It’s UTEP week, our preview of the Miners rolls out thusly, today we’ll look at their quarterback situation. Tomorrow, scroll down and we’ll delve into the Miner skill players. Wednesday we hit the big uglies and our offensive X-Factor. Thursday we switch to the defense and the front seven. Friday let’s look at the UTEP secondary plus a defensive X-Factor, and Saturday we’ll cover specialists and our predictions for the 2019 campaign.
If you’re looking for the silver lining in UTEP’s 2018 offensive campaign, you aren’t alone. UTEP didn’t do anything well. It was an ugly season. The Miners were bottom of the FBS in basically every statistical category. Here are the ones that stung our eyes the most.
|Team||Rush Yards / Att (FBS Rank)||Comp %||Passer Rating||Pass Att / Sack||Pts / Poss||Pts / Gm||Avg FP||Off % of Poss w/ TOs|
|UTEP||3.64 (117)||50.16 (123)||106.4 (122)||8.6 (127)||1.32 (127)||17.7 (127)||25.9 (130)||17.4 (127)|
For a team that needs to play physical, the Miners didn’t, ranking 117th in the FBS in rush yards per attempt. When they threw the ball, completions were a coin flip, and sacks occurred way too often, a sack every eight drop backs.
Points per play and per possession are en vogue, the Miners didn’t do either well. Finally the Miners were dead freaking last in average starting field position, meaning the defense and special teams didn’t do UTEP’s offense any favors.
Alright, let us never speak of 2018 again. Well, maybe just a little. Let’s look at the quarterback position.
Last season we trumpeted the arrival of Kai Locksley as the UTEP starting quarterback. The one-time Texas signee took a circuitous route to the Sun City and spent the fall running for his life on the field. With a season under his belt, the Cliff’s Notes analysis is “it can only get better.”
By our numbers, Locksley was the least efficient quarterback in the FBS last season, at least among those with 100 attempts or more. Still, his upside is legitimate. He played 2018 behind an offensive line that lost its best player to the NFL draft and two multi-year starters to season-ending injuries. With no run game to help carry the load, Locksley tried to do everything before injuries took their toll.
Why the belief in the upside? Because Locksley has natural abilities that made him a four-star recruit out of his Maryland high school. Skills that had Florida State and Texas, along with dozens of other FBS schools fighting over him as a prep player. Then came the winding road. He moved to receiver at Texas, transferred to Marshall, changed his mind, and headed to Independence JC in Kansas.
If you watched last season’s installment of the Netflix series “Last Chance U” you probably weren’t overwhelmed with the coaching. This is the longest Locksley’s had in a system since his prep days. If he can continue to develop in Dana Dimel and Mike Canales’ system, he should improve, perhaps even substantially. Dimel and Canales have done more with less, and they both know how to get yardage and production out of varying levels of talent.
For Locksley, the offensive line should be improved; if it’s not, then we’d suggest a stunt double. The running game is mostly back, and an influx of young talent might help. The receiving corps and tight ends are in rebuild mode, but we tend to overvalue those positions, especially receiver. If Locksley can get the ball to the returning talent, that alone will elevate the group.
Fellow JUCO signee Brandon Jones is back as well, he of the 340-yard performance against Western Kentucky last season. Jones is an asset and needed with Locksley’s injury history and playing style that exposes him to lots of contact.
The rest of the quarterback room is unproven, but early enrollee T.J. Goodwin was a three-year starter at Cy Falls high school who put up impressive numbers before an injury cut his senior season short. At 6-5, Goodwin has the size Dimel covets plus he’s mobile enough to make plays outside the pocket. With the recently implemented redshirt rules, Goodwin may get an audition early on in the Miners schedule.
The Radar Graph
We track percentile ranks among quarterbacks with 100 or more attempts in a given season. We take statistics like yardage accounted for, touchdowns per play, completion percentage, yardage per attempt, yardage per play, plus sack and interception avoidance and put them into a visual of efficiency and explosiveness. The bigger the radar area, the better the player performed.
Here’s Locksley’s radar. Avert your eyes kids.
