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UTEP Miners seek to develop their identity against the Tennessee Volunteers

A winless UTEP travels to Knoxville. Let’s hope the check clears.

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at Texas El Paso Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

Location: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee

Kick Off: Saturday, September 15, 10 am MT

TV: SEC Network

Stream: Watch ESPN (SEC Network subscription required)

Live Stats: Side Arm Stats

Audio: Miner TV

Betting Odds: Tennessee -27.5, O/U 58

Records: UTEP (0-2), Tennessee (1-1)

Series Record: Tennessee leads 2-0

Last Meeting: The Volunteers won the last meeting 56-0 in 1990.


Tennessee Volunteers Outlook

After a disastrous 2017 season and a train-wreck of a coaching search, Tennessee settled on former Alabama Defensive Coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to lead the program going forward. The first-year head coach inherited a mess of a roster in Knoxville. UTEP may be Tennessee’s last win until they face Charlotte on November 3rd.

Jarrett Guarantano leads the offense at quarterback. The redshirt sophomore and former four-star recruit has been extremely efficient under center, completing 27 of his 38 pass attempts this year for 326 yards and throwing two touchdowns to zero interceptions.

Guarantano’s favorite target has been Marquez Callaway, a talented wideout with NFL aspirations. Standing at 6’2”, Callaway has hauled in 11 catches for 141 yards but is still looking for his first touchdown of the season despite a 51 yard catch against Eastern Tennessee State.

While West Virginia posted 40 points against Tennessee’s defense, holding ETSU to just a field goal should have rebuilt the unit’s confidence. Defensive lineman Emmit Gooden had a field day, racking up eight yards, three TFLs, and a sack against FCS competition. Linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. is also a guy to keep an eye on. A fixture on Tennessee’s front seven, Kirkland has already totaled 14 tackles, a tackle for loss, and an interception this season.

Cornerback Bryce Thompson made his first career start against ETSU, racking up four tackles, two TFLs, one pass break up, and a 21-yard interception. UTEP will want to avoid this budding star in the Volunteers’ secondary.

UTEP Miners Outlook

Once the ball leaves the tee on Saturday it will mark 658 consecutive days without a football win for the UTEP Miners. Don’t expect that counter to reset this week, or any time soon.

Dana Dimel knew he was walking into a rebuild in El Paso but I’m sure even the head coach himself is feeling daunted about how much work is to be done. UTEP started the Dimel era with a 30-10 loss to Northern Arizona and then traveled to Las Vegas to get stomped out by a UNLV team that’s also rebuilding. The Miners are already facing a 48 point deficient on the season and they haven’t even faced a Power Five opponent yet.

Kai Locksley hasn’t been terrific under center but his ability to create instant offense with his feet has helped UTEP move the chains. Locksley is still looking for his first passing touchdown on the season and is completing just 42.2% of his passes. Needless to say, Tennessee will load the box up against the UTEP offense.

Joining Locksley in the backfield is running back Quardraiz Wadley, perhaps the biggest bright spot on the team right now. The 6’0”, 200 pounds junior has rushed for 139 yards on just 15 carries this year, good for an average of 9.3 yards per carry, an impressive achievement when considering the passing game’s inability to open up the field and injuries to starting offensive linemen Derron Gatewood and Greg Long.

NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at Oklahoma
UTEP safety Kahani Smith breaks up a pass against Oklahoma.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Miners are giving up 5.7 yards per attempt, a weakness Tennessee is well-equipped to exploit. UTEP’s defensive line hasn’t held up against the run so guys like C.J. Reese, Denzel Chukwukelu, and Trace Mascorro will need to play their best games of the season to prevent a gashing on the ground.

If UTEP can control the trenches then standouts AJ Hotchkins and Kahani Smith could make enough plays to slow down the Volunteers’ defense. Hotchkins is a graduate transfer from Oregon that’s made his presence felt immediately with 21 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, and a sack. Kahani Smith came into his own last season and the safety has continued his stellar play with 17 tackles, two pass break ups, and a quarterback hurry this season.

Prediction

Tennessee’s football program isn’t in a great spot right now but they’re still lightyears beyond the Year Zero situation in El Paso. The Volunteers have been poorly coached in the past but they’re still one of the more athletic talents in college football. I think Tennessee will strike early and often as both Jarrett Guarantano and backup Keller Chryst score multiple touchdowns.

UTEP 7 Tennessee 48

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