OU football: Sooners to kick off Venables era against improving Miners' defense

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Jul. 27—Editor's Note: This is the second installment in a look at Oklahoma's schedule for the 2022-2023 season. The Transcript will rank all games by evaluating their significance, difficulty and entertainment value. This article previews UTEP, which is ranked No. 11 in the series.

Oklahoma will enter its first game of the season against a UTEP team that's coming off its first bowl appearance since 2014.

The Sooners are 4-0 all-time against the Miners with a 56-7 win in Norman the last time the two teams faced off. UTEP has been outscored 203-28 in those four games.

While Oklahoma will be kicking off the first game of the Brent Venables era, the Miners will face the Sooners with a Week 0 game already under their belt. UTEP starts its season at home against North Texas on Aug. 27.

After combining for five wins in the three seasons prior, UTEP put together a 7-7 record in head coach Dana Dimel's fourth season with the program. The Miners were matched up with a 10-3 Fresno State squad in the PUBG Mobile New Mexico Bowl and fell 31-24.

The Miners took steps forward offensively last season, but their biggest improvement has been on defense. They ranked 35th in total defense, allowing 349.2 yards per game in defensive coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto's second season.

The season opener will be UTEP's first game against a Power five opponent since facing Texas in 2020. The Longhorns won that meeting 59-3 in what would become a 3-5 campaign for the Miners.

Here's an overview of the game and what to expect from UTEP:

Quick facts:

* When and where: 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 3, Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium

* TV and radio: FOX

Last season:

* Offense: 25.1 points per game

* Defense: 25.2 points per game

Overview:

The Miners' offense finished sixth in Conference USA in points per game with 25.1. One bright spot came in the passing game, where they averaged 392.2 yards per game after throwing for 348.1 yards per game the season prior.

That pace is going to be difficult to keep up after losing the team's top two pass catchers from last season. Jacob Cowing was a second team all-conference selection last season with a team-leading 1,354 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

Cowing transferred to Arizona, while the team's No. 2 and 3 receivers (Tyrin Smith and Justin Garrett) both graduated. Starting quarterback Gavin Hardison, an all-conference honorable mention, returns after leading the Miners for the past three seasons.

UTEP also returns three all-conference honorable mentions on the front line in center Andrew Meyer, right guard Elijah Klein and right tackle Jeremiah Byers.

Defensively, the Miners ranked second in the conference in yards allowed per game with 339.3 and fourth in the conference in points per game (25.2). UTEP's defense was also third in Conference USA against the pass, allowing 204.5 yards per game.

The Miners allowed opposing offenses to convert on 32.6% of their third down attempts last season, which ranked 11th in all of the FBS.

The unit returns seven starters from last season including Praise Amaewhule, who led the team in tackles for loss from his defensive end position with 13.

Summary:

It might not be the biggest game on the Sooner schedule, but that won't take away from any of the excitement surrounding Venables first game as head coach. Look for the Sooners' new defense to be tested vertically by the Miners' air attack.

Oklahoma still has plenty of athletes to counter this, and while early-season mistakes are to be expected, the Sooners shouldn't have any problem slowing down a UTEP offense that will still be looking for new playmakers to step up.

The Miners' defense is much-improved from seasons prior, but hasn't had a lot of experience playing against Power Five offenses. The Sooners' will get another favorable matchup against Kent State the following week before a meeting with Nebraska in Lincoln.

Tarik Masri is a sports reporter for The Transcript covering OU athletics and area sports. You can reach him by emailing tarik@normantranscript.com