Texas El-Paso Miners (1-4, 0-2 C-USA) vs FIU Panthers (3-3, 1-2 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, October 19th, 7:00 PM
TV: ESPN 3 (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts & Analyst: Kenny Kelly)
Radio: WAXY 790 The Ticket (Play-By-Play: Josh White/Ryan Urquhart)/KROD ESPN 600 El Paso (Play-By-Play: Jon Teicher/Analyst: Bernie Ricono/Sideline: Mando Medina)
Location: Riccardo Silva Stadium, University Park, FL
Betting Line: FIU -24 (O/U 52)
All-Time Series Record: FIU leads 2-1 (FIU won last matchup 35-21 in 2016)
FIU enters the final game of their three-game homestand having played their best football of the season. Last week’s 48-23 win over Charlotte was notable for two reasons - the running game and defensive line. Napoleon Maxwell and Anthony Jones both ran for 100 yards, the first time the Panthers had two backs cross the century mark since last season (Maxwell, Shawndarrius Phillips) in the win over UMass. D’Vonte Price added 86 yards on the ground, as the offensive line paved the way for 350 rushing yards.
Alexy Jean-Baptiste led the way for the defensive line (6 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sack), as the line as a whole performed well for a second straight week. Charlotte running back Ben Lemay had 144 yards on the ground. However, when you take out four chunk plays accounting for 87 yards, FIU held Lemay to 51 yards on 17 carries.
The Panther secondary had an excellent game, holding Charlotte to just 113 yards through the air, with only 13 of those coming from a 49er wide receiver.
Quarterback James Morgan had an efficient game (13 of 16 for 160 yards and 2tds) and should have more than enough opportunities against a UTEP pass rush that’s last in C-USA in sacks (5) and a pass defense ranked ninth in C-USA.
For Dana Dimel, it’s been an uphill climb in trying to rebuild the Miner program since taking over the job in December of 2017. UTEP IS 2-15 overall and 1-9 in conference play in Dimel’s year and a half on the job. Arguably the biggest issue since he’s been on the job has been the quarterback play. For the better part of Dimel’s tenure, the signal-caller has been JUCO transfer Kai Locksley.
The son of Maryland head coach Mike Locksley has had a tumultuous career in El Paso. Speaking strictly on the field, the 6-4, 210-pound QB is a tremendous athlete, who’s been an inadequate passer. On the season, he’s coming off his first start, having gone 2 of 8 for 41 yards through the air and added 17 yards on 13 carries in the Miners 26-16 loss to UTSA.
When it hasn’t been Locksley, senior Brandon Jones has taken the snaps but has been just as inefficient. Jones has pedestrian numbers in four starts (42-78, 594, 2-2) as the duo of Jones and Locksley has combined for the fewest number of touchdown passes in C-USA (2) and lowest completion percentage (49.6).
UTEP’s primary offensive weapon will be running back Treyvon Hughes. The bruising 6-1, 240-pound back has played in the backfield and at linebacker in his career. He’s rushed for 314 yards and five touchdowns on the season.
Defensively, the Miners are 13th in total defense (425.1 yards per game) and scoring defense (33.2). Four-year starting safety Michael Lewis leads the defense in tackles (38), while USC transfer Ykili Ross leads the way with two interceptions on the season.
As Dimel’s record in his 17 games at the helm show, it’s been a work in progress trying to get UTEP back to previous success, with their last bowl appearance for the program coming in 2014.
The fact of the matter is they just don’t have enough talent to compete right now. Locksley and Jones have been inefficient for the past season and a half and while Hughes is a solid player at running back, there’s not much around him.
Expect FIU to jump on the Miners early and James Morgan will be able to distribute the ball to his playmakers in Austin Maloney and Maurice Alexander. The Panther run game will also have success and defensively, FIU’s secondary will eliminate any chance of the passing attack for UTEP to have success.
Final score: FIU 42, UTEP 9