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As the FBS season gets underway this weekend, Tom Herman and the Longhorns will have an opportunity to get a good look at their week one opponent. The UTEP Miners host the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks Saturday night at 8 p.m. Central time, with the game airing online on ESPN3.
UTEP enters its third season with Dana Dimel at the helm. The Miners have won two games under his watch and are seeking to improve their standing in C-USA. Before they take on the Longhorns, they’ll have to manage the Lumberjacks. Here are a few things to watch from the team traveling to Austin in one week.
-Life for UTEP football means winnable games on their schedule are few and far between. This is one of those games. The Miners are likely near the bottom of the FBS in countless metrics and standards, but there is a talent and resource gap between a FBS team like UTEP and a FCS team like SFA. The ‘Jacks are in their second season under head coach Colby Carthel, who started his career in Nacogdoches 3-9. SFA isn’t a North Dakota State-type powerhouse. They haven’t made the FCS playoffs since 2014. This could be an opportunity for UTEP to grab a win. They are a touchdown favorite according to Bovada.
-Not only is this Dimel’s third season, but it is the third season for both of his coordinators. Even if he’s not calling the plays, the Dimel offense will show a lot of Snyder-ball tendencies after he was Kansas State’s offensive coordinator from 2009-2017. Last year, former Texas QB/WR Kai Locksley ran the Miner offense and Dimel had no problem running Locksley behind 9 blockers. This season, a more passing-inclined quarterback in Gavin Hardison leads the offense. Will there still be vestiges of Snyder-ball in the Miner offense? Of course, but it may not involve running Hardison. Look for the Miners to try to use the passing attack more with Hardison, but know they won’t abandon Dimel’s core offensive principles.
-In watching last season’s Battle of I-10, it became obvious UTEP wasn’t going to try and zoom up and down the field as fast as possible. The Miners substituted, huddled, and often varied their personnel. They showed 11, 12, 21, and 10 personnel throughout a casual viewing. One versatile player that was deployed in various roles was James Tupou. A 5-foot-10, 235-pound junior from Allen, Tupou lined up in-line, as a fullback, and just off the line of scrimmage. He’s hard to miss; if you can’t see his No. 31, you’ll see his hair.
-The UTEP defense from that game might look extremely familiar to Texas fans. The Miners ran a three-down defense that was alarmingly similar to what Texas ran from 2017-2019. It appeared as if UTEP utilized many of the principles of the Flyover defense that became popular as spread-passing took over the college game. I’m not familiar with the offense SFA runs, but when the ‘Jacks are set to pass the Flyover defense should be visible from UTEP. Texas should be able to win this season-opening game based on talent alone but it will be a nice benefit for the Longhorn coaches to get live game reps against a defensive style they might see during the regular season.
-Playing with 12 or 21 personnel can lull defenses to sleep with the volume of between the tackles running a Snyder-ball offense has. UTEP tries to steal yardage on sleeping defenseS with tight end seam routes. One way they set this up is with QB play-action. Since Hardison isn’t the running threat Locksley was, this may not be as much of a staple. If UTEP uses plenty of QB run, they’ll use QB play-action as a result.
-During the offseason Shehan Jeyarajah of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football gave us a few Miners to watch out forin Devaughn Cooper and Quardraiz Wadley. Cooper should help Hardison in the passing game while Wadley could end up as the featured running back. There’s another back to be on the lookout for in Deion Hankins. Hankins was a 0.8561 composite running back and the Miners’ top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2019. He had offers from Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, SMU, and Utah, but the Parkland High School alum chose the hometown team over those options. Hankins appeared in only two games last year and maintained a redshirt. Though Wadley might be the main back, Hankins is should see some carries as well. In the pass game, Cooper isn’t the only target Hardison will be looking for. Keep an eye on Jacob Cowing, a sophomore from Maricopa, AZ. Cowing had 31 receptions for 550 yards and three scores in his freshman season last year.