UTEP seeks back-to-back wins for first time since 2015

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Fresh off its first win since the 2016 season, UTEP (1-8, 1-4 C-USA) looks to string together back-to-back victories for the first time in more than three years when Middle Tennessee (6-3, 5-1 C-USA) comes to the Sun Bowl for “Fan Appreciation Day” on Saturday. Early kickoff is set for 1 p.m. MT. The Miners ended a 20-game losing streak with a 34-26 triumph at Rice on Nov. 3. It was UTEP’s first win since Nov. 26, 2016, and its first road victory since Oct. 22, 2016. The last time the Miners notched consecutive wins was in September, 2015 at NM State (50-47 in overtime) and versus Incarnate Word (27-17). The last occasion UTEP registered two Conference USA victories in a row was during the 2014 season with three consecutive triumphs over Old Dominion (42-35), at UTSA (34-0) and against Southern Miss (35-14). Middle Tennessee has won three straight games and five of its last six. The Blue Raiders are 2-3 on the road, 2-1 in league play with victories over Marshall (34-24) and Old Dominion (51-17) and a loss at FIU (24-21).  

SATURDAY’S OPPONENT

The Blue Raiders are in first place in Conference USA’s East Division, a half-game in front of FIU (4-1). Middle Tennessee knocked off WKU, 29-10, on Nov. 2 in Murfreesboro to become bowl eligible. Middle Tennessee is second in C-USA in scoring offense (30.2 ppg) and second in scoring defense (18.7 ppg) for league games only. Over the last three games, the Blue Raiders have yielded 13.3 ppg to Charlotte, Old Dominion and WKU. The Blue Raiders are third in the league in punt returns (13.0 avg). and fourth in kickoff returns (24.0 avg.) for conference games. Middle Tennessee brings a balanced rushing attack to El Paso as six players are averaging between 20 and 45 yards per game. Senior QB Brent Stockstill, a four-year starter, owns Middle Tennessee career records in passing yards (10,897), passing yards per game (272.4) and touchdown passes (94). He rates fourth in passing yards, third in passing yards per game and first in passing touchdowns among active FBS players. His top target in 2018 has been junior WR Ty Lee, who leads the team in catches (41) and yards (463). The defense is anchored by sophomore safety Reed Blankenship, who was recently named the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week (Oct. 30) after putting up a career-high 17 tackles (nine solo), a sack, three tackles for losses and a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown at Old Dominion. Blankenship has a team-leading 71 stops this season along with six tackles for losses, two picks and four pass break ups. Over the last six games, the Blue Raider defense has forced 14 turnovers. Middle Tennessee had a balanced offensive showing in its last game versus WKU as it gained 246 yards rushing and 228 passing. Stockstill completed 24-of-42 passes with two touchdowns, and redshirt-freshman Chaton Mobley had a big night with 25 carries for 198 yards.  Middle Tennessee holds national top-30 rankings in red zone defense (third, .667), defensive touchdowns (seventh, 3.0), punt returns (10th, 17.17), completion percentage (19th, .657), penalties per game (20th, 4.89), fourth down conversion percentage (21st, .647), kickoff returns (22nd, 24.00) and turnover margin (27th, 0.44).

THE SERIES

Middle Tennessee leads the series, 2-1. The Miners lost at Middle Tennessee, 48-17, in the 2013 season finale but topped the Blue Raiders, 24-21, at the Sun Bowl on Nov. 29, 2014, to clinch their first winning season in nine years. Last year Middle Tennessee emerged victorious in Murfreesboro once again, 30-3. 

