NCF Nation: UTEP Miners

Instant Analysis: Utah State 21, UTEP 6

December, 20, 2014
Utah State put the finishing touches on a double-digit-win season by defeating UTEP 21-6 in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Saturday at University Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Let's take a glance at how it went down:

How the game was won: Utah State won this game with its defense. The Aggies held UTEP to 275 total offensive yards and held sophomore UTEP running back Aaron Jones to just 88 yards and 3.5 yards per carry. Jones was averaging 112 rushing yards per game coming into the bowl. The Aggies were fantastic on third downs -- UTEP converted only five of 20 chances -- and held UTEP to just 3.9 yards per play. Zach Vigil and Nick Vigil combined for 16 tackles, and Brian Suite led the team with 10.

Game ball goes to: True freshman quarterback Kent Myers. The Aggies' fourth quarterback this season guided Utah State to a 5-1 mark in his time as a starter. He started the game with a nice touchdown run, and though he was knocked out briefly after taking a big hit, he returned to direct the Aggies to 14 more points. He finished with 70 rushing yards and a touchdown, and 68 passing yards.

What it means: The Aggies, who were making their fourth consecutive bowl appearance, won their third straight bowl game. More importantly, Utah State secured the second 10-win season in school history (the first came in 2012). A tip of the cap to coach Matt Wells and the job he did this season, as this team had to survive the loss of three quarterbacks to season-ending injuries and navigate the season's home stretch with Myers. Even when Myers was knocked out briefly Saturday after a sack (shown below), Ronald Butler came in and broke off a 61-yard run to get the Aggies in field goal range before the half.

video Best play: Utah State's first touchdown was an impressive one, with good play design and great execution. The Aggies had three receivers to the right side of the formation, motioned a running back in that direction and Myers made a quick fake in that direction, sending a pack of UTEP defenders to the wide side of the field. Myers kept the ball, sprinted upfield, made a nice move to make a defender miss, and sprinted 48 yards for a touchdown to give Utah State a lead it would never relinquish.


Viewer's guide: Gildan New Mexico Bowl

December, 19, 2014
Are you ready for some bowl games? Our brief December hiatus comes to an end Saturday with four games, the second of which comes at 2:20 p.m. ET when Utah State and UTEP square off in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium in Albuquerque, New Mexico. What should we expect from these teams, what do they bring to the table and what should we watch for? Let’s take a glance:

What's at stake: Utah State (9-4) is in a bowl for the fourth consecutive season and is looking for its third consecutive bowl victory. The four straight appearances is a school record for the Aggies and a win would secure a 10-win season for only the second time in school history. UTEP hopes to put a bow on a nice turnaround season in El Paso, Texas, as the Miners (7-5) are vastly improved after managing only two wins in 2013 and are enjoying their first winning season since 2005. The Miners' five-win improvement is fifth best in the FBS.

Players to watch: UTEP sophomore running back Aaron Jones has 1,233 rushing yards this season, averaging 112.1 per game (fourth in Conference USA and 23rd in the country). He has 14 total touchdowns and 1,517 all-purpose yards, which puts him ninth in school history. Utah State senior linebacker Zach Vigil leads the Mountain West in tackles for loss per game (1.5) and is ninth nationally in tackles per game (11.2). He needs just one half of a tackle for loss to match the school's career record for tackles for loss (43).

Strength versus strength: As is evident from Jones' numbers, UTEP runs the ball well. The Miners are 32nd in the country in rushing yards per game offensively, posting 212.7 yards per game. Utah State's rushing defense is strong, as the Aggies rank 26th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (129.3). Whichever unit wins this battle will be key to deciding the game's winner.

Notable: Utah State has seen season-ending injuries occur to three of its quarterbacks: senior Chuckie Keeton (knee), senior Craig Harrison (knee) and sophomore Darell Garretson (wrist). The current starter, true freshman Kent Myers, is the fourth quarterback to start for Utah State, and the Aggies are 4-1 with him at the helm.

They'll look good: Utah State will have nice, clean-looking white jerseys with blue trim, while UTEP will go bold with the orange and blue combination (with orange helmets to boot). If nothing else, the teams will run up and down the field in some nice threads.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has a saying that is echoed by his players, especially at this time of the season.

