UTEP offensive coordinator Mike Canales served as Tennessee’s quarterbacks coach on former Vols coach Butch Jones’ staff last year. Tennessee (1-1) hosts UTEP (0-2) on Saturday (noon, SEC Network) before playing its SEC opener next week against Florida.
Canales says he sent Guarantano a supportive text message before Tennessee’s season opener. Canales also says Guarantano sent him a photo of a scale when the quarterback finally reached 207 pounds, a target Canales had wanted him to hit all last year.
“I love the kid to death,” Canales said. “He and I went through some difficult times together. I tried to be that big brother, that father away from home.”
UTEP head coach Dana Dimel says Canales’ familiarity with Tennessee’s roster has proved helpful. Dimel and Canales previously worked together as Arizona assistants.
“Whatever edge we could have comes from Mike knowing the personnel,” Dimel said. “That does not hurt at all. He knows the personnel - both offensively and defensively - very, very well.”
As a 31-point underdog, UTEP could use every advantage it can get.
The Miners have lost 14 straight games since beating North Texas in their 2016 season finale. In its first two games this season, UTEP fell 30-10 to Football Championship Subdivision program Northern Arizona and allowed 414 yards rushing in a 52-24 loss to UNLV .
Even so, Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt is taking nothing for granted.
“They remind me a lot of ourselves,” Pruitt said. “When they do things the right way, they have lots of success. When they don’t, they haven’t, which is very similar to us. (We’re) probably two programs that are kind of going in a similar direction right now.”
Both teams also have new coaches.
While Pruitt is trying to rebuild Tennessee after a stint as Alabama’s defensive coordinator, Dimel spent the last eight seasons as a Kansas State assistant coach , most recently as offensive coordinator. Dimel previously was a head coach at Wyoming (1997-99) and Houston (2000-02).
Dimel faces a tough challenge at UTEP, a Conference USA school that owns the longest active losing streak of any Football Bowl Subdivision team.
“Going to Tennessee and playing is going to be the most hostile environment we put ourselves in the whole season,” Dimel said. “I think it will only help us as we move into further road games in our conference.”
Here are some things to know about the UTEP-Tennessee matchup.
VOLS’ PASS RUSH
Pruitt has been critical of Tennessee’s pass rush this week and noted the Vols must do a better job of bringing down the quarterback when they get close to him. That could prove challenging against UTEP quarterback Kai Locksley, who has a team-high 169 yards rushing on 38 carries. Locksley began his college career at Texas.
Locksley is the son of former New Mexico coach Mike Locksley, now the offensive coordinator at Alabama. Mike Locksley and Pruitt worked together on Alabama’s staff the last two seasons.
Ty Chandler entered the season as Tennessee’s top returning rusher, but he got hurt early in a season-opening loss to No. 14 West Virginia and didn’t play last week in a 59-3 blowout of East Tennessee State . Pruitt said Chandler should be available against UTEP.
UTEP’s two quarterbacks - Locksley and Ryan Metz - have teamed up to complete just 43.3 percent of their pass attempts. UTEP has thrown three interceptions and no touchdown passes this season.
Tennessee is distributing free game tickets to residents of North Carolina and South Carolina counties under evacuation orders due to Hurricane Florence.