UTEP pulls upset over Boise State behind defense, run game

Photo by UTEP Athletics

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A must-win might be hyperbolic for a Week 3 non-conference tilt, but that wasn't too far off for a 1-3 UTEP program that already lost the Conference USA opener back in Week 0 in front of a sold out Sun Bowl. The Miners followed that up with a lackluster performance in a win over New Mexico State bled over into a disappointing loss at New Mexico in Week 2. The seven-win 2021 season looked like the exception, not the rule, for Dana Dimel's saud. 

Then Boise State came to town. The Broncos were 16.5-point favorites. They left El Paso with a 27-10 loss. UTEP did it the old-fashioned way. Bill Snyder would be proud of his pupil. UTEP held the ball for 40:35 of the game. The offense amassed 199 yards rushing and one touchdown on 53 attempts. The defense only allowed 58 yards in the first half. Boise State went on a 75-yard touchdown drive to start the second half, but the Miners stiffened for the rest of the game. 

A big reason for success for UTEP was a change in philosophy. Dimel’s offense was boom-or-bust in many ways through the past two seasons. Quarterback Gavin Hardison entered the Week 3 with a completion percentage that ranked last in the nation at under 50 percent. He wasn’t asked to push the ball down the field as often in the win, and the offense benefited from the efficiency. He finished 10 of 11 for 123 yards and a touchdown to zero interceptions.

 The UTEP offense stayed on schedule due to the easy passes Dimel schemed. That allowed the running game to remain relevant on all three downs. The Miners didn’t commit a single turnover and were only penalized five times. 

The front seven suffered from the loss of Breon Hayward through the first four games of the season. But his absence has allowed a void to be filled be a talented young player in Cal Wallerstedt. The junior led UTEP with nine tackles. Fellow linebacker Trevor Knight was second on the team with seven tackles. The defense accounted for four tackles for loss and put pressure on the Boise State quarterback throughout the game. 

The Miners changed the math with the win. UTEP looked like a long shot to reach a bowl game for consecutive years after dropping the game to New Mexico. The upset win over Boise State wipes that out and that leaves the Miners four wins from reaching their goal. The good news is Conference USA provides winnable games. Dimel’s squad travels to Charlotte and La Tech before an open week. Win those two games and the Miners are 4-3 with five games remaining. 

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