After battling an SEC team to overtime on the road, Arizona returns home for its final nonconference game against an opponent it has dominated over the years.
The Wildcats are 39-11-2 all-time against UTEP, winning the last 13 meetings including a 63-16 victory in 2017. The Miners last beat the UA in 1970 and last won in Tucson in 1957.
To better understand this opponent, we reached out to Joe Londergan of SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty. Here are his profound answers to our superficial questions:
AZ Desert Swarm: UTEP is off to a 1-2 start, its only win coming against an FCS school in its lone home game. How have the Miners looked overall and have there been any surprises?
Joe Londergan: “Frankly, the loss to Jacksonville State to open the season was a bit of a surprise. I thought they hung tough with Northwestern for the first half of that loss, but they looked like a different team in the second half.
“That’s the thing about UTEP football since Dana Dimel took over: you have to reserve judgement about a team until you have the entire season under your belt. Sometimes they go on these tears of looking like they can hang with anybody, and sometimes they look like they just woke up.”
The Miners’ offense looks to be run-first with passing making up about one-third of the plays. Who has stood out the most on this unit?
“That’s a fair assessment. Deion Hankins is absolutely their biggest threat in that department. A homegrown kid from El Paso, the fifth-year junior running back has averaged 4.7 yards per carry over the course of his career. He’s an aggressive runner, which makes opposing teams have to respect that possibility they’re going to try to run it right at you.
“The thing about that approach then is you have these moments where that creates the opportunity for a deep completion on a play action. Those have been some of the best plays of quarterback Gavin Hardison’s time in college. We haven’t seen that just yet this season though and we’ve been seeing it remarkably less since receiver Jacob Cowing transferred to Arizona last year. So I’m sure we’ll see Cowing exchange pleasantries with some of his old teammates in this contest.”
UTEP has allowed 6 rushing TDs in the first three games. Is that where the weakness is in the defense, or has this been a matter of circumstance?
“I’m a bit surprised by that in the first few games, to be honest with you. UTEP’s front seven is very experienced and should be performing better in that department. Senior linebacker Tyrice Knight is playing pretty well with 4.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, and a CUSA best 43 total tackles so far.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve actually seen their pass rush be the most imposing part of their defense, including EDGE Praise Amaewhule. If he gets the right matchup, he can be a problem to block as well.
“Clearly, they’ve got to get better at defending in the red zone. If they allow an opponent to get that close, it’s ended up in a touchdown the majority of the time thus far.”
Conference USA went through a major overhaul in terms of membership this offseason, with only five of the nine schools in the current lineup part of the group from 2022. Is this league a good fit for UTEP, and was there any talk of getting into another league?
“I think if you ask UTEP fans, they’ve been hoping for a way to get into the Mountain West for quite a while. To my knowledge, conversations on the topic didn’t get far, in a practical sense. I get it - I do think it makes sense from a geographical perspective, if that means anything anymore. It’s hard to make that sell, though, when your traditional revenue generating sports haven’t been particularly impressive for a few years.”
Dana Dimel, a former Arizona assistant under Mike Stoops, is 18-42 in his 6th season at UTEP. What’s his job status?
“I wouldn’t say that Dimel is on the hot seat yet. If this year goes especially poorly, we’ll see. But frankly the program has shown some pretty significant growth since he took over, which shows you where things were prior. The Miners went 0-12 in 2017, the year before Dimel was hired.”
Prediction time. Can UTEP go on the road an beat a power-conference team for the first time since 1974 or will Arizona win for the 14th straight time in the series? Give us a score pick.
“I’m going to say that Arizona takes this one again. Road games have been especially tough for this UTEP team the last few seasons. They were 1-5 in that category last year and 2-4 the year before. Arizona wins 28-10, is my educated guess.”