EL PASO -- UTEP travels to Nevada to take on UNLV on Saturday. The Miners enter Saturday’s game as a 24.5-point underdog, and will put their 13-game losing streak on the line against the Rebels.
The Miners’ last road victory came on Oct. 22, 2016 when they beat UTSA in a 52-49 five-overtime thriller. But this week isn’t about dwelling on the past. It’s about looking toward the future and improving from week one’s 30-10 loss to Northern Arizona for the Miners.
“Whatever the outcome of the first ballgame is going to be, we want to be know what kind of improvement we can have as a football team,” said first-year head coach Dana Dimel. “So that’s going to be very important. It’s important for the guys to understand. When it doesn’t go the way everybody wants it to go, you’ve got to make sure that there isn’t this huge letdown.”
Two immediate areas of improvement that the Miners will emphasize this week are turnovers and offensive line play. The Miners had three turnovers against Northern Arizona, including two interceptions and a fumble. With the loss of senior center Derron Gatewood and tackle Greg Long, their line is already as depleted as could be.
“There was a lot of missed opportunities,” Dimel said. “The biggest things I think we need to improve upon schematically from that game looking as a full football team unit is the cohesion of our offensive line. The cohesions just got to improve as we go through the season and we knew that was going to be a question mark for this football team before the injuries.”
Making it official
UTEP will practice this week knowing that Kai Locksley will be the true starting quarterback moving forward. After being put in the third series of the game, Locksley put up 120 yards, completing 13-of-26 passes, and had 77 yards on the ground.
“I did like what Kai (Locksley) brought to the table as far as his energy,” Dimel said. “When you go back and critique his first game performance as a first-time starter in a new system and everything around him, the youth of the offensive line position, given our receiver position to mesh the way we want it to mesh, I thought his play, in general, was a solid performance.
“You saw some of the things he could bring to the table with his athleticism. He’s an intelligent player and he’s got a good skill-set.”
UTEP struggled to contain Northern Arizona's offense too. The Lumberjacks posted 30 points against the Miners.
“Defensively, I’d like to see us get more sacks, get more turnovers," Dimel said. "We had one sack and one turnover (vs. NAU). Those are some of the things I’d like to see our football team do better. Respond if the offense has turnovers and see if the defense can get that ball back for us at a higher pace and higher rate.”
UNLV returns 48 letter winners and 16 starters this season in a much-improved team from last season. They fell last week to USC 43-21, but were in reach at one point in the first half, trailing just 19-14.
“I thought [UNLV] had a really good first game,” Dimel said. “I thought they did a lot of good things when they played a quality opponent like USC. It’s a team that has experience back, they have some size to them and they have a couple big defensive tackles that are 300-plus pound guys.”
They gained 308 yards on the ground against USC, which will be a factor for UNLV leading into Saturday’s game against UTEP.
“Offensively, they ran the ball extremely well against USC,” Dimel said. “They rushed for over 300 yards and they did it with their 1-2 punch; their 1-2 punch is their running back and quarterback. They have a good mixture of QB-run game and he creates plays with his legs. A lot of times there isn’t a designated run play but he just does it with his legs. The running back is a very talented and rushed for 137 yards rushing against the Trojans.”
Kickoff against UNLV is slated for 7 p.m. MT and will be televised on AT&T Sportsnet.