The UTEP football team's to-do list on its rebuild to relevance is getting smaller and more specific, but what's left was on display in its regular-season ending 42-25 loss at UAB.
The Miners played well enough to pull a big upset in several phases — they led at the half and trailed by three points in the fourth quarter — but game-turning disasters on special teams, too many penalties and an inability to finish against a good team continued the theme of this 7-5 season.
UTEP was much better this year but not good enough to beat the best.
More: C-USA football standings
How it happened
Leading, 17-14, at the intermission, the UTEP meltdown began starting early in the third quarter when UAB scored on consecutive drives of 40, 21, 78 and 15 yards. One followed a partially blocked punt, one started after a fumbled kickoff and another came after UTEP failed to field a kickoff.
The Miners fought to overcome some of that, getting within 28-25 with 2:01 left in the third quarter when Jacob Cowing completed an 82-yard drive with a 30-yard touchdown reception, but that was high water.
UAB went on its only long, sustained drive of the game when it went 78 yards in 12 plays to restore a two-score lead, then the Miners failed to get on the ensuing kickoff. One snap later, UAB had a 42-25 lead and all of UTEP's good work — it had more yards in the first three quarters and was eventually outgained 328 yards to 303 — was more than undone.
The Blazers had two of their six scoring drives begin on their end of the field, touchdown drives of 44 and 40 yards following UTEP punts and touchdown drives of 21 and 15 yards following failed Miner kickoff returns. Playing against the nation's most penalized team, it was UTEP that was flagged 10 times.
For the third time in five losses, the Miners left feeling like they let one get away.
Quoting the coach
Special teams "was it," coach Dana Dimel said. "I'm proud of the way we played in the first half, I was excited about the effort the guys gave. It was going fine, nip and tuck, then the special teams cost us. We haven't been good enough all year on special teams. That's a concern for our football team.
"We get the kicked block, we fumble the kickoff, we don't get a kickoff. That was the story of the game."
UTEP came in without cornerback Walter Neil, who was ill (non-COVID-19), then tackle Kelton Moss left the game with an injury early in the second half and many of UTEP's defensive problems followed.
Leading tackler Breon Hayward and tailbacks Ronald Awatt and Quardraiz Wadley also left and the Miners ended the game without star receiver Jacob Cowing.
The good news is they have at least three weeks to get well and all could play in the bowl.
UTEP's bowl future
UTEP still has a chance at a quality win and could learn its bowl destination early next week. The New Mexico Bowl is the overwhelmingly likely destination, where UTEP would face a Mountain West team. Wyoming, where Dimel coached two decades ago, is a possible opponent.
Frisco and New Orleans are also getting some mention in bowl projections.
This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: UTEP special-teams mistakes snowball in 42-25 loss to UAB