The graph isn’t dissimilar from other UTEP quarterbacks the previous few seasons. The quarterback position in El Paso’s been among the most inconsistent and inefficient in college football.
National average for quarterback rating the last five years is right around 133.1. Ryan Metz exceeded that in 2016. Other than that, UTEP’s average QB rating since 2012 is 126.8. That’s below average but Locksley’s 2018 90.9 is a low point.
You can’t pin that number entirely on Locksley, he’s reliant on a lot of other pieces, but in a quarterback driven game, UTEP needs serious efficiency improvement to be competitive.
When Quardraiz Wadley had the ball, good things happened. The senior from Kennedale averaged over five yards a carry, as a team, the Miners averaged less than 3.5 yards a tote. Wadley didn’t get the ball enough. He finished eleventh in CUSA’s final rushing tally but, in his twelve games, Wadley had twelve or more carries just three times.
The favored son of El Paso, Josh Fields, express a desire to transfer after struggling in 2018. Converted linebacker Treyvon Hughes put in a decent shift as a 237-pound thumper, averaging 4.4 yards a carry and running like, well, a linebacker converted to a ball carrier.
Enter El Paso Parkland phenom Deion Hankins. The true freshman is fresh off back-to-back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons at Parkland with 78 rushing touchdowns over his four-year career. Schools like Arkansas, Oklahoma State, and San Diego State offered the young runner. When Rocky Long offers a running back a scholarship, take note, Rocky eats nails with his coffee in the morning and expects his backs to do the same. Hankins might be too good to keep out of the rotation.
UTEP uses our favorite football unicorn, the fullback in their regular rotation. 250-pound hammer Forest McKee is back after one start in 2018. The Las Cruces native missed a fair amount of time due to injury last season. Robert Pufahl, fresh off his defense of Asgard, returns for his senior season and James Tupou makes the switch from linebacker to fullback in 2019.
More than lead blockers, UTEP will use their fullbacks in the passing game as well or as H-backs. A versatile fullback that can drive through a man’s chest on a lead and occasionally sneak into the flat for a catch and run is a lethal yet beautiful tool.
The Miners will start from scratch at tight end with the graduation of David Lucero and the transfer of Josh Weeks to SFA. In the interim, UTEP made a couple of position switches to augment their lack of numbers. Trent Thompson will play tight end and fullback this fall after making the transition in the spring. Dimel plans to play Thompson at both spots, or at least that was the plan in during spring drills.
Christian Buckingham moves from defensive line to tight end, at 6-4, 280, he’s a load and may present a better option as a goal line/short yardage package contributor. Injuries limited his UTEP career to this point.
The Miners brought in Rashad Beecham from Hancock College and Luke Laufenberg from Mess Community College in the spring. Laufenberg is once again in treatment for cancer, and we wish him the best. We’d like to see him in a UTEP uniform, but we’d love to see him cancer free.
Beecham played high school ball at Steele high school, north of San Antonio. At Hancock last year he caught three passes for 48 yards, but two of those catches were for touchdowns.
Five of UTEP’s top six pass catchers from 2018 are gone, leaving Kenyan Foster as the only player with significant catches returning. The senior made seven starts and caught 18 passes last season. After Foster, Tre’Shon Wolf’s ten catches are second-most among returning players. Wolf, a sophomore, is primed for a much more significant role, pairing with Foster to get the majority of snaps.
After Foster and Wolf, several players are looking to redirect their UTEP careers. Walter Dawn, a smaller playmaker, has shown glimpses of explosiveness over the early portion of his time in El Paso but played in just four games in 2018 before taking a redshirt.
|Walter Dawn Jr.||JR||WR||4||4||57||14.25||0||1.0||14.3|
Kavika Johnson converted to receiver two offseasons ago after two years at quarterback and a brief stint at tailback. Johnson’s talent is evident, but the previous coaching staff struggled with where to play him. He started at quarterback in 2016 in Austin, then started in 2018 at receiver against Northern Arizona before redshirting.
