UTEP head coach Dana Dimel recapped UTEP’s 24-13 loss against Middle Tennessee and previewed the Miners’ contest at Rice on Nov. 3. The Miners and Owls will kick off at 5 p.m. MT in Rice Stadium on Thursday night.
Story via UTEP Athletics
Head coach Dana Dimel’s opening statement
It was a very unusual week for us with this game coming up, but last week’s game I thought we did a lot of positive things we played. It was really our style of game that had a lot of similarities to our style game because we had a slow start again, gave them the 10-0 lead and then came back and played some really good football there to end up the half and really had a nice drive at the end of the half to get it to the 10-10. So, we recovered from the slow start, played good football and went into halftime feeling really good about where things were in our style of game again. And then the second half came out and had the first drive. We had some opportunities there to get the lead there and didn’t. And then I still thought our defense was playing well, offense was doing what we needed to do to keep us competitive and keep us in the game. And we had a big penalty on their first touchdown drive in the second half to give them the 2nd & 17 when we got the P.I. there and was a big penalty in the game, which was one that we weren’t 100% on obviously just go back and look at the film. That was one that was probably not only in itself right there that caused them to have a big play there and get a touchdown and take a 17-10 lead in the ballgame. But again, we hung in there, did a lot of good things and drove down and had our score to tie it up 17-17 and had another very controversial call there in the ballgame that had us set up for a field goal. And then they came back and hit one big play. So, what we needed to do and didn’t do, as I talked to our team from last week’s game, is that we need to be better on our kickoff return game. Teicher pointed out in a post-game visit on the radio, because we had bad field position at times, we gave them some tough field positions with our punt games- our punt game was good. We pinned them inside the 20 three times, but we got pinned inside our 20 way too many times. And so, I challenged our kickoff return team to be better and get ourselves better field position. Our punt return teams got to be better. Their punter had a tremendous leg. We knew that going in, but he was booming some 55, 60, 65-yard punts and we weren’t able to get locked up on their sprinters on the edge and get a good return started for us. So those two things in a game like that and a lot of the games that we play, those are two things that we definitely have to get ironed out. We had the one costly turnover. We obviously have to eliminate that because it was 10-10 ballgame back and forth, a tightly contested game and the turnover that we had led to their score, that’s what I was talking about where they got the 17-10 lead on us because we had the turnover. So that’s got to be better for us. And we got to create more turnovers on defense. That’s a big point for us right now of emphasis too. To get more turnovers on defense, we need to do that. And then, obviously we got to finish drives. We got the penalty there that kept us out of the end zone and we got to finish our drives better to be more successful in those aspects of what we’re doing. So that’s the focus that leads us into this ball game, is to clean up those things and we’ll be where we need to be. I felt like we were on a good trend. So moving forward against Rice, they’re a team like a lot of the teams in our conference that are hovering around the .500 mark. They’re right at the .500 mark. There’s a lot of us that are really close to it, a few that are over it- over by one game. So, there’s a lot of parity in our conference and you see that from last week’s ballgame. When you look at all the scores and a lot of the games were ones that you would not necessarily predict to have happened the way they happened. There were some big wins over teams that we thought might not win the game. So that’s the message and has been continued to be a message to our football team because each game in our conference is going to be whoever shows up and plays the best is going to win. And this game this weekend is definitely that type of ballgame for sure. Rice has had some really big wins this year on their schedule and done some really good things and so have we. With both of these teams going into a game, and we need to do what we need to do to win the game and then to talk about what those things are as we match up against Rice. They’ve got some really talented receivers. They got a quarterback that’s throwing the ball well for him. The game’s probably going to be pretty short because if you look at it, one of their things is they’re a little bit different style of offense than what they’ve been in years past because they’re not running the ball as much as they have in the past. They’re running it well, they’re throwing the ball well, but they’re still doing a good job of eating up the clock. And so, I know we’re somewhere in the top-seven. If you go down seven, six, five, I don’t know exactly where time of possession and they’re up there pretty high in the country in time and possession again. So, it’ll be one of those games that we won’t have a whole lot of plays to it, and it’ll be one that every play is going to be really, really crucial for our football team to execute. And so again, I talked about what we got to work on defensively for them. I think their front, their defensive front is a very, very good defensive front. Their defensive ends are tremendous players for them. Their inside guys are powerful physical players. They got tons of experience coming back in their defensive backfield. They like to play a lot of man coverage. That’s what they do schematically, and their coordinator has been there for the last four years. The defensive coordinator does a good job, a really good job with their defense. And so again, that’ll be a test for us and so should be a hard-fought game and they can do it.
Coach probably one of the great moments of your tenure and probably one of the worst moments for you, UTEP, were the two times you’ve been to Rice. Do you kind of draw back on what happened two years ago?
Yeah, I don’t know if it’s motivation, but it was frustration, that’s for sure, from what happened to us last year. it was probably two years ago and during COVID, it’s probably a situation where you’re never going to have that happen again in your career, where we had all of the issues from the testing and the false positives that were there.
So that was a frustrating time for our program to travel that way and then having the bus guys back on buses and fly some of your team back. So, the first time we went to Rice, when we played there since we’ve been here, we had a good victory for the program and played really well.
And so, those have been the two trips that we’ve made since we’ve been here. They’ve been interesting trips for sure. And again, this is a strange week for us because it’s a Thursday game. I went back, we played a lot of ESPN games during my time at Wyoming. So, I went back and looked at all my practice scripts and schedules and logs from there because I thought we had played a Thursday night game, but we had never done that.
So, this is the first time that we’ve done this. And it’s interesting how your schedule kind of tweaks it. We had the Saturday, Friday flip against Boise St. this year, but we got the Saturday, Thursday one. So that’s going to be an interesting strategy that we’re playing through right now to get ready for this ballgame.