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Nevada football offseason opponent preview: UTEP

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 UTEP at Southern Miss
Head coach Dana Dimel is 2-22 in his first two seasons with UTEP.
Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Barring any unforeseen setbacks, which could occur with the COVID-19 outbreak, there are ten Saturday’s until the Nevada Football team will kickoff its 2020 season. Here is a look at its 2020 schedule:

Nevada Football 2020 Schedule

Date Opponent Time TV 2019 Final FPI Rankings 2020 Preseason FPI Rankings
Date Opponent Time TV 2019 Final FPI Rankings 2020 Preseason FPI Rankings
August 29 vs. UC Davis TBD TBD --------- ---------
September 5 at Arkansas TBD TBD 93 66
September 12 vs. UTEP TBD TBD 128 129
September 19 at South Florida TBD TBD 95 86
September 26 vs. San Diego State TBD TBD 71 88
October 3 at Hawai'i TBD TBD 79 119
October 10 BYE --------- --------- --------- ---------
October 17 at New Mexico TBD TBD 121 124
October 24 vs. Fresno State TBD TBD 81 93
October 31 vs. Utah State TBD TBD 73 85
November 7 at San Jose State TBD TBD 103 108
November 14 vs. Wyoming TBD TBD 68 77
November 21 BYE --------- --------- --------- ---------
November 28 at UNLV TBD TBD 116 117

Each Friday leading up to the season, I will be previewing each Pack opponent on their 2020 schedule. This week, we will be previewing their week three matchup: the University of Texas-El Paso (UTEP) Miners.

Previous weeks:

6/12: Week 1 vs. UC Davis

6/19: Week 2 at Arkansas

Week 3: UTEP Miners

2019 Record: 1-11 (0-8 C-USA)

When: Saturday, Sept. 12

Where: Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev.

Matchup History: Nevada leads 3-1

UTEP 2019 season-in-review:

UTEP was among one of the worst teams in college football last season. At the season’s conclusion, the Miners were ranked as the nation’s worst team according to Pro Football Focus, and the third-worst team by CBS Sports and The Athletic (pay wall). Their only win last season came in a 36-34 home victory in the season-opener versus Houston Baptist, an FCS program. The Miners followed up the victory with 11 consecutive losses, including a 37-21 home loss to the Wolf Pack in the first of the two-year home-road series. Opponents beat UTEP by an average of 18.0 points per game, the eighth-biggest opponent average scoring margin in the nation.

2020 Preview:

Offense:

The Miners were the ninth-least efficient offensive in the FBS last year, according to ESPN’s efficiency metric. They ranked No. 116 (out of 130 teams) in total offense (329.2 ypg). UTEP had a hard time finding the end zone, finishing T-117 in total touchdowns (29) and No. 119 in scoring (19.6 ppg).

UTEP used two quarterbacks — Kai Locksley and Brandon Jones — who both received a good amount of snaps last year. Both depart due to graduation, leaving sophomore Gavin Hardison as the only quarterback on the roster with Division-I experience heading into 2020.

Hardison, who appeared in just two games last year before redshirting, completed 27-of-61 passes (44.3 percent) for 335 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. As a freshman at NJCAA’s New Mexico Military Institute, he completed 56.7 percent for 408 yards, four touchdowns to four interceptions.

Tailback Treyvon Hughes graduates after rushing for a team-high 682 yards and finishing second in the conference with 12 rushing touchdowns. With Hughes’ departure, the only UTEP running back that rushed for at least 60 yards last year was Joshua Fields. Fields, who appeared in all 12 contests, was third on the team in rushing with 312 yards on 59 carries. Keep an eye out for Quardraiz Wadley, who was forced to use a medical redshirt last season after suffering a toe injury prior to fall camp.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 UTEP at Rice
Miners running back Quardraiz Wadley (4) leaves Rice defenders on the ground enroute to a first half rushing touchdown.
Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In 2018, Wadley, who started in 10 of UTEP’s 12 games, led the team in rushing yards (627 yards), yards per attempt (5.1) rushing touchdowns (7) and total touchdowns (8). Expect Wadley and Fields to share the load at the running back spot heading into 2020.

Justin Garrett, the team’s leading receiver from last year, returns for his senior season. In his lone season with UTEP, Garrett, who started in just three games, hauled in a team-high 40 receptions for 446 yards and three touchdowns. Garrett dominated in the final half of the season, totaling 370 yards on 34 receptions and hauling in all three of his touchdown grabs in the team’s final six games.

With receiver Devaughn Cooper recently entering the transfer portal, it will be up to Garrett and Jacob Cowing to create a 1-2 punch for Hardison in the passing game. Cowing was third on the team with 31 receptions as a true freshman. He led the Miners in receiving yards (550), yards per reception (17.7) and yards per game (45.8), while tying Garrett for the team lead in touchdowns with three. Cowing’s 550 receiving yards were the 13th-most in the nation among freshmen receivers.

The offensive line is led by All-conference honorable mention guard Bobby DeHaro. Tackle Zuri Henry and guard Elijah Klein are both returning starters looking to build off of their 2019 seasons.

Defense:

The Miner defense ranked No. 95 in total defense (430.8 ypg), but posted the second-worst efficiency across the FBS, per ESPN. They ranked dead last in the conference in scoring defense (35.9 ppg) and rushing defense (201.3 ypg) — placing among the bottom-30 teams nationally in both categories. UTEP couldn’t seem to get off the field in key situations — opposing offenses converted on 52.32 percent of third-down opportunities, the second-highest percentage that any defense allowed in the nation.

UTEP had a difficult time generating pass rush last year, totaling just 12.0 sacks — finishing behind Akron (10.0) and Middle Tennessee (11.0) in the nation for the fewest sacks. It also was last in the nation in tackles-for-loss with 39.0, eight fewer than the second-worst program (Connecticut - 47.0). UTEP’s 3.25 tackles-for-loss per game also ranked last nationally.

The only returning All-Conference USA member on UTEP’s defense is second-team defensive lineman Praise Amaewhule. Amaewhule recorded three sacks and 5.5 tackles-for-loss — both team highs. He also had three pass deflections and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Josh Ortega, Dedrick Simpson and junior college transfer Jadrian Taylor add beef on the defensive line. Ortega is the only returning starter from the aforementioned trio. Starting in five games, he totaled 27 tackles, three tackles-for-loss and two sacks. Simpson tallied two 15 tackles, two tackles-for-loss and one sack last season.

The secondary is led by senior corners Josh Caldwell and Duron Lowe. In 2019, Caldwell led the Miners in pass breakups with 11 and was fourth on the team in tackles with 52. Lowe totaled just 24 total tackles, but finished second on the team in pass breakups with six. Caldwell and Lowe look to lead a secondary that finished among the bottom-ten teams nationally in pass deflections (38) and interceptions (5).

Overall:

On paper, this will be the Wolf Pack’s worst FBS opponent. UTEP was one of the worst teams in the nation last year, but it will seek improvement under head coach Dana Dimel, who has three years left on a five-year deal. The Miners are 2-22 (.083), including 1-21 (.045) versus FBS opponents in two seasons under Dimel, who is looking to lead the program to its first bowl appearance since 2014. Per ESPN’s preseason FPI rankings, the Miners place at No. 129, the worst among any Wolf Pack opponent this season. Nevada should be sizable favorites heading into this game.