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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona football vs. UTEP preview: Can the Wildcats build on a great showing in Starkville?

Caroline Bailey
Arizona football linebacker Jacob Manu (5) flexes over a member of the NAU football team at the first home game of the season. The Wildcats secured a 38-3 win.

The Arizona football team will return home on Saturday, Sept. 16, to play host to the University of Texas at El Paso. The game kicks off at 8 p.m. at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats will be looking to get back in the win column after falling just a few inches short against Mississippi State University on the road in Starkville, Mississippi.


Though they haven’t played each other since the 2017 season and only once in the last 20 years, Arizona and UTEP have a surprisingly storied history on the gridiron. This season’s tilt will be the 51st matchup all-time between the two teams over a 100+ year span.

Arizona has dominated the series against the Miners. The Wildcats are 37-11-2 in matchups against the Miners, and they are riding a 12-game winning streak that began with a 14-6 win in El Paso, Texas, on Sept. 25, 1971. They average 25.12 points per game and have a home record of 21-7 against UTEP

The last matchup was an extremely one-sided affair that ended 63-16 in Arizona’s favor thanks to quarterback Brandon Dawkins. He had an efficient passing outing, going 18-for-21 for 155 yards and three touchdowns, but he really stole the show with his 133 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns on 14 attempts. 

On the other side of the field, the UTEP offense only generated 17 rushing yards with six ball-carriers and 201 passing yards across three signal-callers. This isn’t surprising, given that the Arizona defense boasted pros-to-be Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Tony Fields II at linebacker and Jace Whittaker, Dane Cruikshank and Lorenzo Burns in the defensive backfield.

UTEP’s offseason moves and early games

UTEP is 1-2 on the season so far, with the sole victory coming over Football Championship Subdivision opponent University of the Incarnate Word at home in El Paso, Texas, in week two. Even then, what should have been a blowout win and morale booster for the Miners ended up being a 28-14 slugfest that was tied at halftime. 

The season opened against fellow Conference-USA member Jacksonville State University, who landed former Wildcat Jamarye Joiner in the transfer portal last offseason. Despite holding Jacksonville State quarterback Zion Webb to a mere 67 passing yards and 55 rushing yards, they managed to lose 14-17.

Last week saw the Miners head to Evanston, Illinois, to face off against Power-5 Conference bottomfeeder Northwestern University. UTEP came out of the gate strong, marching 80 yards down the field for a touchdown on their opening drive. The wheels fell off immediately afterward, as Northwestern countered with a touchdown on their opening drive. The final score of the onslaught was 38-7 in Northwestern’s favor thanks in part to two interceptions thrown by UTEP.

Redshirt senior quarterback Gavin Hardison is back for his sixth collegiate season, fifth with the Miners and third as the starting signal-caller. He’s struggled a bit through three games, only averaging about 165 passing yards per game, and has thrown four interceptions to pair with his four touchdowns. History shows he’s not afraid to tuck the ball and run it himself, but he’s notoriously inefficient as a ball carrier. He averages a microscopic — and atrocious — 0.2 yards per rush attempt, with a career stat line of 172 attempts for 31 yards and just one touchdown

UTEP’s skill positions have remained relatively unchanged aside from losing leading rusher Ronald Awatt to the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. Deion Hankins is stepping into his role as the leading rushing threat nicely, having already posted 255 yards and one touchdown which puts him on pace for 1,020 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Compare that with his 2022 stat line of 701 yards and three touchdowns. Tyrin Smith, last season’s leading wide receiver who posted over 1,000 yards, is also back for another season. 

The loss of sack leaders Jadrian Taylor and Cal Wallerstedt is going to hurt a defensive line that has a tall task ahead of them. Taylor, who led both the team and conference with 9.5 sacks, ran out of eligibility and was drafted in the 2023 XFL draft to the St. Louis Battlehawks. Wallerstedt, a linebacker, posted eight sacks and was also one of two players to lead UTEP last year with 95 tackles alongside returning linebacker Tyrice Knight.

Wildcats to watch

The Jacob Cowing revenge game is coming to Tucson. The Maricopa, Arizona, native spent his first three seasons with the Miners where he led the team in receiving all three years, and he exploded onto the national scene in his junior season and was named to the All Conference-USA team. He posted 69 catches for 1,354 yards and seven touchdowns to go with four carries for 75 yards and another touchdown for a total of 1,429 scrimmage yards and eight touchdowns. 

After his breakout season, he landed in Tucson via the transfer portal and posted his second straight 1,000-yard campaign in the 2022 season. His first season in the desert was already a top-10 all-time performance by an Arizona receiver — his 1,034 yards are seventh-most in a season and his 85 catches are third-most. He was also named an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention. Though he’s had a slow start to the season so far with just 10 catches for 69 yards, he will look to get back on track as the go-to target for quarterback Jayden de Laura. Besides, he’s already been a scoring machine and is tied with Tetairoa McMillan for a team-leading two touchdowns.

Sophomore linebacker Jacob Manu is also stepping into his role as the leader of the defense. He has started both games as an underclassman and, despite having a hot seat with Daniel Heimuli and Justin Flowe behind him, has separated himself as one of the best defenders on the team. He leads the team in solo tackles (7.0), assisted tackles (14.0), total tackles (21.0), tackles for a loss (3.0 for a loss of 10 yards) and sacks (1.5)

If the Wildcats show up with even half the fire they brought against Mississippi State, Arizona should be celebrating once the scoreboard clock hits zero and they bounce back above .500 on the season.

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