Two years ago we bet that Eddie Sinegal would be the next great UTEP receiver. We missed on that and failed crypto-currency PayCoin. At Sinegal has a chance to rediscover himself in 2019, but that will involve the El Paso native staying healthy and fighting for playing time at the most competitive position on the team. Sinegal’s receptions are trending in the wrong direction after three seasons, after redshirting in 2018, he’ll join Dawn and Johnson as players looking to make the most of their last shot in a Miner uniform.
2018 JUCO product Justin Garrett appeared in four games before taking, you guessed it, a redshirt. Alan Busey caught four passes last season. The Alaska product put together a stellar career at Chabot College before heading to El Paso. His first season, 2017, ended due to injury.
The Miners signed two taller receivers in the 2019 class, 6-5 El Paso native Quintavius Workman, and 6-4 Frenship product Skyler Newsome to compete for playing time. They also added Arizona high schooler Jacob Cowing to the mix. It’s a crowded receiver room with few known commodities. Someone is going to emerge, and chances are it’ll either be a reclamation project or a new name to the Miner family.
Injuries decimated the Miner front last year, thwarting much of what UTEP’s offense attempted to do. This season the line might be the deepest position on the team. Derron Gatewood returns for his sixth year of eligibility at center. Ruben Guerra is back at a guard position, and Greg Long can play either tackle slot. Bobby DeHaro is coming off an Honorable Mention All-Conference campaign at guard, and Zuri Henry has a high ceiling on the edge as well.
Gatewood and DeHaro missed spring ball while rehabbing injuries but are expected to participate in summer conditioning. Gatewood, if healthy, is an All-Conference caliber talent with 22 career starts for the Miners.
There’s also depth with Markos Lujan back after making nine starts at center and two starts at guard. Bijan Hosseini notched six starts on the interior, and Elijah Klein saw four starts as a true freshman at tackle. Klein can also play inside if necessary. Tres Barboza returns to provide depth at tackle after transferring from Tyler JC. Massive redshirt freshman Solomon Polk could make an appearance on the two-deep and Dimel’s recruiting efforts continue to bring improved talent to the Miner program.
We mentioned that we overvalue receivers in today’s game as quarterback play, including accuracy and protection, have more to do with passing success than who’s catching the football. If you meet an athletic baseline and run good routes, you can turn yourselves into a productive collegiate receiver provided you get service.
For two seasons a black hole grew where the quarterback position at UTEP was supposed to be. The Miners finished last or next to last in QB rating in CUSA the past two seasons. Nationally they finished 129th and 125th in 2017 and 2018. Receivers aren’t the problem, and they aren’t the solution.
When Dimel’s Kansas State squads were at their best, the offense didn’t throw for more yardage than their Big 12 counterparts, but they did operate with an efficiency that caused defenses to respect all aspects of the Wildcat’s attack.
UTEP’s quarterbacks have to get the ball to or near them enough times per game to make a dent. Then defenses will start to play the Miner offense more honestly and commit assets to defend a bigger swath of the field.
If you’re a Dana Dimel quarterback, your task is not to throw for 4,000 yards or rush for 1,000; you’re not even a game manager per se. What the UTEP offense will ask you to do is protect the ball, make the short to intermediate throw consistently, be a willing but patient runner, and generally be a cog to help balance the offensive machine.
His power scheme can best summarize Dimel’s offensive mindset. Dimel attacks power a little differently. He’ll use a two or three wide, spread package, use his fullback as a lead element and pound the B and C gaps. The Miners will run that power scheme with either a tailback or a quarterback. If they have a quarterback who’s a direct, efficient runner, they’ll go three wide, spread you out, put a tight end and fullback to one side and run at you with superior numbers.
It’s a simple approach, and if the offensive line is salty and he can get an effective lead block, it’s ruthlessly efficient.
The Miners don’t need a phenomenal season throwing the football out of the quarterback position; average would be a considerable improvement in 2019. If they can get that and deliver body blows with their run game, you’ll see a markedly better UTEP offense.
