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New Mexico Bowl Breakdown

I know we already had an early preview for the New Mexico bowl on VTF and Miner Rush also has one; but I'm going to take a different approach. Because I'm a bit of a stats person I am going to focus a bit more on the statistics of both teams.

The BYU Cougars and UTEP Miners have had eerily similar 2010 campaigns. Both have had a good half, and a bad half to the season; but they were the opposite halves. Both have played well against bad teams, and faltered a bit against the good teams. So why do most of us, without much doubt, expect BYU to win? Should we be more worried? Let's take a look.

Here's a statistical breakdown of each team's wining halves. Our last seven games and their first six.

Points Per Game Points Against/ Game Total Yards/ Game Passing Yards/ Game Rushing Yards/ Game Total Yards Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yards Against
BYU 30.286 16 383.857 188.571 195.286 271.571 197.571 74
UTEP 32.5 21.833 430.667 263.167 167.5 349.5 205.667 143.833

On the offensive end of the ball they out gain us in every category except rushing; and yet we still manage put up only about two points less than them. So overall I would give them a slight edge on offense. But one thing to keep in mind is that our passing game wasn't at the level it is now during the winning stretch. In the past four games BYU has passed for 300, 242, 236, and 228 for an average of 251.5 yards/game. Not much lower than UTEP's total. Jake Heaps and the receivers' chemistry has improved quite a bit over that span. And hopefully it continues to improve. So while I still give them a slight edge on offense it's less than these stats would imply.

On the defensive side of the ball we outplay them handily. We allowed less total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards, and they allowed more than 5 points more than us. Ever since head coach Bronco Mendenhall took over the defense it has been playing phenomenally. One number to look at is our 74 rushing yards allowed. It's not like we've played a bunch of New Mexico's or UNLV's either, we've played some teams with very good rushing games. The SDSU Aztecs, TCU Horned Frogs, and Utah Utes all run the ball very well. Our defense has simply shut them down. The Utes, who are averaging 156.75 rushing yards a game, were held to 89 yards. SDSU, who averaged 151.5 rushing yards a game was held to 53 yards. Finally, TCU, whom we held to 108 yards, averaged 252.75 rushing yards a game.

So overall I would give BYU a small edge on the winning portions of our schedules too. We play a much better defense and not much worse offense, especially over the last four games.

Here are the stats for each team's losing half. Our first five games and their last 6.

Points Per Game Points Against/ Game Total Yards/ Game Passing Yards/ Game Rushing Yards/ Game Total Yards Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yards Against
BYU 15.2 28.8 312.6 192.8 119.8 433.4 174.2 259.2
UTEP 19.833 29 311.333 179.833 131.5 458.833 240.333 218.5

During the two team's losing stretches they put up similar numbers. Our total yards per game are almost identical, although BYU's passing numbers are better than their rushing numbers and visa-versa for UTEP. We both allowed about 29 points per game; but UTEP managed to put up more points, barely, despite gaining one less yard on offense. Looking at these numbers I would have to give them an ever so small edge on us in offense because they put up more points on the scoreboard, and that's the only stat that matters at the end of the game.

If you just glance through BYU's defensive numbers you'd think that any team's rushing game felt like it was Christmas when playing BYU; and that they couldn't get much going in the passing game. But please remember that we played some of the top rushing teams in the nation, like Air Force, Nevada, and Florida State. So keep that in mind. And with that in mind, we still gave up an awful lot of yards, as did UTEP. Although both teams gave up more yards on defense than they averaged on offense in their winning halves, BYU gave up less total yards, giving us the advantage.

On our respective losing halves we're fairly equal, UTEP get's the offensive edge while BYU gets the defensive one. But because our defense has a larger edge then their offense, BYU wins the battle of the losing teams. Not that it's that great a battle to win.

One other thing I could do is look at the opponents each team has played and consider their defenses/offenses to the numbers we put up; however, for now, I don't have the time. But if you want to, please do, and post your findings in the comments below. With the stats that I've compiled here it looks pretty evident that BYU should win the game. Although it would probably be closer than any of us want it to be. Keep in mind that this is purely a statistical viewpoint; there are plenty of intangibles that play into the game of football.

A couple of very important intangibles are momentum and motivation. Because BYU's winning half of the season came in the later half they have the momentum, but do they have the motivation? My best guess would be yes, they do. Look back to after the Utah State game. We just lost to an instate rival that we hadn't lost to in years. Our record was 1-4, a bowl game looked all but out of reach. Then we come blazing back to win 5 of our next 6 games with more than a hope that we could beat Utah. Unfortunately, we lost to Utah due to a bad call and a blocked punt. But, after that USU game, who'd have thought we would be bowl eligible after such a bad start? I believe this team has the motivation needed to win this game.

On the flip side UTEP doesn't have the momentum. They lost 5 of their last 6 games, limping their way to the New Mexico Bowl. But this team hasn't been to a bowl game in years, and I'm sure they want to win it. They want to show that this season in not a fluke, sputtering into a bowl game because of an easy beginning schedule. They want to prove they should be there, and they probably want to begin a streak of bowl appearances; and wins. So I wouldn't underestimate this team. An animal (or Miner) backed into a corner with nothing to lose is the most dangerous animal of all.

One thing we like to look at as college football fans are head to head match ups and similar opponents. And BYU and UTEP have one similar opponent, the New Mexico Lobos. Both teams, of course, beat the Lobos; but I want to look at the stats of those games.

Points For Points Against Total Yards Passing Yards Rushing Yards Total Yards Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yards Against First Downs First Downs Allowed Turnovers Turnovers Forced
BYU 40 7 494 236 258 259 159 100 29 20 0 4
UTEP 38 20 435 266 169 237 139 98 24 15 2 3

Looking at these stats BYU has the upper hand in all offensive categories but one, passing yards. Nevertheless, because we have the advantage in total yards this becomes almost obsolete. But UTEP did hold New Mexico's offense to fewer yards than BYU; since it wasn't by too much I wouldn't worry about it. Our defense did force more turnovers, which can be a major momentum swing during the game. So look for that. If we have a plus margin in turnovers (forcing more turnovers than having) then we should be in a good position to win.

Overall, the stats are saying it'll be a BYU win, but that it'll be somewhat close. However, if we take into account the intangibles with the stats, BYU has a better margin of victory. As a football fan I would love to see a close, hard fought game. But as a BYU fan, it would be nice to win in a blowout so we have more assurance going into next year. Either way, good luck to both teams; and always GO COUGS!