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Miners head to Knoxville in search of improvement

Gaby Velasquez

In search of their first win of the season,  the UTEP Miners football team will travel to Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Sept. 15 as they face the Tennessee Volunteers. This will be the third time the two teams have met, UTEP lost the two previous meetings.

The Volunteers (1-1) are coming off their first win of the season as they routed East Tennessee 59-3 last Saturday. Whereas, the Miners are coming off back-to-back losses as they were out-rushed by the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels 52-24. Looking ahead at this upcoming SEC battle here are some key points for UTEP to gather momentum as the season goes forward.

Improved offense

In the week one contest against NAU, the Miners second-half offense went missing in action. But the  Miners did show improvement in week two against UNLV, scoring 14 points in the second half, and 24 for the game, marking their highest scoring output since their 2016 season finale. Junior quarterback Kai Locksley scored the first second-half touchdown with a 20-yard run, to make the game 17-45. While junior running back Quardraiz Wadley scored the final touchdown for the Miners on a 22-yard run.

Head coach Dana Dimel and his staff went into the UNLV matchup looking for cohesion amongst the offensive line. Dimel and his staff reworked the o-line with senior Markos Lujan starting at center, Junior Robert Guerra started at right guard, freshman Zuri Henry and sophomore Josiah Gray split duties at left tackle. The o-line not only looked improved but were able to provide big run plays for Wadley (41 and 45 yards) that led to 10 first-half points for the Miners.

Locksley was the Miners leader on the ground for the second straight week with 119 yards and finished the game with two touchdowns.

The Miners had a total offense of 388 yards, an improvement from 229 yards against NAU. The Miners are currently ranked 113th in the nation in total offense with 617 yards, and ranked 61st in the nation in total rushing yards with 367.

On the receiving end, the Miners need a much better outing from their wide receivers. UTEP quarterbacks completed 11 passes to the wideouts, tight ends and running backs. Senior Warren Redix led all Miners in yards with 28. Senior David Lucero, sophomore Joshua Fields, and senior Terry Juniel tied for most completions with two. UTEP is currently ranked 118th in the nation in receiving yards with 250.

Defense needs to make more stops

Against UNLV the Miners gave up a total of 414 rush yards, 277 were in the first half alone. Dual-threat sophomore quarterback Armani Rogers rushed for one touchdown and 103 yards while throwing for three touchdowns and 119 yards. Senior running back Lexington Thomas rushed for 127 yards and led all Rebels with two touchdowns. The defense gave up six touchdowns and a field goal in the first eight possessions against the Rebels.

In Tennessee’s 59-point outing this past Saturday, the Vols scored four touchdowns in less  than six minutes in the second quarter. Sophomore quarterback Jarrett Guarantano threw for 154 yards, while Tennessee running backs ran for a combined 201 yards. Volunteers senior running back Madre Jordan finished the game with two touchdowns and freshman running back Jeremy Banks added two of his own.

The Miners must find a collective effort on the defensive side if they want to create some stops in Neyland stadium. On a positive note for UTEP, Oregon transfer A.J. Hotchkins and Jumar Smith each had a sack. Hotchkins leads the team with 21 tackles, followed by senior cornerbacks Kahani Smith (17) and Nik Needham (12).

Need to solve the quarterback situation

Locksley made his first career start this past Saturday. The JUCO transfer was able to move the Miners offense by making plays with his legs and misdirection with the running back.

Locksley, was able to put the Miners offense in motion with his ability to make plays with his legs. That said, he struggled in the passing game, only completing six passes for the game.

Locksley and fifth-year senior Ryan Metz continued their quarterback carousel again as they combined for 11-of-29 passes for 123 yards. Metz struggled as he threw an interception and completed just five passes for 66 yards.

On one scoring possession in the third quarter, the drive saw both quarterbacks. Metz started the drive but was only able to move the ball with a 12-yard  run. Whereas Locksley gave the drive life by completing two big passes, one to Treyvon Hughes for 14 yards and another to Lucero for 22 yards. Locksley finished the drive for a 20-yard touchdown run.

Locksley has the obvious edge over Metz in the running game–his athleticism is what UTEP coaches were raving about during camp–if he can become a more accurate passer, he will solidify his job as the Miners starting quarterback for the rest of the season.

Daniel Mendez  may be reached at [email protected].

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Daniel Mendez, Staff reporter
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Miners head to Knoxville in search of improvement