 157 yards in leading the Golden Eagles to a 38-18 win over the Miners in the Independence Bowl at Shreveport. UTEP is seeking its first home victory of the season while trying to snap a 10-game skid in the Sun Bowl. 


Sixteen Miner seniors will be playing their final game in the Orange and Blue and will be honored prior to Saturday’s game. They are DB Kalon Beverly (New Orleans, La./Edna Karr HS), OL Jerrod Brooks (Dallas, Texas/Seagoville HS), WR Erik Brown (Fontana, Calif./Riverside CC), FB Winston Dimel (Manhattan, Kan./Kansas State), K/P Jason Filley (El Paso, Texas/Coronado HS), LB A.J. Hotchkins (Portland, Ore./Oregon), WR Terry Juniel (Surprise, Ariz./Glendale CC), TE David Lucero (Holtville, Calif./Arizona Western College), LS Izaiah McCormick (El Paso, Texas/El Dorado HS), QB Ryan Metz (El Paso, Texas/Andress HS), DB Nik Needham (Buena Park, Calif./Buena Park HS), DE C.J. Reese (San Antonio, Texas/Kansas State), WR Warren Redix (El Paso, Texas/Montwood HS), LB Jamar Smith (Lyons, Ga./Holmes CC), DB Kahani Smith (Los Angeles, Calif./Riverside CC) and DE Mike Sota (Placentia, Calif./Valencia HS). 


The Golden Eagles have alternated wins and losses over their last six games, including a 21-20 victory over LA Tech in Hattiesburg on Nov. 17. Steven Anderson’s six-yard TD run with 6:02 remaining sent the Golden Eagles past the Bulldogs. Anderson rushed for two touchdowns in the game. Southern Miss held LA Tech to 311 yards, including 68 rushing. The Golden Eagles compiled 280 yards (112 in the fourth quarter) as sophomore QB Jack Abraham, returning from a two-game absence, completed 24-of-29 passes for 195 yards. Southern Miss is winless on the road in 2018, with setbacks at Auburn (24-13), North Texas (30-7), Charlotte (20-17) and UAB (26-23). The Golden Eagles are third in Conference USA in scoring defense (21.1 ppg), second in total defense (289.5 ypg), second in pass defense (183.8 ypg) and second in pass defense efficiency (109.0). Southern Miss rates ninth nationally in total defense, 14th in pass defense efficiency and 28th in scoring defense. Senior LB Sherrod Ruff and sophomore DE Jacques Turner have accounted for 10 of Southern Miss’ 17 sacks, and 20.5 of the Golden Eagles’ 63 tackles for losses. Sophomore DB Ky’el Hemby has picked off four passes on the year. The Golden Eagles have gotten the bulk of their offensive production through the air, as they’re averaging 267.9 passing yards per game. Abraham has thrown for 2,255 yards (281.9 ypg) with 14 touchdowns, and freshman Tate Whatley has passed for 417 yards (83.4 ypg) with four scores. Overall Southern Miss averages 24.9 points and 366.6 yards of offense per outing. Sophomore Quez Watkins leads the receiving corps with 831 yards (83.1 ypg) and nine touchdowns. Southern Miss has committed 23 turnovers (13 interceptions, 10 fumbles lost), tied for the second-most in C-USA. The Golden Eagles have a solid kicker in senior Parker Shaunfield, who is 16-for-20 on field goals and 24-for-25 on extra points.       


Southern Miss leads the series, 6-4. The teams have met eight times during the regular season and twice in bowl games. UTEP is 2-3 versus Southern Miss in El Paso.


Ito Smith rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns, spoiling a solid performance by the UTEP defense as Southern Miss shut out the Miners, 24-0, on Oct. 14, 2017 at M.M. Roberts Stadium. The Miners allowed 286 yards through three quarters before finally wearing down in the final period, when Southern Miss scored the game’s final 10 points. UTEP finished with six first downs and 147 yards of offense. The Golden Eagles got on the board with 8:26 remaining in the first quarter when Keon Howard threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Jaylond Adams. After that, the defense stepped up and limited Southern Miss to 102 yards on its next five drives. The Miners also forced three turnovers in the first half as Devin Cockrell and Kahani Smith picked off passes, and Sky Logan recovered a fumble. But the defense was put in a precarious position when Kevin Dove fumbled at the UTEP one-yard line in the final minute of the half. On the next play, Smith plowed into the end zone for his first score (two yards) and the Golden Eagles were up 14-0 at the midway point. The defense continued to shine in the third quarter but finally broke in the final period, when Southern Miss completed a 13-play, 80-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown run by Smith. Later, the Golden Eagles tacked on a 38-yard field goal by Parker Shaunfield. Zack Greenlee started at quarterback for the Miners and completed 5-of-10 passes for 63 yards before getting injured. His replacement, Ryan Metz, finished 9-of-17 passing for 67 yards with an interception. UTEP wasn’t able to get the ground game percolating as it gained 17 yards on 22 carries. Terry Juniel led the Miners in the passing attack with five catches for 46 yards. Juniel also had a couple of kickoff returns for 75 yards with a long of 38. Southern Miss quarterback Howard threw for 221 yards, completing 16-of-27 passes with a TD and two interceptions. Adams tallied 104 yards on a pair of receptions. Southern Miss recorded 423 yards of offense, with 303 coming on four drives (40 plays). The rest of the night, the Golden Eagles managed 120 yards on 32 plays. Alvin Jones led the Miners with 10 tackles. Cockrell, Dante Lovilotte, Dylan Parsee and Smith added six tackles apiece.


