UTEP’s Bowl Hopes Continue to Fade with Loss to Rice, 37-30
In a must-win matchup to try and keep bowl hopes alive, the UTEP football team fell to Rice Thursday evening, 37-30, in a disappointing finish.
UTEP's defense, which was ranked as high as No. 1 in C-USA in total defense, has been the strong point of this team. But in disappointing fashion, the defense allowed 502 total yards, including the game-winning touchdown drive with Owls quarterback T.J. McMahon hitting wideout Bradley Rozner for a 23-yard touchdown.
The Miners (4-6, 2-4 C-USA) are now forced to beat both Florida International at home (Nov. 19) and UTSA (Nov. 26) on the road for any hopes of bowl eligibility.
"Really enjoyed the effort (we) gave," head coach Dana Dimel said. "Just didn't make the plays. We've played so well and it seemed like (their offense) got in rhythm and executed offensively."
Offense loses Hardison
Late in the third quarter, UTEP quarterback Gavin Hardison landed awkwardly on his right foot and had to be helped off the field. He was ruled out of the rest of the game and had to be carted off the field into the locker room. Dimel said that there is no break with Hardison and he is considered day-to-day before they learn more.
Backup quarterback Calvin Brownholtz stepped in and did a nice job moving the football for the UTEP offense. On the first drive after the injury, Brownholtz moved the ball down field, including a trio of third down conversions, and rushed in a 25-yard touchdown to cap off the drive. The following drive, in a must-score situation, Brownholtz drove the ball 60 yards down field. Though the third down pass play was a bit questionable deep inside Rice territory, the Miner backup gunslinger was able to tie the game by setting up a Gavin Baechle field goal (30-30).
Hardison finished the game 8-for-18 with 103 passing yards and a touchdown, while Brownholtz went 7-of-10 for 56 passing yards and 65 rushing yards with a touchdown.
Secondary couldn't contain top wideout for the second consecutive week
The UTEP secondary simply got torched on Thursday. They were without corner Latrez Shelton, who suffered an injury in practice this week. They ran with Amier Boyd-Matthews at the cornerback spot. However, the younger defensive backs like Ilijah Johnson struggled on the night.
Similar to how Middle Tennesee's Jaylin Lane put up 100+ on UTEP, Rice wideout Bradley Rozner caught six passes for 142 receiving yards and a touchdown.
The defensive line didn't do enough on Rice quarterback McMahon, sacking him twice (Cal Wallerstedt and Praise Amaewhule), but only pressured him once. UTEP's pass defense gave up 334 passing yards, while McMahon finished 21-of-31 through the air.
The lone highlight for the defense was an interception by Johnson off a tipped pass in the first half.
Miners hope to regroup in the bye week
With the season seemingly on the line Thursday, the Miners simply couldn't come through with a win. Now, the Miners will have a bye week ahead of a Senior Day matchup against Florida International on Saturday, November 19.
As a whole, this season is trending toward a disappointing one for a UTEP squad that came into 2022 with high expectations. The lesson here might be staring us all in the face: it's hard to win at UTEP for whatever reason. This is a historically bad football program. And while fans hoped they wouldn't regress from last year's 7-6 bowl finish, the Miners' 4-6 record feels unfulfilling considering the talent they returned and the preseason hype.