UTEP replaces A LOT of production on a defense that wasn’t all that great to begin with. Dimel and Defensive Coordinator will now try to continue the effort of turning over the roster to build a serviceable unit. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but there are also a few trains.
|Team||Opp Rush Yards/Att (FBS Rank)||Opp Passer Rating||Def % of Poss w/ TOs||Explosive Plays|
|UTEP||5.02 (103)||142.97 (98)||6.8 (121)||50 (27)|
The Miner defensive footprint shows some bad but a bit of good as well. UTEP will need to stop the run better in 2019 or any significant improvement will bog down. The Miners defended the pass better than expected. The QB rating was bad, but an improvement over 2017, when the Miners finished 111th.
UTEP struggled to create much chaos on defense, their ability to create turnovers is indicative of those struggles. If you’re looking for a warm fuzzy, at least UTEP made teams earn their way down the field, limiting explosive plays (plays of +20 yards) to just 50. Good enough for a top 30 finish.
If UTEP’s defense has a strength, it’s up front, provided everything goes according to plan. Denzel Chukwukelu and Chris Richardson return up front but losses of Mike Sota, Trace Mascorro, and C.J. Reese hurt. The Miners spent spring ball trying to find bodies to help out, but they won’t have a full complement of lineman until at least fall camp.
Chukwukelu is an excellent place to start. He started eight games in 2018 and logged 42 tackles. Richardson had a nice comeback 2018 season after missing the 2017 campaign. He’ll move to end to make up for the transfer of Mascorro. At 300 pounds, Richardson gives UTEP a physical end who uses his hands well to create space.
Christian Johnson will swing between end positions. Johnson is serviceable, but if you’re hoping for production, you might look to 2019 true freshman like Armonie Brown or Demarr Hayes. Brown comes to UTEP from their pipeline to Refugio. The AP named him the 2A Defensive Player of the Year.
Hayes played for 4A power La Vega out of the Waco area. If you ever wanted to see a defensive end knock the stuffing out of a quarterback, Hayes is your guy. Both Brown and Hayes were disruptive in the lower classifications, but whether and how quickly their skills translate is a question as they move to the collegiate level.
Big Dedrick Simpson’s return from an ACL injury that kept him out during the 2018 campaign precipitated Richardson’s move to end. Simpson made four starts in 2017, playing primarily on the edge but at 6-3, 300 pounds, he gives UTEP a more athletic, two-gap tackle. Behind Simpson is junior Josh Ortega. A Montwood product, Ortega, saw action on the back end of the rotation. Tiano Tialavea gives the Miners another 300 plus pounder for the mix.
Dimel and his staff went hard after defensive line talent in the 2019 recruiting cycle. Dimel might’ve found a diamond in Jeremiah Byers from Austin Anderson. At 6-6, 290 pounds, he has the height, length, and weight that coaches covet. Simpson might be better suited to move out to end. His wingspan is impressive, and he’s got better feet than you might expect. He’ll need to play with better pad level with a step up in competition.
The Miners landed two promising tackles from California. Jalen Rudolph comes in from Junipero Serra as the highest rated defensive line prospect in UTEP’s class according to 24/7. Sua’ava Tupua from the strong Narbonne program in the Los Angeles area joins Rudolph in the 2019 class.
The Miners lacked any significant pass rushing push from their front last year. Grad transfer Reese never lived up to billing and Sota, was better suited as a run stopper. If Dimel can hit on a couple of his young, coveted D-line recruits, this unit could be a massive asset for the Miners. If not, and if injuries once again become an issue, this could get ugly.
A.J. Hotchkins was a revelation for the Miners in 2018. The Oregon transfer led the Miners in tackles and made 2nd Team All-CUSA. Fellow inside linebacker Jamar Smith erupted in 2018 with his best season as a Miner. They’re both gone, and UTEP is starting over at linebacker. They also get some potential playmaker back from injury in 2019, and they’ll look to new faces to make up the difference.
The name to watch is Joe Jay Smith. Smith signed with UTEP in the spring out of Garden City Junior College after a prep career at Bethlehem Catholic in Pennsylvania. He played safety in high school, then a hybrid linebacker/safety at Garden City.
Smith is raw, but the physical tools jump off the tape. He’s a lanky 6-3, listed at 225 and if that’s where he’s at, he can play comfortably at 240. He has long arms and covers ground but he’s not a finesse athlete, Smith delivers lumber. Pencil him in at outside linebacker, but Mike Cox will probably move him around to take advantage of his athletic ability.
