UTEP vs. Tennessee
When and Where: Saturday, Sept. 15, Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn., Noon EDT.
Tennessee puts its 26-game non-conference home winning streak against unranked opponents on the line Saturday when it hosts UTEP in its final tune-up before Southeastern Conference play.
Miners trying to snap 14-game losing streak
UTEP (0-2) enters this game with the longest active losing streak among FBS teams, having dropped 14 in a row following a 52-24 thumping at UNLV last Saturday.
The Miners allowed four touchdown plays of 20 or more yards, 414 rushing yards and 533 overall, falling apart in the second quarter when the Rebels scored 24 points to open a 38-10 halftime lead. Turnovers have been a huge problem for first-year coach Dana Dimel’s team as it has committed six while forcing just one.
“Whenever it was going well, we were playing tough and our assignments were sound,” said Quardraiz Wadley, who rushed for 109 yards on just seven carries, to the El Paso Times “Whenever we weren’t, we weren’t playing that physical. We were getting beat up front.”
The lone positive was the 24 points were the most scored by UTEP since its last victory, a 52-24 win over North Texas on Nov. 26, 2016. The Miners scored just 11.8 points per game last season and topped 20 just twice.
Quarterback Kai Locksley has struggled to gain traction as a dual-threat quarterback, having thrown for 177 yards while going 19 for 45 in the first two games and adding 169 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Wadley could be in line for more touches as he has racked up 139 yards on just 15 carries.
UTEP has lost 10 consecutive road games by a combined 390-141, with the last nine coming by 14 or more points.
Vols out to build momentum ahead of SEC opener
Tennessee (1-1) knows it is somewhere between 40-14 season-opening loss to then-No. 17 West Virginia in Charlotte and its 59-3 thrashing of East Tennessee State last Saturday.
This game will likely fall towards the latter as the Volunteers continue preparations for their conference opener at home versus Florida on Sept. 22. They made quick work of the Buccaneers, scoring 28 second-quarter points as Jeremy Banks had a pair of short touchdown runs 15 seconds apart.
Linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. — who made his return after missing all of last season and last week’s opener with a knee injury — added a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown 1:31 later. The spurt was capped by a 20-yard scoring dash by Josh Palmer with three minutes left in the half.
“I thought we did eliminate some of our errors from the previous week, offensively,” coach Jeremy Pruitt said at his weekly news conference. “We didn’t turn the ball over which was a plus, and we scored in the red area. Defensively, we minimized the big plays and got off the field on third downs. We created a score on defense and special teams, so that is always good. We had another turnover to set up an offensive touchdown.”
While Banks had the two touchdowns, Tim Jordan is still Tennessee’s featured back and followed up his 115-yard effort against the Mountaineers with 65 against East Tennessee State in limited action as Pruitt was able to empty his bench in the rout.
Jarrett Guarantano has completed 27 of 38 passes for 326 yards in his first two games, recording one touchdown pass without an interception. Tennessee has featured a balanced offense thus far with 319 rushing yards and 396 through the air.
The Volunteers have not lost at home in non-conference play to an unranked opponent since a 19-15 loss to UCLA on Sept. 12, 2009.
- No trends of note.
- The under is 11-5 in its last 16 games vs. sub-.500 teams.
- The under is 7-2 in its last nine home games.
- The under is 4-1 in its last five non-conference games.
- 0-7-1 ATS in its last eight games following a straight up loss of more than 20 points.
- 0-6 ATS in its last six games vs. SEC opponents.
- 3-12-2 ATS in its last 17 games.
- The under is 5-2 in its last seven games after allowing more than 200 rushing yards in its previous game.
- The under is 5-2 in its last seven games after allowing more than 450 yards in its previous game.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
This is game where the Volunteers can practically pick their number given the issues UTEP has on both sides of the ball. Both Jordan and Banks should have a very good chance of cracking 100 yards rushing, and Tennessee’s active defense should continue the struggles the Miners are having with regards to turnovers.
The most important task for this game for Pruitt will be finding plays where Guarantano can throw touchdown passes. The sophomore quarterback has simply been efficient in the first two games — the Volunteers need him to be effective if they are going to make their way up the East Division of the SEC.
UTEP’s offense showed some positive signs against UNLV, but the Rebels are also a team that entered this year with 14 victories over their previous four seasons. Dimel knows he has a heavy rebuilding task ahead of him, and this game is another step in the process as the Miners get ready for their Conference USA opener.
Prediction: PICK: Tennessee -29.5
Full-Game Total Pick
Tennessee’s defense turned in a strong effort against an overmatched foe in ETSU, and while it the talent margin will not be as large against UTEP, the Volunteers should have more than enough firepower on the line of scrimmage to keep the Miners in check. UTEP is a work in progress in all three phases of the game, and this game will not be competitive if it turns the ball over as much as it has in the first two games.
Prediction: PICK: UNDER 49 points
Half-Time Side Pick
Tennessee’s running game led by Jordan should make quick work of UTEP’s defense, staking the Volunteers to an early lead and never looking back. He should be well-rested after an easy game versus East Tennessee State and faces a Miners defense that was gashed for 414 rushing yards at 7.4 per carry by UNLV.
Prediction: Pick: Tennessee -18.5
Half-Time Total Bet
While taking the full-game under, the hedge here is the Volunteers will keep their starters in the entire first half and lead by at least 20 points by halftime. Whether that includes UTEP getting a field goal or touchdown is uncertain, but Tennessee’s offense should be good for four scores in the opening two quarters.
Prediction: Pick: OVER 26 points