UTEP special teams coordinator Joe Robinson was on the Southern Miss staff from 1993-98, serving as defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator in 1993, linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator from 1994-96 and special teams/recruiting coordinator from 1996-98.


UTEP quarterback Brandon Jones threw for a career-high 340 yards and two touchdowns. But four first quarter turnovers did UTEP in as WKU scored the game’s first 40 points, including 27 during the first quarter as the Miners fell 40-16 last week at Houchens-Smith Stadium. After being outscored 40-0 in the first half, the Miners won the second half battle, 16-0. WKU gained 422 yards of offense, while Steven Duncan passed for 214 yards and two scores. Quin Jernighan caught seven passes for 82 yards and a score, while the Hilltoppers ran for 208 yards on 50 carries with two touchdowns. With the score 40-8, Jones found senior David Lucero down the left sideline and he took it 88 yards to paydirt. It was a career-long play for both and the longest scoring play for the Miners since Aaron Jones’s 91-yard touchdown run at Texas Tech in 2015. Jones made the score 40-16 when he hooked up with Lucero again, this time on the two-point conversion. Lucero registered his first career 100-yard game, tallying 118 yards on a pair of receptions. The Miners opened the second half with a 75-yard, seven-play scoring drive. Jones hooked up with Terry Juniel for an 11-yard TD, then followed with a completed two-point attempt to Warren Redix. The UTEP defense stepped up in the second half. After allowing 277 yards in the first two periods, the Miners limited the Hilltoppers to 145 in the second half. The UTEP offense found life during the second half, accounting for 336 of its 392 total yards. A.J. Hotchkins once again led the Miners with 12 tackles. Justin Rogers tallied a career-high nine stops, while Sione Tupou tied his career best with nine tackles. Kalon Beverly intercepted his second pass of the season during the fourth quarter. 


Junior QB Brandon Jones passed for a career-high 340 yards in the Miners’ 40-16 setback at WKU last week. It marked the most yards passing by a UTEP signal-caller since Jameill Showers had 365 at Colorado State on Sept. 28, 2013. It was the most passing yards by a Miner in a C-USA game since Sept. 10, 2010, when Trevor Vittatoe threw for 340 at Houston.


With senior QB Ryan Metz throwing for 313 yards versus North Texas (Oct. 6) and Brandon Jones adding 340 yards passing at WKU, the Miners have had two 300-yard passers in a season for the first time in school history. 


Brandon Jones hooked up with senior TE David Lucero for an 88-yard TD at WKU. It tied for the fifth-longest pass in school history, and it was the longest by a Miner since Jordan Palmer hit Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. for a 91-yard score at Fresno State on Oct. 9, 2004.  


Brandon Jones’s career night at WKU gave the Miners three players with 500 yards passing in 2018 for the first time in school history — Kai Locksley (937), Ryan Metz (576) and Jones (559). 


David Lucero’s 118 yards receiving at WKU were a career high and the most by a UTEP tight end since  Arnie Adkison had 200 yards receiving at Utah on Nov. 7, 1987. The 118 yards were the fourth most by a tight end in school history. Lucero’s 88-yard catch versus the Hilltoppers was the longest by a tight end in the Miner record book.


David Lucero is ending his UTEP career with a bang as he has tallied six receptions for 180 yards over the last two games. It marks the most yards by a Miner tight end in back-to-back outings since All-American Brian Natkin also had 180 versus San Jose State (92) and Fresno State (88) during UTEP’s Western Athletic Conference championship 2000 season.


