Utah State v. UTEP
University Stadium — Albuquerque, NM
December 20, 2014 — 2:20 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
While this game no longer features a Pac-12 team, it has still been consistently among the most exciting early bowl games of the past few seasons. Last year Colorado State mounted a furious comeback to upset Washington State, reversing a 45-30 deficit by scoring the final 18 points of the game and winning after a Cougars fumble on a last-second field goal. The year before, Arizona were down by 13 points against Nevada before scoring two touchdowns in the final minute of the game to secure a 49-48 victory. Two well-matched teams could once again take this bowl game down to the final minute… and you don’t want to be the guy who misses that, do you?
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Utah State has written a story of perseverance this year, having lost three quarterbacks to injury throughout the course of the season. It all started when Chuckie Keeton — back for his sixth season in Logan after receiving a medical redshirt — went down with a knee injury during a 36-24 win over Wake Forest. His backup, Darell Garretson, suffered a wrist injury against Colorado State that required surgery. And then third-string QB Craig Harrison suffered a knee injury against UNLV. Freshman Kent Myers has been the go-to guy since that trifecta of injuries; he is completing over 67 percent of his passes, but hasn’t been asked to do too much. For the Aggies, their calling card has been defense this season. The unit is allowing less than three touchdowns per game, good for 21st nationally in scoring defense.
Despite boasting Texas A&M transfer Jameill Showers at quarterback, UTEP has been one of the worst passing teams in the country. They average 144 passing yards per game; only eight other FBS teams threw for less yardage this season. Instead, the ground game has buoyed the offense. Sophomore tailback Aaron Jones has been the catalyst for the Miners, tallying 1233 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground and adding 284 yards and three more scores receiving. UTEP, unlike Utah State, has not benefited from a strong defense. The Miners allowed more than four touchdowns per game, finishing the season 7-5 despite being outscored by their opposition.
What is Likely to Happen
We’ve seen exciting contests the past few seasons, and this year’s New Mexico Bowl should be no different with both teams’ offenses averaging around four touchdowns per game. Jones and the UTEP rushing attack should challenge Utah State’s defense throughout the game, while Matt Wells will continue to prove himself one of the most resilient coaches in the country for the Aggies. Look for UTEP to gain an early lead, then slipping on defense to allow Utah State to engineer a third straight New Mexico Bowl comeback. Kent Myers, after being used conservatively throughout the second half of the season, will have a breakout game to set himself up as the incumbent starter for the Aggies in 2015.
Utah State 28, UTEP 27