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Tennessee Football 2018 Opponent Preview: UTEP Miners

Another early look at a 2018 opponent.

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at Texas El Paso Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

UTEP and ETSU have a number of things in common as they prepare for the 2018 football season.

Both have first year coaches in Dana Dimel and Ricky Sanders, respectively. Both are trying to build competitive programs in their conferences and both will travel to Knoxville in early September to take on the University of Tennessee at Neyland Stadium.

ETSU, which had Carl Torbush as head coach for 3 years prior to Sanders taking over, went 12 years before that without a football program. Sanders, a former Morristown resident, was briefly suspended earlier this spring for allegedly striking a player. ETSU, (4-7 overall and 2-6 in the Southern Conference) will receive $500,000 to play the Vols.

The UTEP Miners can only get better after the 2017 season saw them go 0-12. Dimel, who most recently served as Offensive Coordinator at KSU, also had head coach slots at Wyoming and Houston.

Dimel inherits a team that graduated his starting quarterback, Zack Greenlee, leading receiver and four of six starting offensive lineman. Will Hernandez, the Miners All-American lineman, was recently drafted in the second round by the New York Giants.

Both teams will walk into an environment they haven’t seen before at Neyland and face an opponent with a strong desire to dominate them. ETSU’s home stadium in Johnson City seats slightly over 7,000 for home games.

UTEP’s season may hinge on the arm and legs of Kai Locksley, son of Alabama Offensive Coordinator Mike Locksley, who is a junior college transfer from Iowa Western.

Locksley, 6’4”, 200, who spent time at Texas but never saw the field, was the Spaulding JC Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 with 2,238 yards passing and 20 touchdowns. He added 705 yards rushing and 20 more scores. He may be the triple threat that Dimel needs to jump start the offense.

The Miners failed to score 21 points in any game last year and had 10 or fewer five times.

Justin Garrett, 5’ 11”, 185, a JC transfer from Cerritos College, (Los Angeles, CA), may be a key to the receiving corp with 38 catches for 592 yards last year. Terry Juniel, a returner and receiver returns this year. He had 23 receptions last season. Slot man and speedster, Kavika Johnson returns with possession receiver Eddie Sinegal.

The Miners lack depth and have question marks at almost every position. The line is anchored by senior center Derron Gatewood, a two year starter in that spot.

Running back Quardraiz Wadley could be the featured back this year and showed flashes of strong last year. He totaled 47 carries for 233 yards against NMSU and Army but battled injuies during the season. Josh Fields could add support at the position but is unproven to this point.

The Miners recruited heavily for offensive and defensive lineman but it’s hard to expect much from freshmen joining an 0-12 team.

Both of these programs will be hard pressed to provide much of a challenge for the Vols. If Tennessee comes ready to play, they should serve as early season tune up game opponents prior to the grueling SEC season.

For more reading, check out Bill Connelly’s UTEP piece from couple months back.