GILDAN NEW MEXICO BOWL
UTAH STATE VS UTEP – Saturday, Dec 20th 12:20pm MT (ESPN)
Utah State’s head coach Matt Wells didn’t win Conference Coach of the Year, but he better dang well have gotten some votes. The Aggies started the season with the hype of Heisman hopeful Chuckie Keeton at QB and finished 3 players later on the shoulders of freshman Kent Myers. All Myers did was go 5-0, after stepping in late against UNLV, before falling to eventual Mountain West Champ Boise State in the season finale.
Utah State was the epitome of TEAM in 2014, spreading the responsibility around to whomever would step up each and every week. Rushing, the Aggies had 3 players tally over 400+ yards with LaJuan Hunt, JoJo Natson, and Joe Hill. There were only two 100+ yard games amongst the three, but the trio combined for 1444 yards and 7 TD’s on the ground.
JR receiver Hunter Sharp grabbed 63 receptions for 918 yards and 7 TD’s. Ronald Butler, JoJo Natson, and Devonte Robinson morphed their production into 109 catches, 1161 yards, and 6 TD’s. All-Conference 1st Team selection Kevin Whimpey led the charge upfront.
But if you talk about TEAM in reference to Utah State, you have to go to the defense. What a job they did in 2014 to support their offense. The Aggies were 2nd to San Diego State in scoring defense by .7 of a point. Brothers Zach & Nick Vigil not only led the team respectively in tackles, but both anchored the All-Conference 1st TEAM at linebacker, alongside fellow Aggies SR DL B.J. Larsen and SR DB Frankie Sutera. Pressure is their mantra as Utah State finished with 47 sacks, 45 QB hurries, and 107 tackles for losses.
To put it in perspective that’s 3rd in the nation in sacks, and 2nd in the nation in tackles for loss.
UTEP is another great turnaround story in 2014. After finishing 2-10 last season and opening this year at 2-3, the Miners went on a 5-2 run and captured their first bowl appearance since 2010. I did the UTEP vs New Mexico game to open the season and the Miners showed a lot of grit in a late 4th quarter win over the Lobos.
Sophomore RB Aaron Jones had his biggest game of the season and went on to carry the Miner rushing attack with 1233 yards and 11 TD’s. UTEP finished 3rd in Conference USA rushing the ball and that was the strength of their offense all season. SR QB Jameill Showers mostly threw to keep defenses off balance, and his primary target became SR Ian Hamilton. At 6’5” 225 lbs, Hamilton presents a big downfield threat to opponents.
Defensively the Miners were a consistent unit across the board, but struggled on the road with 4 of 5 losses coming away from El Paso, and 4 of their top 5 points allowed occurring in those same games. Head Coach Sean Kugler’s defense spreads the wealth with 11 different players having 30 or more tackles, led by SR DB Wesley Miller’s 74. The Miners have 10 interceptions by 10 different players, 21.5 sacks by 13 players.
The Key To The Game
This game will definitely come down to UTEP’s ability to throw the ball, as the Aggie defense will stack the line of scrimmage to smother Jones and then bring the heat on Showers, who averages only 6.6 per completion.