Mistakes cost UTEP on road in Conference USA loss to FBS newcomer Jax State

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Forgive UTEP if the Miners are suffering from a spell of déjà vu

Dana Dimel’s squad fell in Week 0 to a conference foe due to unforced errors last year, and they did the same thing Saturday afternoon against FBS newcomer Jax State, 17-14, UTEP outgained Jax State by nearly 100 yards while picking up seven more first downs with over seven extra minutes of possession. 

UTEP had the ball in Jax State territory late in the game before consecutive incompletions turned the ball over and allowed the Gamecocks to run out the clock and seal their first victory as an FBS program. The Miners lost the turnover battle by three and turned the ball over on downs twice. UTEP is at home in Week 1 against FCS opponent UIW


Offensive sloppiness costs UTEP: It isn’t that the Miners couldn’t move the ball. UTEP nearly gained 400 yards – and almost 100 more than Jax State – and accounted for 22 first downs compared to 15 by the Gamecocks. The Miners controlled the clock, came up with more big plays, and ran eight more plays than the up-tempo Jax State offense. But late-drive mistakes added up in the ledger and prevented the Miners from capitalizing. 

In the first half alone, UTEP dropped an easy touchdown, turned the ball over on downs, missed a field goal, and fumbled in Jax State territory. Quarterback Gavin Hardison threw an interception in Jax State territory in the first drive of the fourth quarter. The Miners finished the previous five seasons in the red on turnover margin and the -3 start to 2023 stings. UTEP was 3-12 on third down and 1-3 on fourth. 

Defense did enough: The UTEP defense wasn’t the problem as the unit held up relatively well against the fast-paced rushing attack of Rich Rodriguez. The Miners held Jax State to 4.3 yards a play and only 15 first downs. They didn’t allow a single point from the three turnovers committed by the offense. The linebacker duo of Tyrice Knight and James Neal combined for 13 tackles with Knight leading both teams with 13 on the game. McKel Broussard and Kobe Hylton impressed in the secondary, while Prince Amaewhule registered the team’s only sack. 

Despite the offensive struggles, the UTEP defense bowed for much of the contest and gave the offense the ball with a chance to win late in the game. That’s all Dimel can ask for from the unit that was put in some tough quick-change situations due to mistakes by his offense. It is always good to find a silver lining in a loss, and the defensive effort in Week 0 provides hope that this team can reach six wins in spite of the offense. 

A tough road to six wins: The loss to jax State puts UTEP behind the eight ball for a trip to a bowl game. The same thing happened in 2022 with a loss to North Texas. The Miners started the season 1-3 last year and could never catch their own tail in the race to six wins. A home game against UIW in Week 1 and a trip to a wounded Northwestern squad in Week 2 provide some comfort, but an 0-3 start isn’t out of the question. UIW went to the FCS semifinals last season. Still, even with a 1-2 or 2-1 start, the path to six wins is challenging. 

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