New Mexico Bowl Preview: Brigham Young Cougars vs. UTEP Miners

The Brigham Young Cougars will kick off the bowl season against the UTEP Miners Saturday in the New Mexico bowl. This is a game with two teams that took different roads to get there. BYU needed to finish the year 4-1 to qualify for a bowl. UTEP started the year 5-1 and only needed to win one of their last five games to qualify.

In reality, the New Mexico Bowl is the bowl apologists dream. Two 6-6 teams that many people think shouldn’t play in the post season. However, every player on both teams is thrilled to be here. UTEP has won 6 games for the first time since 2005. That means every single player on the roster has never been to a bowl. This is the biggest game of their careers.

BYU is accustomed to much more success than this. An attempt to reload unraveled and the Cougars found themselves at 1-4 one month into the season. A remarkable turnaround followed. The seniors should be ecstatic to play in one final game, to keep BYU’s continuous bowl streak alive, and to go out as winners. The plethora of freshman who have been an integral part of the team this year are having their first taste of the bowl experience. The sophomores and juniors who know better should be grateful for one more chance to salvage this season and start making 2011 better than this one.

BYU should come out breathing fire. Remember that a winning season hinges on the outcome of this game, that the Utah game ended so disappointingly, that a bowl game was an afterthought two months ago, and that the momentum from this game can carry BYU a very long way in 2011.

The UTEP defense is 86th in the nation in total yards allowed per game, 90th in rushing yards allowed per game, and 73rd in passing yards allowed. For comparison, that puts the UTEP defense just a notch above the Colorado State defense (97th, 102nd, and 77th, respectively). For those who forgot, BYU scored 49 points against the Rams, in Ft. Collins.

Things to watch for:
  1. Licking their chops. The BYU defense should be licking their chops. UTEP’s offense goes through quarterback Trevor Vittatoe, but he is limping with an ankle injury. Vic So’oto, Matt Putnam, Eathyn Manumaleuna, Kyle Van Noy, Shane Hunter, and the gang need to set up shop in the UTEP backfield. Create chaos and disruption.
  2. Continued emergence. McKay Jacobson and the tight ends had a miniature coming out party in the Utah game. Will they continue to establish themselves, or will Cody Hoffman, Luke Ashworth, and J.J. Di Luigi be the go to guys in the passing game?
  3. Continued growth. Jake Heaps has grown right before our eyes ever since the bye week. He came out of the Utah game a man. A bowl game is another great opportunity for him to have extra time to work on weaknesses and come out and play the best game of his career.
  4. Coming back to haunt you. Bronco Mendenhall came back to haunt his alma mater last year as BYU destroyed Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl. This year, Bronco is facing off against a coach (Mike Price) who recruited him while Bronco was a junior college player.
  5. Two in a row. With a win, BYU matches its longest bowl game win streak. Sure it is nothing to brag about, but at least BYU has done it four different times.
All-time Series: BYU leads 28-7-1
Last: BYU won 31-14 (1998)
Streak: BYU won 1

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