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UTEP Football Is Getting Better

We were skeptical of the rebuild in El Paso. Dana Dimel’s record as a head coach was unimpressive. Sure, he led the Wyoming Cowboys to a winning record in three seasons, but the move to Houston was a disaster. His Cougars finished 8-26 in his three seasons.

As the head man out (far) west, Dimel is tasked with an unbelievable turnaround job. UTEP has now lost 18-straight games dating back to 2016. The NFL talent is long gone, and while Sean Kugler did not leave the cupboard absolutely barren, he did not leave much depth on his way out the door.

The Miners sit at 0-6, hardly the stuff of excitement. The last two games have shown some improvement. UTEP had a comeback against a tough UTSA defense, and nearly pulled off an upset over heavy favorite North Texas. We’ll dispense with the numbers, as they suggest that UTEP is bad. The truth is: Yes, UTEP is very bad, but they are getting better. In fact, S&P+ has UTEP at 126, up from 130.

Over in Houston, Mike Bloomgren is molding the Owls in his image: power run game out of the Harbaugh playbook. In El Paso, Dimel and new offensive coordinator Mike Canales are instilling the K-State shotgun QB run stuff. You can see the outlines of the offense they want to run.

Thus far, the issue has been Kai Locksley’s relative shortcomings throwing the ball. UTSA was able to sit on some passes and this helped them build a lead.

Kai Locksley winning a battle vs Josiah Tauaefa. Courtesy MGN

Locksley is big and strong and can run through safeties.

Kai Locksley running around UTSA’s safety. Courtesy MGN

You can see why he won the starting job. Ryan Metz has not been great when stepping in as neither QB has reached the 50% completion mark, but he is more accurate on the kind of throws that are presenting themselves to him. Mike Canales had the element of surprise against NT, and we should bear that in mind, but this kind of touch throw is the difference between six and an incompletion.

As I said, the cupboard is not completely bare. Ryan Metz and Quardraiz Wadley are holdovers from the previous regime. North Texas came in as one of the better defenses in the league and burning them so easily is no easy feat. Two grinding, long touchdown drives in the failed comeback against UTSA on the road are also indicators of the kind of ability UTEP can display. If Kai Locksley can develop the ability to throw with consistency that Metz has, he’ll have even more opportunities to throw.

Here, Metz faces an obvious passing down: 3rd and 14. North Texas does not bring pressure, respecting the passing ability. Metz makes them pay with his legs.

There is still a ton of work to do. UTEP’s respectable defense is still being put in awful positions, having to defend short fields and really often. Metz, for all of his 313 yards and two TD passes, also had two bad interceptions. The final drive against UNT died when TE David Lucero dropped a sure conversion. UTEP is not good enough to have those mistakes and win. Corners Nik Needham and Kalon Beverly are good but both are seniors. Recruiting is going to be where Dana Dimel earns his paycheck.

For now, there is enough here to get a win — ahem, we mean against Rice — but with some of the best teams in C-USA in the West, it will not be easy. Dana Dimel is a positive guy, and that type of attitude will be necessary to weather the storm of the next two matchups. After this week’s bye the schedule has UTEP headed to Ruston to take on Louisiana Tech, then the Miners host UAB.

Beyond that, visiting Houston to take on Rice and facing a Middle Tennessee team that has to travel all the way from Murfreesboro might be the right recipe for an upset. Yes, it sounds crazy to think the East division leaders would drop a game to UTEP, but then again we thought North Texas was going to run away with last week’s game. Strange things happen in El Paso.

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