THE LAST MEETING

True freshman running back and El Paso native Joshua Fields produced a career-high 87 yards on 17 carries, but Middle Tennessee scored a 30-3 victory on Nov. 4, 2017 at Floyd Stadium. The Miners struggled on offense, gaining 137 yards and six first downs, while the Blue Raiders registered 400 yards of offense and 18 first downs. Brent Stockstill, who was a game-time decision, made his first start in two months. He threw for 190 yards on 13-of-30 passing with three scores. Nik Needham intercepted one of Stockstill’s passes. Middle Tennessee got on the board first after Canon Rooker connected on a career-long 51-yard field goal. The Blue Raiders took a 17-0 lead after a pair of Stockstill touchdown tosses. The first came with 16 seconds left in the first quarter, a 25-yard hookup to Ty Lee, while the second was a five-yard pass to Jimmy Marshall in the second quarter at the 4:35 mark. After a Tavares Thomas two-yard touchdown run to put MT up 24-0, UTEP kicker Jason Filley got the Miners on the board with his first career field goal, a 26-yard kick with over six minutes to play in the third quarter. Alan Luna gathered a career-high 414 yards on nine punts (46.0 avg.), while Dante Lovilotte led the defense with seven tackles. Terry Juniel ran a kickoff back 49 yards and averaged 29.0 yards on three kickoff returns.

LAST GAME

UTEP burst out to a 27-0 lead in a dominating first-half performance, then held off resurgent Rice in the second half for a 34-26 win on Nov. 3 in Houston. The Miners stamped out their 20-game losing streak and notched their first win under coach Dana Dimel. It was UTEP’s first triumph at Rice Stadium since 2005, its initial year in Conference USA. UTEP piled up 310 yards of offense in the first half. Kai Locksley threw for 193 yards in the first 30 minutes, and joined Quardraiz Wadley in rushing for two touchdowns. It didn’t take long for the Miners to get on the board. Wadley’s 12-yard scoring run with 12:32 left in the first quarter made it 7-0. Wadley and Locksley alternated TD runs in the first half, with Wadley scoring twice on 12-yard runs and Locksley picking up a pair of one-yard scores. Rice only managed four first downs in the first half, with one coming on a 35-yard pass from Wiley Green to Austin Walter late in the half that set up a 43-yard field goal. The Owls had 96 yards in the first half. The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, with Treyvon Hughes picking up a 19-yard rushing score for the Miners. But Rice came alive in the final period, as Green connected with Austin Trammell for a pair of long scores and the Owls converted back-to-back two-point conversions, suddenly making it a one-possession game (34-26) with a little over eight minutes to go. The Owls would get a few more cracks at it, but a UTEP defense that has been solid all season long stepped up time and time again. First, the Miners forced a three and out. Then Justin Rogers picked off Green’s desperation pass on 4th and 20 at midfield. The game ended on a 25-yard completion from Green to Jordan Myers at the Rice 36-yard line when the clock ran out. UTEP was balanced as can be offensively with 210 yards passing and 200 rushing. Locksley completed 13-of-21 passes for 193 yards. Wadley and Hughes rushed for 91 and 76 yards, respectively. The Miners had a slim edge in total yards (410-383) as the Owls put up 287 yards in the second half. Green threw for 313 yards for Rice, which had a pair of 100-yard receivers in Trammell (112 yards) and Walter (104 yards).

STREAK BUSTERS

The Miners ended the longest losing skid in school history (20 games) with last week’s 34-26 triumph at Rice. It marked the 11th time that UTEP ended a losing streak of 10+ games, but only the second time it did so on the road (first time 34-14 win at Hawaii on Oct. 4, 1980 that snapped a streak of 11 consecutive losses).

QUICK START

UTEP bolted to a 27-0 lead at Rice. It marked the third time UTEP has scored the game’s first 27 points versus a C-USA opponent since joining the league in 2005. The Miners led 34-0 at UTSA in 2014, and 28-0 versus North Texas in 2014. The Miners scored their first touchdown with 12:32 remaining in the first quarter. It was UTEP’s quickest score versus a C-USA opponent since Nov. 5, 2011, at Rice (Nick Lamaison 74-yard pass to Mike Edwards, 13:57 on the clock). 

300 YARDS AT THE HALF

The Miners put up 310 yards in the first half at Rice. It marked the fifth time UTEP has compiled 300 yards or more in the opening half versus a C-USA opponent. This also happened previously against SMU in 2008 (325), UAB in 2009 (316), SMU in 2009 (302) and Tulane in 2012 (318). Overall, the 310 first-half yards were the most for the Miners since the 2014 season opener at New Mexico (326). 

