UTEP held Conference USA West Division leader UAB to a season-low 19 points, but a depleted Miner offense was held scoreless on Saturday night in the Sun Bowl.
The Miners (0-8, 0-4 C-USA) limited the Blazers to 357 yards. The 19 points were the fewest scored by UAB (7-1, 5-0 C-USA) versus a Conference USA opponent in its remarkable two-year run since reinstating its football program.
The UTEP offense, however, was only able to generate 120 yards, including 19 rushing, against a stout Blazer defense that has now surrendered seven points or fewer in four of five league games.
“Really, really pleased with the effort that our defense gave us throughout the whole ballgame,” UTEP coach Dana Dimel said. “I thought early they [UAB] established some run game with what they were doing, but we made some good adjustments. That was the game plan that we really wanted to stick to. Going in, I told our guys that we needed to execute a game plan to win this ballgame. The first part of it was we can give up a little bit in the run game, but don’t let them beat us over the top. Make them grind it out. And after that first scoring drive, I think we really locked down into that.
“We just needed to get some drives going offensively, a score, and a drive going offensively and the game’s right back in our hands. That’s the part that we failed on. We didn’t execute offensively and get anything established against their defense.”
The Miners started three freshmen on offense including true freshman left tackle Elijah Klein, who was playing in his first collegiate game.
Still, UTEP was in it in the fourth quarter for the fourth time in as many C-USA games. The Blazers held a 12-0 lead heading to the final frame and were held to two touchdowns on the night.
The Blazers put 10 points on the board in the first quarter off a 15-yard scoring run by Spencer Brown and a 36-yard field goal by Nick Vogel. The Miners lost starting quarterback Kai Locksley in the second period when he re-injured his ankle, leaving Brandon Jones at the controls of the offense for the second straight week.
“Going into the game with his ankle the way it was, I didn’t want to set him back, so I wasn’t going to run him near as much in this game,” Dimel said. “Because of his injury, I was trying to get him established in the passing game and he got hurt on a passing play.”
The Miner defense made a tremendous goal line stand in the third quarter as Brown was stuffed for a one-yard loss on fourth down at the one. However, the Blazers scored a safety on the next play when Quardraiz Wadley fumbled, Jones recovered and was tackled in the end zone.
A 36-yard field goal by Jason Filley in the third quarter was taken off the board by an illegal formation penalty on UTEP. His corresponding 41-yard attempt was wide right.
The Blazers put the game away with a 12-play, 63-yard TD drive late in the fourth quarter. UAB backup quarterback Tyler Johnson III made it 19-0 with a four-yard rushing score.
Brown rushed 21 times for 103 yards for UAB, which ran for 265 yards as a team.
Locksley (7-for-11, 52 yards) and Jones (5-for-9, 49 yards) combined to complete 12-of-20 passes for 101 yards for the Miners.
UAB piled up 12 tackles for losses, including 2.5 each by Fitz Mofor and Chris Woolbright, contributing mightily to UTEP’s low rushing total.
A.J. Hotchkins racked up a career-high 15 tackles for losses for the Miners, and Jamar Smith added 10 stops.
“All in all I thought our defense fought,” Dimel said. “They were out there too long. They were put in some tough situations and responded great. And that’s encouraging, because if you keep playing defense like that you’re going to keep yourself in ball games like we did tonight. We’ve just got to fill the pieces of our offense there, we lost five more guys between last week’s game and this week’s game injury-wise. Six of our top offensive linemen did not play tonight, and that showed.”
The Miners will play at Rice (1-8, 0-5 C-USA) next Saturday at 1:30 p.m. MT. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.
Photo gallery by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta, Chief Photographer, El Paso Herald-Post