UTEP football: Miners hope to finish rebuilding 2018 on right foot against Southern Miss

By Mary Scott McNabb

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EL PASO -- First-year head coach Dana Dimel and the Miners (1-10, 1-6 C-USA) will attempt to regroup following an appalling 40-16 loss to Western Kentucky as they host Southern Miss (5-5, 4-3 C-USA) on Senior Day on Saturday. 

After snapping their 20-game losing streak to Rice (34-26), the Miners have dropped back-to-back games in a disappointing fashion. In both games, the Miners were down two touchdowns through the opposing team's first two drives. Against Western Kentucky, junior Kai Locksley threw interceptions on his first two passes of the game, and the team finished with five interceptions on the day. They were down 40-0 at the half. 

"The positives that you’ve got to take out of it in your first year is that you that you’ve got to say ‘OK, the guys responded and played better football in the second half.’ WKU wanted to beat us as bad as they could beat us, so I was really happy with that part of it," Dimel said. "The first half, we haven’t played like that all season really. The first half was the part that was discouraging to me obviously. You have to be honest with that part of it, but us responding in the second half, I thought that was good. Now, I think the challenge for us is to have a good weekend this weekend.”

Southern Miss enters Saturday's game following a huge victory against Louisiana Tech (21-20). The Golden Eagles will be vying for their fourth straight bowl berth with a victory over UTEP, which is something they are fighting for on Saturday. 

"We don’t need to give gifts," Dimel said. "We were into the gift season last week. That’s what cost us the game. We just gave them the football game. That was what was so disappointing. In order for us to pull an upset this weekend, we got to be the team that doesn’t turn the football over."

UTEP is currently averaging 1.18 turnovers per game, including a minus-13 turnover margin, which is the fourth-worst in the nation. And as far as the quarterback situation goes, Dimel is still waiting on the status of Locksley with Brandon Jones serving as the backup if he's not ready by Saturday.

"We don’t know yet," Dimel said. "We’re not sure yet what we’re going to do at quarterback, it just depends. We’ve got to evaluate Kai (Locksley). Kai can move, he moved better today than he has in any (recent) Monday. This is the first time he’s practiced on a Monday for quite a while. He moved better.

"The evaluation will be when we get down to it after Thursday’s practice. We’ll just see if he’s moving. If he’s like he’s been the last few games, where he’s pretty much not able to move and to press off to get the throws the ways he wants to have them, with the accuracy the way he wants to have them and the rotation that he wants to have on the ball, then we’re going to start Brandon (Jones) because Brandon did a lot of positive things in the ballgame. I think Kai has been improving so much, that when he’s healthy he competitively gives us more of an advantage than what Brandon (Jones) does. But that gap is closing for sure. There’s no doubt about it.” 

Kickoff between UTEP and Southern Miss is set for 1 p.m. MT. Click here to buy tickets for UTEP-Southern Miss. 

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