From the FanPosts...
Sitting at 1-4 and looking down the barrel of a schedule that still included TCU and Utah, the BYU Cougars had to have felt that back-against-the-wall feeling. Instead of wilting, the Cougars looked right down that barrel and said "Bring it on!"
Now, the Cougars stand at 6-6, with four of the wins coming in beat-down fashion. The losses were much closer than anyone could have anticipated in September. Albuquerque and the New Mexico Bowl have come calling, it’s a small bowl, but it is no small accomplishment that Bronco Mendenhall has led his team to this point.
Their opponent (at the time of this writing) is not official, though all signs are that it will be the UTEP Miners. BYU fans who are in their 30’s and 40’s will remember with frustration the UTEP Miners. In 1985, the Miners defeated BYU to ruin a long winning streak.
The loss was BYU’s only stumbling block in a quest for back-to-back national titles. For the Miners, it was the only victory on the season. But this isn’t 1985. Where do the Miners stand today?
Interestingly enough, their season has almost mirrored that of the Cougars, but in the opposite direction. Due mostly to a soft schedule, the Miners came out firing, racing out to a 5-1 record while putting up nearly 33 points a game. Then reality set in, and the Miners have only won one game since. They finished with just a 3-5 record in conference play and third place in the Conference USA west division.
So, some questions remain, how can we compare these teams? Can UTEP really beat the Cougars? Who are the weapons? What does BYU have to do to win this game?
First, comparing the teams. They only had one opponent in common, and that was the pitiful New Mexico Lobos. New Mexico, under Mike Locksley, has been an absolute disgrace. Comparing scores against a team like this does not tell us much, if anything. The Cougars controlled the game from start to finish in beating the Lobos 40-7. The Miners weathered some fluke plays that kept New Mexico in it early, and eventually took control in a 38-20 win.
UTEP has the ability to play with the Cougars. In their season finale, they nearly took down Conference USA west champion Tulsa. Their offense is led by quarterback Trevor Vittatoe. Vittatoe is technically a dual-threat quarterback, but after the opponents the Cougars have faced this year, Vittatoe will seem like a cake walk. He completes a ho-hum 55% of his passes, but has thrown 19 touchdown passes this year, compared to only 10 interceptions. In the big games, he has struggled. His numbers are slightly inflated because of the soft schedule, but he has good strength on his arm.
Rushing the ball, UTEP relies on a balanced attack. There is no one guy who carries the load. Leading rusher Joe Banyard only averages nine carries a game, but has found the endzone eight times and has amassed over 600 yards on the ground. When they get in close, the Miners often turn to powerback Leilyon Myers. The 235-pound bruiser has six rushing touchdowns on only 50 carries this year.
The real star and focal point of the offense is senior receiver Kris Adams. Adams has good size (6’3", 195) and speed. He has nearly 1,000 yards receiving and is sure to keep Brandon Bradley busy all game.
Outside of Adams, speedster Marlon McClure is the only receiver to average more than two receptions per game, and he barely averages that (2.2). McClure is a beast though in the return game, as he has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and has a 58 yard punt return.
Defensively, the Miners have looked good against poor teams, and bad against good teams. BYU’s offense has clicked of late and they have a lot of weapons. The key is opening up the run game. If JJ and Kariya are running the ball well, this game is over. UTEP provides the perfect opportunity to bounce back from the poor day the running backs had against Utah.
Jake Heaps will continue to grow. This situation is perfect for him. This will give him bowl game experience in a game that will not force him to win it on his own.
For BYU, this is an extremely favorable matchup. UTEP is lucky to be here. BYU just needs to play their game. If they come out ready to play, they will win handily. UTEP has some weapons, but not nearly a diverse enough offense to give Bronco’s defense much trouble. If they come out flat because they don’t want to be there, UTEP could hang around.
My prediction: the boys in blue come out on fire and put the Miners to bed early. I see a final score of 45-17.