Stock Up, Stock Down with UTEP Football After the Battle of I-10
Editor's note: UTEP football eked out a win on Saturday against NM State, 20-13. In the win, Miner fans were split. Some were pleased that the team got its first victory of the year. Others wanted more from the Miners. Let's hear thoughts from our fall intern UTEP Zay on the game:
Despite notching their first win of the season on Saturday, many fans were not pleased with the showing the Miners put out against their I-10 rivals, NMSU. The Miners were up 17-0 at the half but preceded to get outscored 13-3 in the second half against what many think is one of the worst offenses in college football.
The Miners came in as 17-point favorites but escaped in the final seconds as defensive tackle Tevita Tafuna forced a fumble on NMSU quarterback Diego Pavia in the red zone, which was recovered by linebacker Cal Wallerstedt. Even though some thought it was a poor showing, there were some bright spots for the Miners both on the offensive side of the ball and the defense. Of course, some players struggled for the Miners. I want to go over each of these players and what I saw from them in this game.
Welcome to Stock Up, Stock Down, UTEP Football edition.
CB Illijah Johnson: Stock Up
After only playing four games in his first two seasons as a Miner, cornerback Illijah Johnson has been thrown into a starting spot and is not backing down. After getting an interception taken away from him in against Oklahoma, Johnson tallied a team-high three pass breakups against the Aggies. According to the secondary coach Trevin Wade, he was targeted nine times and did not allow a single catch. In addition to this, he also forced a fumble. His coverage has been solid and, considering he hasn’t played much before, he will only get better for the Miners. Keep an eye out for number 32 next game because he will continue to impress.
RB Ronald Awatt: Stock Up
The UTEP run game was close to non-existent in their first two games of the season. Awatt came into the game with only 75 yards and a touchdown. However, early in the game, fans knew that Awatt was back. He finished the game with 115 yards and over 4.0 yards per carry. He took a run of 36 yards, which is the longest rush play for the Miner offense this year. He looked like a premier back in C-USA. If he can continue running like this, the offense will be in much better shape and it will elevate everyone around him.
LB Tyrice Knight: Stock Down
Tyrice Knight is one of the best linebackers in C-USA. However, he has struggled early on this season. He has missed a lot of tackles and has taken bad angles on several plays. He let up a huge play to NMSU RB Star Thomas for 40+ yards after a bad angle. Despite this, Knight has made some plays and still is UTEP’s best linebacker. However, for now, his stock is down.
UTEP’s offensive Play Calling: Stock Down
Yikes. UTEP’s play calling has been the center of criticism this season. The simple way to put it is that the play calling has been inconsistent. The Miners had early drives in which they worked the short passing game and ran the ball in between. During those early drives, the Miners got into the red zone three times (scored touchdowns on 2-of-3 times). Quarterback Gavin Hardison looked great early, but as soon as UTEP implemented their deep passing schemes, Hardison struggled. He started the half with seven straight incompletions and couldn't get in rhythm. The want for a home run play continues to kill drives and destroy momentum. That was the root of the Miners being outscored 13-3 in the second half. The offense being unable to move the ball and being held to many 3-and-outs led to the defense not having time to rest. The play calling will need to be improved if the Miners want to continue to have success.
DE Praise Amaewhule: Stock Up
Amaewhule came into the season with C-USA DPOY hype. However, throughout the first two games of the season, he was awfully quiet. To his credit, he was being schemed against and double-teamed consistently, but the production simply was not there. Coming into this game, people were starting to question the hype. To say the least, Amaewhule shut them up. He was consistently getting through double teams and getting to and around the ball. He racked up six tackles, including a tackle for loss. These may not be eye-popping numbers but this was his best game this year.
QB Gavin Hardison: Stock Down?
Hardison had arguably one of his best games in a Miner uniform against Oklahoma just last week, but he struggled against a sub-par NMSU team. So what happened? As I stated above, the play calling was very inconsistent and the plays do not help Hardison’s cause. The wide receivers haven’t gained separation deep at all this year and they are much better used in the short passing game. In each of the three games this season, UTEP has consistently wanted to go deep and it has yet to work. This is not all Hardison’s fault and if Dimel can call plays to Hardison and his receiver's strengths, then they will be fin. But if these schemes keep being called, their stock will continue to drop.
WR/PR Marcus Bellon: Stock Down
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that every player on the stock-down list has talent, but they simply did not have a good game against NM State. Bellon had potential, but he just hasn’t shown it. In his three punt returns, he amassed -3 yards and had a costly muffed punt in Miner territory that led to a Diego Pavia rushing touchdown for the Aggies. Bellon hasn’t shown much early on and was benched from his punt return position for Rey Flores. The Miners recruited Bellon for his returning skills after a rough 2021 special teams season where the Miners had nothing in that department.
LB Cal Wallerstedt: Stock Up
The UTEP linebacking core has been hit with injury after injury and misfortune after misfortune. Wallerstedt came into the year as a projected fourth stringer but has been thrust into a starting linebacker job due to depth issues. For the circumstances, he has played very well. He racked up nine total tackles, including a tackle for loss and forced fumble against the Aggies. He may not be as talented as the other backers, but he plays with great intensity and has shown up when the Miners needed him to.
Almost Stock Up:
DE Maurice Westmoreland
S Kobe Hylton
K Gavin Baechule
The Bottom Line
The Miners have a tough road game against UNM coming up, and their bowl hopes will continue to be on the line as this is a must win with Boise St. coming into town the following week. UTEP will need every player who struggled or didn’t play to their best ability on Saturday to show up and play out. The play calling will also need to improve. Whatever it is, the Miners will no doubt need to play better than how they played Saturday. Fans know how talented this team is but the question is, will they be able to play together and highlight their strengths and beat UNM?