He’ll join Sione Tupou who started nine games in 2018. The sophomore from Allen gained valuable experience last year, even if at times he seemed a bit overmatched. As the season wore on, his efficiency of effort improved. He’s the leading returning tackler for the Miners.
Dylan Parsee missed seven games due to injury in 2018, in three seasons he’s tallied five career starts. If he can stay healthy, he’ll start inside next to Tupou, giving the Miners a decent duo. Watch the Tennessee game, and you’ll see what a healthy Parsee can do, nine stops with a sack.
Kalaii Griffin returns to compete for a spot at the WILL backer spot. The JUCO transfer provided depth, and special teams help last year.
Jayson Van Hook made nine starts as a freshman in 2016, but he’s been MIA since. He missed 2017 with an injury and 2018 due to academic issues. If he can dust off the rust, he’s an asset at outside linebacker.
Stephen Forester and Cam Wallerstedt will compete to make the depth chart along with Miner legacy Baron Wortham Jr.
The Miners lost a massive asset in Nik Needham. If you start 41 games in the secondary, you’ve done something right. Needham did a lot right for the Miners and now gets his shot to play on Sundays. Kalon Beverly almost matched Needham in career starts (39), a matches the void Needham leaves behind. UTEP will run out two new starters at corner this season, and they’ll have big shoes to fill.
JUCO transfer Josh Caldwell started once in 2018 after coming over from Cerritos College. Caldwell has the length at 6-1 coaches look for. At the very least he’ll play in nickel and dime packages. After Caldwell, the Miners will look to replace Needham and Beverly with JUCO signees. That’s risky, but perhaps not as much of a gamble as trying to replace them with true freshmen.
Start with Blinn transfer Miles Banks out of Fort Bend Elkins if you’re looking for an immediate impact player. Where a receiver uses his hands to create separation, a good corner will use his hands to stay near a receiver. Banks is effective using his hands to stay on the hip of a receiver. Even though he’s only 165 pounds, he plays a physical man coverage.
Butler JC transfer Duron Lowe is a bit more direct. Lowe has very accomplished ball skills, but he’s also more physical against the run. He’s got some dog to him. If you believe some players have a knack for creating turnovers then Cerritos product Robert Corner is your guy. He’s not as technically sound, but he’s always around the ball.
Ray Walters, a true freshman out of Los Angeles Locke high school is a versatile athlete who’ll have a chance to get on the field in a special teams role and fill out the depth chart. He played both ways as an LA area high school player.
At safety, Justin Rogers and Michael Lewis return. Lewis is the veteran presence with 25 career starts as a downhill thumper strong safety. Lewis, a senior, played his best football as a Miner last year. A versatile senior, Rogers can play nickel or corner, but he looks to step in for Kahani Smith at free safety. He has eleven career starts to his name, and his cover skills give the Miners coverage flexibility.
Justin Prince will provide depth and push for playing time. The JUCO product from Long Beach City College redshirted last season. Senior Adrian Hynson is back after missing most of last season with an injury. The Flour Bluff product saw a lot of action his first three years in El Paso. Broderick Harrell made a start last year at strong safety. Expect Harrell to push to play in the rotation.
Kilgore product Dy’ vonne Inyang signed in February. The Missouri City product is a fluid athlete who can cover a ton of acreage. Kilgore moved Inyang around a ton to let him chase the ball and smoke fools. He’s another versatile piece for Cox to sort through.
The Miners signed McKel Broussard, a three-star prospect from Notre Dame High School in the Los Angeles area. Broussard is a versatile athlete who played both ways as a prep player. The Miners list him as a safety, which makes sense given his ball skills.
Kicking used to be a UTEP strength. Those days are gone. Jason Filley made 53% of his kicks last season, that’s an improvement over 2017 when UTEP kickers knocked 42% of their attempts through the uprights. The current state makes you long for the days of Jay Mattox.
UTEP signed two kickers in their 2019 class, so they realize the problem. Perhaps an open tryout from the student body might help. A few years ago Texas Tech found a pretty good kicker thanks to a promotional field goal, during a game. Hell, we’ll sponsor it.