UTEP’s tight ends — David Lucero and Josh Weeks — entered the Middle Tennessee game (Nov. 10) with a combined 16 catches for 175 yards. But over the last two contests, they have teamed for 11 receptions totaling 289 yards. During that span Lucero has 180 yards receiving, and Weeks has 109 yards. Weeks led the Miners with 71 yards versus Middle Tennessee, and Lucero paced the squad with 118 yards at WKU. The last time a tight end led UTEP in receiving in back-to-back games was in 2003 versus San Diego State and Louisville when Jonas Crafts compiled 54 and 42 yards respectively. 


David Lucero has 19 catches for 311 yards in 2018, making him the sixth UTEP tight end since 2000 to tally 300 yards in a campaign. The others are Brian Natkin in 1998 (362), 1999 (648) and 2000 (775), Joey Knapp in 2000 (307) and 2001 (351), Jamar Hunt in 2008 (367), Eric Tomlinson in 2013 (304) and Hayden Plinke in 2015 (405) and 2016 (456).


WR has Tre’Shon Wolf has shown promise for the future, leading all UTEP freshmen in catches (eight) and yards (127) this season. Wolf is coming off a career-high 63-yard night at WKU and also registered his career-long catch (48 yards) against the Hilltoppers. 


The 88-yard pass from Brandon Jones to David Lucero at WKU boosted the Miners’ passing yards per completion rate to 13.96 this season. That figure rates 20th in the country and second in C-USA behind UAB’s 14.48 yards per completion.


The Miners threw five interceptions last week for the first time ever in a Conference USA game. The last time UTEP had five interceptions against a league foe was on Oct. 28, 1995, versus San Diego State, back in its Western Athletic Conference days. The Hilltoppers converted five UTEP first-half interceptions into 31 points. The Miners lead C-USA with 24 turnovers and opponents have scored 111 points off turnovers (10.1 per game) this season. Of the 111 points off turnovers, 83 have been scored in the first half. The Miners have committed 17 of their 24 turnovers in the first half this season.


After leading the Miners in rushing for the fifth time this season (99 yards) versus Middle Tennessee on Nov. 10, Quardraiz Wadley went over 1,000 yards in his UTEP career. He now has 217 rushes for 1,041 yards in the Orange and Blue. His 99 yards versus Middle Tennessee were his most versus a C-USA opponent. 


UTEP produced its top-two point totals of the season in back-to-back weeks against Rice (34 points) and Middle Tennessee (32 points) earlier this month. The last time UTEP scored 30+ points in consecutive C-USA contests was in 2014 against UTSA (34 points) and Southern Miss (35). UTEP is now 25-17 all-time versus C-USA foes when scoring 30 points or more with wins in eight of the last 10 games.  


UTEP quarterbacks have been responsible for 418 of the team’s 1,411 rushing yards (29.6 percent) in 2018. Quarterbacks have accounted for nine of the Miners’ 17 rushing scores this season; the nine rushing TD’s by signal-callers are a modern era (post 1965) school record. This is the first time since 2006 that three UTEP quarterbacks (Brandon Jones, Kai Locksley, Ryan Metz) have rushed for a touchdown in a season. Twelve years ago, Lorne Sam, Jordan Palmer and James Thomas II all turned the trick. Locksley and Jones both have games with multiple rushing touchdowns this season. 


With his sixth rushing touchdown of the season at Rice, Kai Locksley tied for the second-most rushing scores by a UTEP quarterback in the modern era (post 1965). Gary Keithley also had six in 1971, Kevin Ward had six in 1983 and Rocky Perez had six in 2000.  The record is seven rushing TD’s by Bobby McKinley in 1974. 


With 106 rushing yards at UTSA (Sept. 29), Kai Locksley became the first UTEP quarterback to rush for 100 yards twice in a season in 35 years. Locksley ran for 119 yards at UNLV on Sept. 8. Kevin Ward rushed for 100 yards in the first and last game of the 1983 campaign, gaining 125 yards versus New Mexico State and 109 against Weber State. Locksley is the fifth UTEP quarterback to rush for 100 yards in a game since 1980.


This chart illustrates UTEP’s improvement from 2017 to 2018.

Category 2017*

Scoring offense 11.8

Scoring defense 36.8

Rushing offense 95.6

Passing offense 134.9

Total offense 230.5

Rushing defense 234.3

Passing defense 212.2

Total defense 446.6

Sacks 11

* Final stats for 12 games


The Miners rank 64th nationally in total defense (396.2 ypg); a year ago they were 107th (446.6 ypg). In C-USA play, UTEP has trimmed its yards allowed per contest from 410.9 in 2017 to 383.4.  


