PREVIEW: TEXAS-EL PASO MINERS vs NEW MEXICO STATE AGGIES

MINERS AT A GLANCE

 

» OPENING WITH THE AGGIES

The Miners are opening their season versus NM State for the first time since 2016, and are kicking off the campaign in Las Cruces for the first time since 2005. Overall UTEP is 5-3 when opening the season against its I-10 rival (3-1 home, 2-2 away), with wins in five of the last six season openers versus the Aggies. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. MT on Saturday. The game will be streamed live on KVIA-ABC7 and can also be heard on KLAQ 95.5 FM.

 

» SILVER SPADE & BRASS SPITTOON UP FOR GRABS

The winner of the annual matchup between UTEP and NM State will take home a pair of traveling trophies. The older of the two is known as the Silver Spade. It is a replica of an old prospector’s shovel found in an abandoned mine in the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces and has been traded between the schools since 1955. A second trophy is officially titled the Mayor’s Cup, but is commonly referred to as the Brass Spittoon and was added in 1982.

 

» STARTING IT OFF ON THE ROAD

UTEP is kicking off a campaign on the road for the first time since 2017, and for the first time under coach Dana Dimel. The Miners are 8-31-2 when opening a season away from home, with the last victory coming at NM State, 38-22 in 2016.

 

» IT’S HERE ALREADY???

The Aug. 28 start to the 2021 season ties the earliest in school history. The Miners also opened the 2008 season on Aug. 28 at Buffalo. UTEP is 6-4 all-time in games during the month of August (4-0 home, 2-4 road).

 

» RIVALRY RENEWED

UTEP and NM State are facing off for the first time since the 2019 season after the Aggies did not play any games during the fall of 2020. The scheduling quirk means the Miners and Aggies are playing back-to-back games in Las Cruces for the first time since 1988-89. UTEP is trying to snap a three-game losing streak versus NMSU, its longest since a four-game skid from 1992-95. The Miners’ last victory over NM State was on Sept. 3, 2016 in El Paso, 28-22. Their last win at NMSU was on Sept. 19, 2015, 50-47 in overtime.

 

» ON THE ROAD AGAIN

UTEP will play a school-record sixth consecutive game away from El Paso at NM State. After playing at home in two of their first three contests in 2020, the Miners were on the road for their last five matchups versus ULM, La Tech, Charlotte, UTSA and North Texas. Prior to this season, the Miners had never played more than five consecutive road games in their history

 

SERIES BREAKDOWN

 

SERIES INFORMATION

Overall: UTEP leads, 57-38-2

El Paso: UTEP leads, 38-17-1

Las Cruces: NM State leads, 21-19-1

Neutral: No Meetings

First Meeting: NM State won, 19-0, in Las Cruces (1914)

Last Meeting: NM State won, 44-35, in Las Cruces (2019)

Streak: NMSU, 3

 

THE VENUE

Stadium: Aggie Memorial Stadium

Capacity: 30,343

Surface: FieldTurf

 

MINER NOTABLES

 

AGGIES, LOBOS BACK ON THE SCHEDULE

The Miners will play both of their archrivals, NM State and New Mexico, this season for the first time since 2014. UTEP will host the Lobos on Sept. 25 for the first time since the 2013 campaign.

 

THEY’RE BACK

Due to the uniqueness of the COVID year, UTEP returns all 11 starters on offense and eight on defense from last year’s 3-5 squad. Returning starters on offense are LT Darta Lee, LG Bobby DeHaro, C Andrew Meyer, RG Elijah Klein, RT Zuri Henry, WR Justin Garrett, WR Jacob Cowing, WR Walter Dawn Jr., TE Trent Thompson, RB Deion Hankins and QB Gavin Hardison. Returning starters on defense are DE Jadrian Taylor, DT Kelton Moss, DT Keenan Stewart, DE Praise Amaewhule, LB Tyrice Knight, CB Josh Caldwell, S Dy’vonne Inyang and S Justin Prince. UTEP’s primary kicker (Gavin Baechle) and punter (Joshua Sloan) also return.

 

RETURNING PERCENTAGES

UTEP’s returning players accounted for 81.4 percent (904-of-1,111) of the team’s rushing yards, 100 percent (1,647) of the passing yards and 90.7 percent (1,519-of-1,674) of the receiving yards last season. Defensively, the Miners return players who were responsible for 69.6 percent (346- of-497) of the tackles, 73.4 percent (34.5-of-47) of the tackles for losses and 92.3 percent (12-of-13) of the sacks a year ago.