Punting fell off in 2018 from Alan Luna’s standard in 2017. Mitchell Crawford finished eleventh in CUSA in net last year. At least Crawford hails from the land of punters, Australia, so there’s hope he can improve.
At least UTEP covered punts at a decent rate, finishing third in Conference USA, allowing just over five yards a return. That’s a legit number because UTEP punted a lot in 2018.
Terry Juniel handled most of the return game in 2018; he’s gone, so now UTEP will look to someone else to fair catch balls in 2019. With the way they’ve deemphasized the return game in football these days, this area is of less and less concern/focus.
If you look closely, you can see what Dana Dimel’s trying to do. Dimel’s known as a good talent evaluator. Talent evaluation was never his issue at Houston; the problems stemmed from not winning. That probably doesn’t make you feel much better about the future of the UTEP program. We are inclined towards optimism because, again, you can see what Dimel’s doing.
He’s starting to bring in some FBS level talent. Frames are getting bigger; athleticism is increasing, measurables like arm length and height are skewing in the right direction. Dimel’s 2019 class was pretty good. That’s more than you could say for Kugler’s last four classes. The Miners are making strides in their recruiting pitch, using the city, its minor league baseball park, for example, to help sell recruits on the program. If you can get a guy on the plane, El Paso defies perception in most cases. It’s a unique city.
He’s also revamped the Miner’s social media presence, which is to say they have one now. The results are starting to trickle in. Dimel is drawing talent out of known programs in California and Texas. He’s also continuing Kugler’s push to keep the two or three local prospects in tow.
Dimel will use JUCO options more than most, that was the model he observed and participated in at Kansas State. The Wildcats had great success bringing in two-year players who developed in junior college programs, grew up physically and academically, and contributed. It’s a risky way to do business, but a program can augment high school talent with the approach.
2019 will be another tough year for Miner fans, but not as rough as 2018, when the longest losing streak in college football hung over their heads. UTEP won’t challenge for CUSA West or even the upper half of the division, but Dimel is laying the groundwork, and his roster is improving with each class.
|8/31/19||Houston Baptist||FCS||W||Don't look for a repeat of the 2018 opener against this FCS opponent.|
|9/7/19||at Texas Tech||Big 12||L||Rough week 2 matchup in Lubbock. Just stay healthy.|
|9/21/19||Nevada||MWC||L||Nevada is up and coming in the Mountain West.|
|9/28/19||at USM||CUSA||L||CUSA play opens with a tough one on the road.|
|10/5/19||UTSA||CUSA||L||A game that will set offensive football back a decade.|
|10/19/19||at FIU||CUSA||L||Butch Davis' Panthers are tough. Too bad no one in South Florida notices.|
|10/26/19||Louisiana Tech||CUSA||L||Not a pushover for the Bulldogs.|
|11/2/19||at North Texas||CUSA||L||After a near upset in 2018, this one won't be that close.|
|11/9/19||Charlotte||CUSA||W||Charlotte comes across the country, why the hell not.|
|11/16/19||at UAB||CUSA||L||A struggle in B'ham.|
|11/23/19||at New Mexico State||Ind||L||The Silver Spade momentum has shifted West, but the Aggies are vulnerable.|
|11/30/19||Rice||CUSA||L||Tough, but we'll give the edge to the Owls. These two rebuilds check their progress against each other.|
The Miners have winnable games on the schedule. With UTSA, Charlotte, and Rice coming to the Sun Bowl, UTEP could get to four wins. We aren’t banking on that, this one feels like a two-win season, but wins are on the table.
October brings a three-game stretch against FIU, Louisiana Tech, and North Texas, heavy hitters in CUSA. If UTEP is healthy for their rare late November game at New Mexico State, they can give the Aggies all they can handle.
Checking Our Work
So you’re asking yourself, yeah, but what do you know? You’re right, not much, so in the interest of full disclosure, let’s look at our predicted wins in years past vs. the actual wins. We hang our hat on transparency and grammatical indifference.
|UTEP||Predicted Wins||Actual Wins|