2018: North Texas at UTEP Preview

Sometimes the hardest game to play is the one after a big game. Coaches are paid lots of money to motivate players to get over the natural desire to let down after a big effort. The game against Louisiana Tech was a heartbreaker. By most measurements North Texas had that won. Lining up for a make-able kick with just seconds left all but won the game for the Mean Green.

It was blocked.

Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Cliché? Why yes. But very true.

Depending on the situation, a good salve for a loss is a woeful opponent. Other times it can be an impediment. North Texas is still a good team and last week’s loss was not one that came from overlooking an opponent, but self-caused mistakes. So a UTEP team that is “trying to instill their culture”, as Seth Littrell put it, is a good next opponent for a cathartic win.

Barring a complete no-show, UTEP should not be a match for this North Texas squad that played very well in the loss. The Miners’ primary offense — new QB Kai Locksley — is hurt with an ankle sprain suffered last week in the contest against UTSA.

He is everything they do.

He’s young, and turnover-prone. He has talent but there is more on the Mean Green side on both sides of the ball. NT should be mad and angry, even if they try to ‘reset’ every week.

Littrell blamed himself — in part — for the loss, saying he let his emotions get out of hand. There was too much good in the Tech game to be overly upset, although losses do motivate. Littrell said at halftime that having some adversity is good, and LB Brandon Garner did also. The defense stepped up and held the Bulldogs to just three points in the second half. This was with an undisclosed injury to CB Kemon Hall’s shoulder.

NT has more than enough defense to shut down this young UTEP attack.

UTEP

Dana Dimel is in his first year as head coach of the Miners. He is tasked with rebuilding the mess left by Sean Kugler, the last Miner head coach. Kugler did not do a bad job at first, but had trouble restocking the shelves. Dimel is faced with a near-empty cupboard and a poor culture. In many ways it is reminiscent of the 2015 UNT program. The difference here is that there is not a talent reservoir in the nearest Metroplex to draw from.

Complicating things is the fact that UTSA and Texas St started programs (Runners) or moved up (Bobcats) and so UTEP’s comparative advantage is gone. UTEP cannot simply offer San Antonio-area kids a chance to play D-1 football and expect that to be all that is required. Incarnate Word head coach Eric Morris said one reason he took the Cardinals gig was that he recognized the talent in SA.

That is all to make the point that things will be rough for the Miners for the foreseeable future. This challenge is partly why Dimel was hired in the first place. He comes from the Bill Snyder tree at Kansas St, a guy that had been through that rebuild twice. For those of you who do not know, way back K-State wasn’t a spunky challenger in the Big 12, it was a dormat in the Big 8.

The struggling Miners might have just the guy to turn that program around. Dimel has the Miners playing similar to the Wildcats of the Little Apple. That is it, however. The offense looks bad, the defense looks over-tired, and everything just looks about two years away at best.

Last Week

UTEP played at UTSA, losing 30-21 after a spirited comeback from down 21-7 in the second quarter. QB Kai Locksley is everything UTEP has. Again, he is talented but does not quite have the full complimentary pieces to endanger the league’s better teams.

He is prone to mistakes, as all young quarterbacks are. UTSA loaded the box and went man on the edges. Here, Lockley misses his open TE streaking and looks out wide for his WR on a little stop route. UTSA’s corner was sitting on that, and broke for an interception. This set up a short field TD for the Roadrunners.

As with any QB run game, the threat of Locksley changes the run-fits. UTEP had Locksley 1v1 with a UTSA defender a handful of times and the young QB won his share of battles. Here he gets outside on the power-option and beats the safety to the outside. This is where being 6’4″ 220lbs pays off.

Not shown is an earlier run where he stutter-stepped Josiah Tauaefa and beat him for 5-yards between the tackles.

A little comeback failed. There was simply not enough variety from UTEP to overcome the earlier mistakes.

UTEP on Offense

If you stop Kai Locksley, you stop the UTEP Miners. He is most of what they do and if he is full-strength, expect lots of QB-Power, options, zone-reads, power-reads, counter-reads, QB-Isos and various play-action off of these looks. Quadraiz Wadley has talent and he must be accounted for.

The offensive line struggled against the quality of UTSA’s front-four. When your offense is so one-dimensional, executing on every pull, every block is crucial. Too often UTEP’s front five will get pushed back, blowing up some of the more exotic calls.

When it works, it is simply putting talent against your talent. Here, Locksley went against Josiah Tauaefa again and beat him at the point of attack.

UTEP on Defense

It is hard to get a read on how good or bad this defense is, considering the struggles of the offense and the opponents they have played. UTSA has a terrible offense but were gifted short fields. Allowing 30 points is somewhat reasonable. Of the squads faced, Tennessee managed just 24, but that has more to do with the Vols than anything. New Mexico St, UNLV, and NAU just out-talented the Miners.

The Miners lost a few guys from last year’s respectable defense, and while they are not bad they do not look anything like the Tech defense that boasted a monster in 45 Jaylon Ferguson. Junior Nose Tackle Chris Richardson (99), 6’3″ 298 lbs can move in space for such a big man. He made some plays against UTSA chasing down backs and getting his hands up in the pass game.

Corners Nik Needham (5), senior 6’0″ 203, and Kalon Beverly (1), senior 6’1″ 195 are good. They are willing to come up and make a tackle and are solid in coverage. North Texas’ quartet of wideouts should be too much to handle for nearly every team, and UTEP is no exception. After doing well against Tech’s good secondary and succeeding for the most part of the game, NT should have a much easier time throwing in this one.

Special Teams

We are going to focus on the NT group right in this section. North Texas came into last week’s game with a quiet question mark: how would the kicking game respond to adversity? The answer was: ‘not well’. Cole Hedlund finally missed and then got one blocked. The latter was on the protection, but the former was on him. It happens, and is forgivable over the long-term but it severely damaged the team’s chances.

The muff punt allowed Tech to score 7 on a day when the defense was holding the Tech offense to little-to-nothing. So it goes.

Numbers

Leaders

Rushing

  • UTEP Kai Locksley 98 attempts for 363, 4 TDs
  • UTEP Quardraiz Wadley 53 attempts 293, 3 TDs

  • NT Loren Easly 74 attempts 386 yards, 4 TDs

  • NT Nic Smith 27 attempts 146 1 TD

Passing

  • UTEP Kai Locksley 48 of 99 for 527 yards 2 TDs 3 INT
  • NT Mason Fine 127 of 197 1624 yards 13 TDs 1 INT

Receiving

  • UTEP Terry Juniel 7 receptions 141 yards 1 TD
  • UTEP Warren Redix 13 receptions 113 yards
  • UTEP Kenan Foster 6 grabs for 100 yards

  • NT Rico Bussy Jr. 33 receptions 415 yards 7 TDs

  • NT Jalen Guyton 23 receptions 333 yards 3 TDs
  • NT Jaelon Darden 17 receptions 243 yards 1 TD

Advanced Numbers, Odds, Etc

We are going to spare you the tediousness of viewing UTEP be in last place of nearly every metric. They are 130th, the worst in the nation, at most everything.

Vegas has North Texas 27-point favorites and the O/U at 53. That is to say they figure the score is something like 40-13.

Prediction

North Texas is just a whole football generation better right now in most phases of the game. If Locksley cannot got or is limited, UTEP will rely on SR Ryan Metz. Unless he can pull an ODU/Blake LaRussa, this should be a rout from start-to-finish. LA Tech left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and the squad wants to fix that.

NT 50 UTEP 6

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