 

DYNAMITE DEION

El Paso’s own Deion Hankins set UTEP freshman records for rushing yards (592) and rushing touchdowns (nine) last season. He led Conference USA and rated second in the country in rushing TDs by a freshman behind SMU’s Ulysses Bentley IV (11). His 84.6 rushing yards per game rated third nationally among all freshmen behind Utah’s Ty Jordan (119.4 ypg) and Bentley (91.3). Hankins is on the watch list for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, recognizing the top offensive player in Division I football who also exhibits the enduring characteristics that define Earl Campbell, the former great Texas Longhorn running back.

 

LOADED BACKFIELD

A return to good health by Quardraiz Wadley could give UTEP the deepest stable of running backs in Conference USA this fall. “Q” is five years removed from his freshman season (2016), and three years removed from his breakthrough 2018 campaign where he led the Miners in rushing yards (627) and rushing touchdowns (seven). He ran for a career-best 156 yards at Army in 2017, and 111 yards versus NM State in 2018. In three career games versus the Aggies, he has rushed 49 times for 224 yards (4.6 ypc).

 

HARDISON BACK UNDER CENTER

Gavin Hardison enters his second season as the Miners’ starting QB after throwing for 1,419 yards (202.7 avg.) in 2020. He became the 12th player in school history to throw for 300 yards in a game at ULM, where he finished 13-of-25 passing for 302 yards. Hardison completed a career-long 82-yard pass to Jacob Cowing against the Warhawks. With 246 more passing yards, Hardison will eclipse the 2,000-yard mark for his career.

 

MINERS EXPERIENCED IN THE TRENCHES

UTEP’s offensive line has taken on a veteran look as seven players have combined for 99 starts in the orange and blue. El Paso native Bobby Deharo leads the way

with 31 starts, followed by Zuri Henry (23), Elijah Klein (17), Darta Lee (10), Andrew Meyer (7), Gamaliel ‘Tres’ Barboza (6) and Jeremiah Byers (5). The Miners cut their sacks allowed per game in half last season, from 2.9 in 2019 to 1.5. The O-line also paved the way for Deion Hankins to set the school freshman rushing record, while compiling 100+ yards in three of the seven games that he played in (Hankins rushed for 99 yards in the season finale versus North Texas).

 

COWING, GARRETT FORM FORMIDABLE 1-2 PUNCH

Jacob Cowing and Justin Garrett accounted for 71.7 percent (1,201-of-1,674) of the Miners’ receiving yards last season. Cowing led the team in catches (41) and yardage (691), while Garrett chipped in with 38 receptions for 510 yards. They tied for the team lead with three TD catches each. Over the Miners’ last 14 games dating back to the second half of the 2019 season, Cowing has tallied 1,132 receiving yards (80.9 avg.), and Garrett has totaled 880 receiving yards (62.9 avg.). Cowing has five 100-yard games in a UTEP uniform, while Garrett has three (including 119 yards at NM State in 2019).

 

JACOB COWING AND THE CENTURY MARK

Jacob Cowing now has five 100-yard receiving games in his young UTEP career – including four in eight games last season. That total is already tied for 12th-most in school history with Bubba Garcia (1976- 79) and Chris Francies (2002-05). With his next 100-yard performance, Cowing will tie Volley Murphy (1967-68) and J.J. Rowlett (1991-94) for 10th place in the Miner record book. Cowing was top-50 in the nation in receiving yards per game (32nd, 86.4), receiving yards (45th, 691) and yards per catch (46th, 16.9) last season en route to earning second team All-Conference USA honors. Cowing is on the watch list for the Tallahassee Quarterback Club (TQC) Foundation’s annual Biletnikoff Award, which recognizes the FBS’ outstanding receiver regardless of position.

 

FORWARD PROGRESS

UTEP improved most on the defensive side of the football last season, and it started with stopping the run. The Miners dropped their rushing defense from 201.2

yards per game in 2019 to 140.4, and their total defense from 430.8 yards per game in ’19 to 381.2. Despite playing four fewer games in 2020, UTEP’s tackle for loss (47) and sack (13) totals both exceeded their 2019 numbers (39 and 12, respectively). The Miners ranked in the top-50 nationally in rushing defense (39th) and total defense (46th) a year ago.

