The Texas Longhorns have not truly been on the football field since December, so Saturday’s kickoff against the UTEP Miners at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium comes with a ton of anticipation.
Texas has faced off against the Miners on five different occasions, winning all five in dominant fashion. UTEP is now in its third season under new head coach Dana Dimel, hoping to improve on just one win in each of its previous seasons under Dimel’s leadership. The Miners already have one win under their belt, downing Stephen F. Austin last week, 24-14, after falling behind early. But Texas and SFA are definitely not in the same weight class.
For more insight on the Miners, we reached out to Isaiah Ramirez, Sports Editor for The Prospector, to give us some insight into UTEP.
Burnt Orange Nation: UTEP already has one game under their belt, a 24-14 comeback win over Stephen F. Austin. Why did the Miners struggle early and what did they change to pull out the win?
Prospector: Stephen F. Austin came out swinging with a 14-3 lead with an explosive opening drive. This is a Miner defense that is new to the system and repackaged. In the second half, the Miners held the Lumberjacks to 89 yards and zero points, forcing two turnovers. This is a defense switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense and did not have a lot of time with a shortened spring ball and fall practice schedule due to the pandemic and numerous positive tests within the team.
It was clear Saturday as the defense looked lost at times. The defense adjusted, in addition to Deion Hankins breaking loose for a big second half. The young, impressive three-headed QB/RB/WR monster of Hankins, Gavin Hardison, and Jacob Cowing was effective late. Hankins and Jacob Cowing became the first RB-WR combo to each go over 100 yards, respectively, since 2013.
BON: Specifically, SFA set the tone for their gameplan on the opening drive, going 75 yards on six plays. What did they exploit about the UTEP defense to find such instant success?
Prospector: SFA made great use of bubble screens for quick short passes to move the chains. UTEP is going to have a hard time defending that even more with the talented and explosive wideouts Texas has opposed to SFA. The Miner defense also had a hard time pressuring the quarterback, which may have carried over from last season, which was amongst the lowest in the nation.
BON: Deion Hankins showed why he’s one of the biggest stars in the C-USA, putting up 116 yards and two touchdowns on just 17 carries. What about his game allows him to be so effective on the ground?
Prospector: This young man is just a beast on the field. He added what looks like 15-20 pounds to his already muscular build. Add that to his speed and you have what I believe the next NFL bound running back to come from the Sun City. There is a reason he is the city’s all-time rushing leader and had numerous D-1 offers. He just understands the game and how to be effective. The bruising back even ran over several defenders on one play against SFA. Last season was cut short due to a concussion, but he redshirted and improved over the offseason. Now that starting running back Quardraiz Wadley has opted out of the season and was dealing with a nagging injury, it is time for Hankins to take over the reins.
BON: It seems like quarterback Gavin Hardison may have found his favorite target in sophomore receiver Jacob Cowing. What made that such a successful connection?
Prospector: Cowing already proved himself as a freshman, leading the Miners in receiving yards last season and setting the freshman receiving record for yards in a game. He has great speed and solid route-running skills, allowing him to create space for Hardison to find him. These two came into the system at the same time and their QB/WR chemistry grew. Cowing finished with a career-high 116 receiving yards, which is just the beginning of what I believe is going to be an impressive sophomore campaign.
BON: Heading into this game, Texas is favored by 43 points. Do you think Texas is six touchdowns better than the Miners?
Prospector: On paper this looks like a David vs. Goliath matchup with the No. 14 Longhorns and Heisman hopeful Sam Ehlinger. Now that I got the obvious out of the way, no, I do not believe the Longhorns are 43 points better than the Miners. UTEP is a team that is not used to winning and as head coach Dana Dimel said in the postgame win over SFA, “They’re still learning how to win games,” but I believe they have fight and hunger to prove doubters wrong. As cliché as that sounds, I think it’ll take them places not only in this game but this season. I can see Texas leading big at halftime, but UTEP clawing back to make things interesting at times. If I had to put a numerical estimate on how many touchdowns UT is than UTEP at this time I would have to say more in the three to four ballpark.
BON: What’s your prediction for the game?
Prospector: Sam the Man (seemed fitting and I don’t think its trademarked) is almost certain to have a 300-plus yard passing affair, but UTEP is going to have a reliable weapon in Hankins. If Hardison can shake off some early nerves, this can be an interesting matchup. Now, if the Longhorns completely shut down UTEP’s offense and destroy the fresh-faced defense, which is a very plausible outcome, then Miner Nation will leave DKR Memorial with an L.
Final score prediction: Texas 49, UTEP 21