SEASON HIGH FOR POINTS

For the first time in 2018, UTEP put 30 points on the board in last week’s 34-26 win at Rice. UTEP’s previous season high for points was 24 (three times). The Miners scored 30+ points for the 41st time against a Conference USA opponent, and for the first time since Nov. 26, 2016, versus North Texas (52). UTEP is now 25-16 all-time versus C-USA foes when scoring 30 points or more (interesting side note: the Miners won their first six C-USA games when scoring 30+ points, and have now won eight of their last nine; in-between they posted an 11-15 mark in such contests).

BALANCED OFFENSE

The Miners couldn’t have been any more balanced offensively at Rice, as they compiled 210 yards passing and 200 yards rushing. UTEP had 200+ yards passing and rushing in a game for the first occasion since the 2016 opener versus NM State (229 passing/289 rushing). Overall it marked only the third time in the last five seasons that UTEP posted 200+ yards passing and rushing in a game. The last time UTEP achieved the feat versus a C-USA opponent was on Oct. 5, 2013 versus LA Tech (237 passing/203 rushing).

BALANCED EFFORT ON THE ROAD

Against Rice, UTEP posted 200+ yards passing and rushing in a C-USA road game for only the fourth time since joining the league in 2005. This also happened in 2007 at SMU (overtime game, 250 passing/308 rushing) and in 2009 at Tulane (226 passing/260 rushing) and SMU (396 passing/231 rushing). 

QUARTERBACK RUSHING

UTEP quarterbacks have been responsible for 434 of the team’s 1,246 rushing yards (34.8 percent) in 2018. Quarterbacks have accounted for nine of the Miners’ 15 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, Palmer and James Thomas II all turned the trick. Locksley and Jones both have games with multiple rushing touchdowns this season. Overall, a quarterback has led the Miners in rushing in five of nine contests this season.

LOCKSLEY CLOSING IN ON RECORD

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. Locksley is tied for 20th nationally in quarterback rushing TD’s and leads Conference USA in that department.

LOCKSLEY’S 100-YARD GAMES

With 106 rushing yards at UTSA (Sept. 29), Kai Locksley is 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.

MULTIPLE MINERS WITH RUSHING TD’S

Kai Locksley and Quardraiz Wadley both rushed for two touchdowns at Rice. The last time UTEP had two players with multiple rushing TD’s in a game was on Nov. 15, 2014 versus North Texas (Nathan Jeffery three, Aaron Jones two). Treyvon Hughes also scored a rushing TD in the third quarter, giving the Miners three players with rushing scores for the first time since Sept. 29, 2015 at NM State (Darrin Laufasa, LaQuintus Dowell, Ryan Metz one each).

OFFENSIVE STANDOUTS VERSUS RICE

Warren Redix (63 yards) and Erik Brown (60 yards) accounted for 123 of the Miners’ 210 receiving yards against the Owls. Redix now has 78 catches for 792 yards and five touchdowns in his UTEP career. Brown’s 60 yards were a career high (previous best 52 yards versus UTSA in 2017). Quardraiz Wadley rushed 20 times for 91 yards, his third-highest total of the season and most since week four versus NM State (111). The 91 yards were also his most versus a C-USA opponent in three years at UTEP. With 920 career rushing yards, Wadley needs 80 to join the 1,000-yard club. Treyvon Hughes rushed for a career-high 76 yards at Rice.

MOVING PARTS

Injuries have ravaged UTEP’s offensive unit. The Miners started their eighth offensive line combination in nine games at Rice. Jerrod Brooks and Zuri Henry were the starting tackles, Bobby DeHaro and Elijah Klein were the guards and Markos Lujan was the center. True freshman Klein was playing in only his second collegiate game. Even so, UTEP put up 410 yards against the Owls, its third most of the season. The Miners had their most balanced effort of the season versus Rice with 210 yards passing and 200 rushing.    

TRUST THE PROCESS

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

Category 2017* 2018

Scoring offense 11.8 17.4

Scoring defense 36.8 29.6

Rushing offense 95.6 138.4

Passing offense 134.9 170.4

Total offense 230.5 308.9

Rushing defense 234.3 194.4

Passing defense 212.2 188.3

Total defense 446.6 382.8

Sacks 11 14

Punt return avg. 3.9 5.2

* Final stats for 12 games

DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT 

Could UTEP end the season with a top-50 defense? The Miners rank 56th nationally in total defense (382.8 ypg); a year ago they were 107th (446.6 ypg). Northwestern is 50th in the country in total defense (377.6 ypg). The Miners have climbed from 76th in the nation in total defense to 56th over the last three games. Over the final three contests, UTEP will face offenses currently ranked 99th (Middle Tennessee), 102nd ( WKU) and 69th (Southern Miss) in the country. 