 

PRAISE’S DOMINANT 2020 CAMPAIGN

Praise Amaewhule was a force in the Miner defensive line last season, racking up eight tackles for losses, seven sacks, nine pass breakups, four quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He garnered second team All-Conference USA honors. Amaewhule turned in one of the top single-game performances in

school history at LA Tech, where he tallied five tackles, 3.5 tackles for losses, 3.5 sacks and four pass breakups. He was 13th in the country in sacks last season, averaging 0.88 per game. In two full seasons with the Miners, Amaewhule has posted 13.5 tackles for losses, 10 sacks, seven quarterback hurries and 12 pass  breakups. He is 2.5 sacks away from cracking the all-time Miner top 10 list. Amaewhule is on the watch list for the Maxwell Football Club’s Chuck Bednarik Award, which is presented to the most outstanding defensive player in college football.

 

A TON OF TACKLES

Three Miners posted eye-popping single-game tackle numbers last season. Keenan Stewart made 12 stops – as a defensive tackle — at LA Tech, including eight of the solo variety. LB Tyrice Knight was credited with 14 tackles at UTSA, and added 11 versus North Texas for a total of 25 over the final two games of the season. And LB Breon Hayward had a breakthrough night against the Mean Green with 16 tackles while seeing the first extended action of his career (Hayward had one tackle combined in his first five games of the season). Stewart is on the watch list for the Rotary Lombardi Award, presented to the college football offensive or defensive lineman who best exemplifies the character and discipline of NFL Hall of Fame Head Coach Vince Lombardi.

 

MINERS ADD IMPACT TRANSFERS TO DEFENSE

UTEP’s new defensive personnel include Kansas State transfer Walter Neil and junior college All-Americans Trejon Hugue and James Neal. Neil, a cornerback who is on the Senior Bowl Watch List, started 18 games for the Wildcats over the last two seasons. He registered 61 tackles and four pass breakups during that stretch. Hugue, a safety, helped Cisco College post an undefeated (7-0) mark in 2020. He was credited with 67 tackles (41 solo), three tackles for losses, two interceptions and three pass breakups. Neal, a linebacker, Spent the 2020 campaign at Tyler Junior College where he paced the team with 78 tackles (56 solo) along with 8.5 tackles for losses, two sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

 

FIVE MINERS PICK UP PRESEASON HONORS

UTEP had a total of five players named to Conference USA’s 2021 preseason watch list, as selected by the league’s 14 head coaches. Miner DE Praise Amaewhule, WR Jacob Cowing, OL Bobby Deharo, WR Justin Garrett and DB Dy’vonne Inyang all made the list.

 

 

AGGIES AT A GLANCE

 

NEW YEAR, NEW AGGIES

NM State welcomed 40 newcomers to Las Cruces this summer. In total, 14 different newcomers cracked the opening week two-deep, paced by Dom Gicinto and Eli Johnson. A transfer from Missouri, Gicinto arrives in Las Cruces after two seasons with the Tigers where he hauled in 19 passes for over 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Gicinto is listed as the starter at the Aggies “X” position is will also factor in the return game.

 

“EITHER OR”

The Aggies first two-deep of the season features five “or” as the competition of fall camps extends to game week. The most notable “or” on the NM State depth chart

is at the quarterback position where junior Jonah Johnson and redshirt freshman Weston Eget continue to battle for a starting spot.

 

A transfer from Fresno City College, Johnson started and appeared in both of the Aggies spring contests. Named a 2020 Top-11 Impact JUCO Transfer QB by Athlon Sports, Johnson completed 36-of-60 passes in the spring for 358 yards and a touchdown. Also an adept runner, Johnson ran for 64 net yards and a pair of scores.

 

The Aggies other option to start at quarterback, Eget, made his collegiate debut in the spring finale against Dixie State. The Santa Clarita native was electric in his debut, completing six-of-eight passes for 61 yards and a score. Eget also rushed for 26 yards including a 21-yard scamper. The Aggies other three battles include the right-guard position that is down to either Isaiah Mursalat or Carson Pharris, the running back positon (O’Maury Samuels/ Juwaun Price), and the strong safety position (Devlin Kirklin/Dalton Bowles).

