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Oklahoma Schedule Preview: Get to Know the UTEP Miners

The Sooners are heavy favorites in the home opener, but the Miners are an intriguing team led by a veteran defensive front.

The Oklahoma Sooners are less than three weeks away from kicking off the 2022 season with a new coach and a new attitude.

As September creeps closer, AllSooners previews every game on the 2022 schedule. 

Oklahoma’s 12-game regular season schedule features six home games, five away games and the annual neutral-site Red River Showdown.

First up for the Sooners is the home opener with the UTEP Miners.

UTEP Miners

Conference USA

Sept. 3, 2:30 p.m.

  • Head Coach: Dana Dimel
  • 2021 record: 7-6 (4-4 C-USA)
  • Offensive returning starters: seven
  • Defensive returning starters: eight

Key players

QB Gavin Hardison

Hardison, a junior, will be the key piece to the puzzle for UTEP in 2022. The problem is, both his No. 1 and No. 2 options have departed, leaving the wide receiver room looking much different. Top pass catcher Jacob Cowing transferred to Arizona, leaving speedster Tyrin Smith as Hardison’s go-to guy.

The best aspect of the rising junior’s game is his arm strength and ability to throw the deep ball. Hardison threw for 3,218 yards and 18 touchdowns in 13 games last season. His biggest flaw has been accuracy, throwing 13 interceptions and completing just 55 percent of his passes. The Sooners can set the tone for the season early with a few quick takeaways against a mistake-prone quarterback.

DE Praise Amaewhule

Amaewhule is a load for offensive lines to handle and is in the backfield often. Over the course of his Miner career, he’s totaled 87 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and even scored a touchdown.

At 6-foot-3, Amaewhule has great size and strength. Oklahoma’s offensive line will have a nice test early against an All-Conference USA talent and an NFL prospect. The Sooners revamped the offensive line this offseason, but question marks still remain.

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LBs Breon Hayward and Tyrice Knight

The middle of the defense is one of the strongest parts of this UTEP team. Both Hayward and Knight amassed over 120 tackles each and earned All-Conference USA honors. The Miners have an experienced defense that ultimately helped lead last season’s surprising turnaround.

RB Ronald Awatt

Awatt is a candidate for a breakout season with extended carries and a bigger role. Last season, he found 844 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.

The senior back has serious potential to be a 1,000-yard rusher in 2022. Awatt will be running behind one of the best offensive lines in Conference USA and has great vision and speed. People have taken notice, as he was listed on the Doak Walker Award watch list.

Top unit: Offensive line

The Sooners will have an early test against a stout Miners offensive line. UTEP was inconsistent offensively last season, but should find success running the ball this fall.

Andrew Meyer, Elijah Klein, and Jeremiah Byers will all be back in El Paso, giving the Miners three Honorable Mention All-Conference USA blockers.

The line was able to pave the way for UTEP’s top rusher, Ronald Awatt, who averaged 5.4 yards per carry. As a team, UTEP racked up 2,112 rushing yards last season. Establishing a presence up front will give an experienced signal caller like Gavin Hardinson time to work.

The Sooners are heavy favorites in the opening matchup, but UTEP isn’t getting enough credit as a team. Oklahoma has played in a number of home-openers that were considerably more lopsided. 

Last season, the Miners went for the big play time after time. It led to inconsistency, but also helped the Miners find success for the first time in a long time. UTEP had 14 plays resulting in longer than 50 yards last season. OU’s defense surrendered eight 50-yard chunk plays, good for a tie at 83rd in the country.

If Oklahoma’s improved secondary can keep the Miners from explosive plays, the Sooners should coast to the first non-conference victory of the year. Even though Oklahoma is expected to win comfortably, it will be a good early test against a very experienced Group of 5 team. The offense will have to prove efficiency early against the Miners’ strong defensive front.

Look for offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby to help Dillon Gabriel establish chemistry with short connections early on. Then, as the game goes on, Gabriel will be able to show off his long-awaited deep ball against an unknown UTEP secondary.