UTEP’S “D” IN C-USA PLAY

The Miners have allowed 133 points (26.6 ppg) in their five C-USA games, but that number is misleading. The UTSA Roadrunners scored 14 points off turnovers that enabled them to start drives inside the red zone. Seven more points were tallied off a pick-six (at LA Tech), and two from a safety (against UAB). Deduct those 23 points, and the defense has surrendered 110 points (22.0 ppg). Last year in their eight league games, the Miners allowed 32.0 ppg and 410.9 yards against league competition. This year UTEP is giving up 354.2 yards per game versus C-USA opponents. UTEP is fifth in C-USA in total defense for league games only behind UAB (241.2), Southern Miss (274.2), Charlotte (299.4) and Marshall (345.4).

DEFENSIVE STANDOUTS VERSUS RICE

DBs Michael Lewis and Kahani Smith led the Miners with eight tackles apiece versus the Owls. Lewis paced UTEP in tackles for the second time, and for the initial occasion since the 2017 opener at Oklahoma (nine stops). LB Jamar Smith recorded his first career interception in the fourth quarter. DB Justin Rogers picked up his fourth career pick and has had at least one interception in each of his three seasons at UTEP. Rogers also matched his career high with two pass break-ups.

THIRD DOWN “D”

Over the last three games, UTEP opponents are 9-for-36 on third down conversions (25 percent). During that stretch the Miners have risen from 101st in the nation in third down conversion defense to 48th (.371). UTEP’s third-down conversion defense for C-USA games only (.323) ranks fourth 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.

DEFLECTING DUO

Senior DBs Nik Needham and Kalon Beverly have combined for 52 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 31 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 seven pass break-ups in 2018 leads the team. Beverly tallied his third PBU of the season versus UAB and now has 21 in his career, tied for the 10th-top total in the Miner record book. 

HOTCHKINS’S SECOND CHANCE

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 six of nine games, including five double-digit performances against Northern Arizona (13), Tennessee (10), North Texas (14), LA Tech (11) and UAB (career-high 15). Hotchkins ranks 23rd nationally and third in C-USA, averaging 10.1 tackles per game. He is averaging 10.4 tackles in C-USA games, second in the league. Hotchkins has 91 tackles and is on pace to tally 121 in 2018, which would be the most by a Miner player since Troy Collavo had 125 in 2006.

SPECIAL TEAMS STAR

Terry Juniel now has 1,896 all-purpose yards (five rushing, 530 receiving, 353 punt returns, 1,008 kickoff returns) in his UTEP career. Juniel needs just 25 kickoff return yards to tie Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jr. (1,033 yards) for 10th place in school history. Juniel has gone over 100 all-purpose yards three times this season, and leads the Miners with 637 in 2018. Juniel is 35th in the nation in combined kick returns (410).

SPECIAL TEAMS BITS

The Miners are third in C-USA in kickoff coverage (43.9 net avg.). Terry Juniel is second in C-USA in punt return average (5.2). Jason Filley is 19-for-20 on extra point attempts this season, and he’s 6-for-9 on field goals. Filley is 8-for-9 on field goal attempts from inside 40 yards during his Miner career and hit his career-long 37-yard field goal against North Texas on Oct. 6. Gavin Baechle has converted 24 of his 35 kickoffs for touchbacks.   

SEEING RED

The Miners finished 5-for-5 in the red zone with five touchdowns at Rice. In five C-USA games, UTEP is 13-for-15 in the red zone with 11 TD’s. The Miners have the fourth-most prolific red zone offense in C-USA for league games only, converting at an 86.7 percent clip. 

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON

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. 

THE GRADUATES

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. 

GETTING IT DONE IN THE CLASSROOM

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. 

Next up

The Miners will play their final road game of 2018 on Saturday, Nov. 17, at WKU. Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. MT and the game will be televised on beIN Sports.

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