Maybe, there are too many bowl games. Maybe, teams that lose 5 of their last 6 shouldn't be rewarded with a bowl appearance. I don't know about all that, but I do know that all 6-6 teams are not equal. The BYU Cougars were better than the UTEP Miners in every facet of the game in the 5th Annual New Mexico Bowl.
From the opening kickoff, it was apparent that Bronco Mendenhall's football team was better prepared and just better than their C-USA counterparts. Mendenhall has never had a losing season in six seasons at BYU and the Cougars have played in bowl games every year since 2006. The Cougars arrived to University Stadium ready to play a football game. The UTEP Miners arrived midway through the second quarter.UTEP's opening drive lasted all of four plays. UTEP had a first down on a Marlon McClure quick screen and then followed it up with a nice 5 yard gain by Joe Banyard. Then, Mendenhall sent a blind side screen with cornerback Andrew Rich. Rich took down Trevor Vittatoe for a huge loss and the Miners drive stalled. BYU's Cody Hoffman nearly returned the ensuing punt for a touchdown. Four plays later, Bryan Kariya walked into the end zone from four yards out to put BYU up 7-0.
After another drive stalled, Jake Heaps hit Luke Ashworth for a 9 yard touchdown pass. The teams traded field goals, including a booming 52 yarder from Dakota Warren, before BYU took complete control of the game behind two Heaps touchdown passes to Coffman. WIth 8:55 to play in the first half, the score was 31-3. UTEP had -22 yards rushing and -1 yard overall. And, the New Mexico Bowl was effectively over.
UTEP finally got something going when VIttatoe hit Kris Adams on a 67 yard bomb with 8:38 to play. 31-10. A Trevaun Nixon interception gave the Miners hope of going into the half down only 14. Nixon intercepted the Heaps pass on the UTEP 12 yard line and returned it 43 yards to the BYU 45.
With 0:51 on the clock, Vittatoe methodically moved the Miners down the field. First, he rushed for 10 yards, Then, he hit Pierce Hunter for 11 yards. After a bad drop by Marlon McClure, VIttatoe hit Corey Trisby for 9 yards. Two plays later, he hit Trisby again to get it to the 15. After a terrible drop on the goal line by Kris Adams, Trevor scrambled for four yards, with 11 seconds to play, but was hit late by a BYU defender. The penalty gave the Miners the ball on the BYU 3 yard line with 4 seconds to play. Mike Price made a gutsy call, and one I agreed with, when he decided to have the Miners go for it.
As Miner fans know, a good call by our coaching staff is usally followed by a bad one. And, of course the bad call was the decision to throw a fade to Kris Adams who was clearly double covered. The pass sailed out of bounds and any momentum UTEP had ended as the pass sailed out of bounds. UTEP had a timeout and the double team was apparent. But, instead of using the timeout and calling a different play, Aaron Price and Trevor Vittatoe decided to try the fade anyway. Ballgame.
In the second half, Trevor did manage to hit Kris Adams on two big touchdown passes. Here are the rest of my thoughts, bullet style:
- Which One Was the Freshman? Offensive MVP Jake Heaps looked like Tom Brady against the UTEP defense. Heaps was a killer 25/34 for 264 yards with 4 touchdowns and only 1 interception. Trevor Vittatoe, playing of course with an injured ankle, limped his way to a 14/29 performance for 245 yards. Vittatoe tossed three touchdowns and had three more interceptions.
- No Pick 6 At Least: For the second time this season, Trevor threw three interceptions. He also had three picks in the UAB loss. In UTEP's first six games, TV only had two interceptions.
- Was He Injured? As BYU began to take control of the game, Aaron Price unsurprisingly abandoned the run. Coming off his biggest game as a Miner, starting running back Joseph Banyard carried the ball only two times for 11 yards. Donald Buckram picked up 6 carries in the second half for all of 10 yards. The Miners rushed for -12 yards overall. I'm not saying Banyard could have won the game, or even averaged more than 2 yards a carry, but I do think it would have been worthwhile to lean on him a bit more early on to see if UTEP could keep BYU's offense off the field.
- No Tricks Up His Sleeve: Let's face it. UTEP had nothing to lose in this one. The Miners were 13 point underdogs and everyone in the country pretty much expected them to lose. I figured the Miners would embrace this underdog role and try some new wrinkles to catch BYU off guard. Maybe more Wildcat? Maybe some new ways to use Marlon McClure? Nope. We saw a cornerback blitz on the defense's first play that worked well with Trevaun Nixon. Other than that, we had a vanilla game plan. No trick plays. Nothing new. Nothing fresh.
- Same Old Story: For the 5th straight season, the UTEP Miners have finished with a losing record. Mike Price is the first coach to take UTEP to three bowl games since 1954 (Mike Brumbelow) but he has been unable to get that elusive bowl win.
- Highlights: Kris Adams had a key drop on that second quarter drive, but he also had 153 yards on three receptions (all TD's). Receivers like him simply don't come to El Paso very often. Dakota Warren hit a nice field goal from 52. Trevaun had that interception but he was also beat in coverage for two Cody Coffman touchdowns. Speaking of Coffman, his career high was 74 receiving yards. He had 137 and three touchdowns against UTEP. Wiston Jeune played good, aggressive football. Marlon McClure had some nice returns.
- Lowlights: Anthony Morrow had a silly roughing the passer penalty. Marcus Bagley, a DT, went offsides on a key 3rd down despite being on top of the ball. And just about everything else.