 

STEELE LIKES THE AGGIES

Led by redshirt senior Sage Doxtater, the Aggies placed five members of the 2021 Phil Steele Preseason All-Independent team. Doxtater was joined on the first team by running back/return man Juwaun Price, while Eli Johnson, O’Maury Samuels and Trevor Brohard round out the Aggies five selections.

 

SAGE ADVICE

Redshirt senior Sage Doxtater declined an opportunity to return to his native Canada and play for the Candian Football League, and will instead return for his fifth season in Las Cruces. A projected Day Two selection in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft, Doxtater was selected by the Toronto Argonauts in the second round of this years CFL Draft. The Ontario native rounded out his busy offseason by getting married back in June.

 

BACK TO NORMAL?

After seeing its entire 2020 slate canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Aggies played just two spring games against Tarleton and Dixie State at the Sun Bowl in El Paso. The Aggies 12 game 2021 schedule includes seven road games (San Diego State, UNM, San Jose State, Nevada, Hawai’i, Alabama and Kentucky). Starting with Saturday’s Battle of I-10, the Aggies will welcome South Carolina State, Hawai’i, Utah State and UMass to Las Cruces this fall.

 

BEHIND ENEMY LINES (UTEP):

Under the guidance of fourth year head coach Dana Dimel, the UTEP Miners enter the 2021 season with a lot of optimism after tripling its 2019 win total in 2020.

 

Led by quarterback Gavin Hardison, running back Deion Hankins and wide receiver Jacob Cowing, the Miners recorded a 3-5 2020 campaign.

 

A native of Hobbs and a product of New Mexico Military Institute, Hardison, returns for his third season at UTEP. Taking the reigns as the Miners starter for the first time in his career, Hardison threw for 1,419 yards and recorded five touchdowns and five interceptions in seven games.

 

One of the breakout stars of the condensed 2020 season, Hankins rushed for 592 yards and nine touchdowns in seven games. The redshirt freshman was named to the C-USA All-Freshman team and recorded three 100-yard rushing games, and ran for at least 70 yards in five games. The El Paso native also added three multiple touchdown performances including his three touchdown output at ULM.

 

The third UTEP star of the 2020 season, Cowing, returns for his third season with the orange and dark blue. Through his first two Miners’ campaigns, Cowing, has recorded 72 total receptions for 1,241 yards and six touchdowns. A 2020 AllConference USA Second Team selection, Cowing averaged 86.4 receiving yards a game in 2020, and averaged 5.1 receptions per game. Cowing was named to the 2021 Biletnikoff Award Watch list, and was named to the 2021 Preseason All-C-USA First team.

 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Miners are mostly an enigma as defensive coordinator Bradley Dale Pevto enters his first season as the man in charge of the UTEP defense. A veteran who has amassed over 30 years of coaching experience, Pevto spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons coaching linebackers at Texas A&M for head coach Jimbo Fisher.

 

Despite losing top tackler Stephen Forester (62 tackles, 5.0 for loss) and former Conference USA All-Freshman (2016) selection Jayson Vanhook to graduation, the Miners return Tyrice Knight who finished second on the 2020 Miners squad with 54 total tackles. Also back for UTEP is Marshall transfer Breon Hayward who notched 16 tackles in the Miners season finale against North Texas.

 

In the secondary the Miners boast a stable of 23 defensive backs with redshirt junior Justin Prince and senior Dy’vonne Inyang serving as the Miners most notable returners in the secondary. Prince recorded 31 tackles and played in all eight of UTEP’s 2020 contests, while Inyang produced 32 tackles, a pass breakup and forced a pair of fumbles in 2020.

 

Not to be discounted are the Miners newcomers, led by Kansas State transfer Walter Neil Jr. who spent four years with the Wildcats and appeared in 30 contests during his time in Manhattan. Neil Jr. was named to the 2021 Senior Bowl Watch.

 

Also back for the Miners in 2021 is redsirt sophomore defensive end Praise Amaewhule who led the Miners in sacks (7.0), tackles for loss (8.0) and pass breakups (9). The Katy, Texas native was named a 2020 All-Conference USA Second Team selection and was named to the 2021 Chuck Bednarik preseason watch list and was a Phil Steele All-C-USA First Team Preseason selection.