"It's about us."

The message is clear and self-explanatory. And if the Aggies are going to do what they hope to -- win out the remainder of the season -- Sumlin wants them to take heed of those three words.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesTexas A&M signal-caller Johnny Manziel threw four more touchdown passes on Saturday night. He now has 26 TD passes on the season, matching his total from 2012.
On Saturday night, in a 57-7 win over UTEP at Kyle Field, it was all about the Aggies, who took care of business by dominating a beaten-up team. What's interesting is that No. 12 A&M (7-2) has the same record as it did at this time a season ago. The feelings are different, but that's partially because last season the Aggies exceeded expectations. Few outside of this town expected them to do much better than 6-6 or 7-5 in their first season in the SEC. This season, the bar was set so high that the same record at the same point seems almost pedestrian.

And while their own preseason goals -- an SEC championship and a run at a BCS national championship -- are out the window, there are still things left for Texas A&M to play for. If the Aggies win the remainder of their games, who knows? They might just sneak their way into their first BCS bowl since 1998.

The final three-game stretch is a challenging one. The Aggies host Mississippi State next weekend, then are off the following week before the difficulty level ramps up with trips to LSU and Missouri to close out the season. Both of those teams are still playing for a chance to go to Atlanta to play in the SEC title game, and in order to knock them off in their respective stadiums, the Aggies will have to put together a complete game, for four quarters -- something they really haven't done yet this season.

But in the past two weeks, in a 56-24 victory over Vanderbilt and on Saturday in the blowout win over UTEP, the Aggies have begun inching closer to playing that type of game. Throughout the first seven games, the defense was mostly poor while the offense carried the load. Special teams had issues, too, as the Aggies battled an inconsistent situation at place-kicker before moving Josh Lambo into the role, one that he has taken and run with.

The past two weeks, the Aggies defense has performed admirably. It had probably its best all-around performance against the Commodores, and on Saturday, against a much weaker opponent, the Aggies really only had one bad drive on defense, the nine-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that gave the Miners an early 7-2 lead.

UTEP, which came into the game without starting quarterback Jameill Showers (shoulder injury), couldn't move the ball with consistency against A&M when the Aggies began to rack up points. On top of that, A&M's defense was ball-hawking in the second stanza, coming up with three turnovers. The offense turned those into 21 points and blew the game open. UTEP finished with just 198 total yards, and life was understandably difficult with backup Blaire Sullivan running the offense. Still, this is an Aggies defense that had trouble stopping virtually everybody earlier this season.

"We've been having great practices the last few weeks," junior defensive end Gavin Stansbury said. "Also, I think it has to do with confidence. You have to have confidence in yourself and in your team to have a great game."

While the defense has stepped up its efforts the last two weeks, the offense has had its hiccups. Last week it was bitten by the turnover bug, giving the ball away four times. On Saturday against the Miners, the Aggies seemed out of sync in the first quarter. Quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans couldn't get on the same page, though opportunities were there. The Aggies punted twice in the first quarter -- a rarity for them in any single frame.

What began as a snoozer with Texas A&M's offense sputtering turned into a rout with an explosive second quarter by the Aggies, who outscored UTEP 27-0 in the second quarter to take a commanding 36-7 halftime lead. From there, no doubt remained of the outcome as Manziel led two more scoring drives in the third quarter before calling it a night, after throwing for four touchdowns and running for two, including an impressive 49-yarder that looked like the 2012 version of Manziel.

The A&M special teams started well, meanwhile, blocking a punt that led to a safety and giving the Aggies an early 2-0 lead. But the unit had its issues, too. Punter Drew Kaser, who serves as the holder on point-after-touchdown kicks and field goals, bobbled a snap, which left a point off the board. Freshman LaQuvionte Gonzalez also muffed a punt in the second half, though the game was well in hand.

Those are issues that have to be rectified if the Aggies hope to close out the final three-game stretch with three wins. They still haven't put a good performance from all three phases together on one night, though they might be inching closer to doing so.

"It's hard to say, when you win 57-7, to say that you didn't play a complete game," Sumlin said. "As a coach, there's some positives there. Our guys understand that we can be better than we were tonight."