Over the last five games, UTEP opponents are 21-for-68 on third down conversions (30.9 percent). During that stretch the Miners have risen from 101st in the nation in third down conversion defense to 52nd (.372). UTEP’s third-down conversion defense for C-USA games only (.340) ranks fifth in the league. No UTEP opponent has converted more than 50 percent of its third downs in 2018 after eight of 12 achieved the feat last season.


Senior DBs Nik Needham and Kalon Beverly have combined for 55 pass break-ups in their careers. Needham set the school record with his 26th career pass break-up in the second quarter against NM State and now has 33 pass break-ups. The previous record of 25 pass break-ups was held by Jahmal Fenner, who played for the Miners from 2001-04. Needham’s nine pass break-ups in 2018 leads the team. Beverly tallied his fourth PBU of the season at WKU last week and now has 22 in his career, 10th-most in the Miner record book. Darius Ellison (1995-98) and Weldon Cooks (1999-02) are tied for eighth place on the list with 23 PBU’s. 


LB A.J. Hotchkins has made the most of his move from Oregon to UTEP. The graduate transfer has led the Miners in tackles in eight of 11 games, including seven double-digit performances against Northern Arizona (13), Tennessee (10), North Texas (14), LA Tech (11), UAB (career-high 15), Middle Tennessee (14) and WKU (12). Hotchkins ranks 14th nationally and is tied for first in C-USA with FIU’s Sage Lewis, averaging 10.6 tackles per game. He is trying to become only the second Miner to lead C-USA in tackles; Troy Collavo did so with 125 stops in 2006.


Terry Juniel now has 2,188 all-purpose yards (five rushing, 588 receiving, 383 punt returns, 1,212 kickoff returns) in his UTEP career. Juniel ranks eighth in school history in kickoff return yards and needs 41 to pass Sam Rogers (1992-94) into seventh place. Juniel has gone over 100 all-purpose yards five times this season, and leads the Miners with 929 in 2018. Juniel is 13th in the nation in combined kick return yards (644) and ranks second in Conference USA behind Old Dominion’s Isaiah Harper (783).


The Miners rank 40th nationally in punt return defense (6.2 avg.). They are third in C-USA in kickoff coverage (43.9 net avg.). Terry Juniel is third in C-USA in punt return average (6.1) and kickoff return average (19.8). Jason Filley is 20-for-21 on extra point attempts this season, and he made a career-long 50-yard field goal against Middle Tennessee. Gavin Baechle has converted 28 of his 42 kickoffs for touchbacks.


UTEP has three blocked kicks this season, including one each in the last two games versus Middle Tennessee (Chris Richardson) and WKU (Trace Mascorro). That puts the Miners at 12th in the nation, and tied for first in C-USA in blocked kicks (Florida Atlantic, LA Tech, North Texas, Southern Miss and UAB also have three).  


There are nine programs in the FBS, including UTEP, that have sons playing for their fathers. UTEP first-year head coach Dana Dimel has his son, Winston, at fullback. The other eight programs include UAB (head coach Bill Clark and son Jacob), Colorado (head coach Mike Macintyre and son Jay), Tulsa (head coach Philip Montgomery and son Cannon), Navy (head coach Ken Niumatalolo and son Ali’i), TCU (head coach Gary Patterson and son Blake), Middle Tennessee (head coach Rick Stockstill and son Brent), Clemson (head coach Dabo Swinney and son Will) and Old Dominion (head coach Bobby Wilder and son Derek). Winston previously played at Kansas State (2015-17) where his father was the offensive coordinator. The younger Dimel earned a spot on the 2018-19 Reese’s Senior Bowl Watch List after garnering All-Big 12 honors each of the last three years. 


Eight players on the 2018 roster are graduate students. They are OL Jerrod Brooks, FB Winston Dimel, OL Derron Gatewood, LB A.J. Hotchkins, QB Ryan Metz, DL C.J. Reese, DL Michael Sota and TE Josh Weeks. 


Twenty players on the 2018 roster were named to the Conference USA Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll this spring for sporting grade point averages of 3.0 or better. They are RB Ronald Awatt, DL Christian Buckingham, QB Alex Fernandes, K/P Jason Filley, RB Reynaldo Flores, LB Stephen Forester, WR Keynan Foster, OL Derron Gatewood, LB Kalaii Griffin, DL Christian Johnson, OL Robert Lazarin, FB Forest McKee, QB Ryan Metz, FB Jonathan Millan, DL Jimmy Quemado, LS Jake Sammut, DB Kahani Smith, LB Sione Tupou, LB Anthony Ulmer and K Brady Viles. Fernandes and Flores were recipients of C-USA Academic Medals for logging GPAs of 3.75 or higher. 


The Miners will turn their attention to offseason recruiting and 2019 Spring Ball.

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