5 Thoughts On The Gildan New Mexico Bowl

5 Thoughts and what's next on the Gildan New Mexico Bowl

Dec. 20 Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Utah State 21, UTEP 6
And You Care Because …After spotting UTEP an early 3-0 lead on a Jay Mattox field goal, Utah State never trailed beyond the opening quarter. QB Kent Myers got the Aggies on the board with a 48-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter, and the Miners never got closer than 14-6 in the second half. Utah State slammed the door on UTEP’s comeback bid, while locking up its third straight bowl victory, when RB Joe Hill plunged in from 11 yards out with 93 seconds left on the clock.
What Else? While the game was light on offensive execution, Utah State did roll up 279 balanced yards on the ground. Five different players, led by Myers, rushed for at least 34 yards, and three Aggies scored touchdowns.
- Miner RB Aaron Jones led all rushers with 88 yards. However, he needed 25 carries to pick up that real estate, testament to the job done by the Utah State D.
- As usual, JoJo Natson was the Aggies’ most explosive playmaker on offense. Utah State’s jackrabbit, rushed for 40 yards, caught two balls for 47 yards and returned three punts for 25 yards.
- Utah was just 5-of-20 on third-down tries, but did convert 3-of-4 on fourth downs.
Game Rating: D

1. Quarterbacks get injured all the time. And even when healthy, if they’re off, the whole team is going to suffer. But Utah State, as much as any other Group of Five school, understands the value of a nasty defense, and how it can trump whatever happens on the other side of the ball. It’s been well-documented that the Aggies are down to their fourth quarterback this season, a year that began with the promising return of Chuckie Keeton. Yet, the Mountain West’s version of Ohio State still found a way to win 10 games for just the second time in school history. This season would have been impossible if not for the play of a D that again flexed its muscles in the direction of UTEP this afternoon in Albuquerque. One of these years, Utah State is going to catch a break behind center and finally get a chance to showcase just how potent this program truly can be.

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Apparently there’s no need to pack a quarterback for a business trip. Normally a more balanced team, Utah State took advantage of a suspect Miners’ run defense, pounding away ad nauseum until cracks turned into Grand Canyon-sized gorges. In the end, the Aggies needed to throw the ball just twelve times total with their fourth quarterback of the year. The coaches called for 40 hand-offs to the tune of 279 yards, three touchdowns, and one punishing and public-flogging.

UTEP simply couldn’t keep pace because of a lack of threat through the air. A one-dimensional approach can work against equal talent, and it made for seven wins for the Miners this year, but it’ll never work against a solid defense like the Aggies. In keeping with the season, Utah State aptly loaded the box up, and wrapped itself into a gift of a Christmas-time Gildan New Mexico Bowl win.

3. Nice season, Sean Kugler. Now go out and either develop one of your young quarterbacks or lure a hotshot JUCO recruit to El Paso. Kugler engineered nice strides in his second season at his alma mater. But if UTEP is going to take another step forward, it has to get more production from a passing game that’s been about as consistent as it performed today versus Utah State. Jameill Showers always looked the part, but was a huge disappointment since transferring from Texas A&M to escape the enormous shadow of Johnny Manziel. It’s Texas, a breeding ground for gunslingers who know the nuances of high-powered passing games. Go sign one of them to ensure this bowl berth doesn’t wind up being an anomaly.

4. What’s next for Utah State
It all depends on the starting quarterback situation. Kent Myers showed enough to be the main man, but everyone else is coming back – maybe. Who’ll transfer? Who’ll be 100% healthy? The position could be the key to the Mountain West season. LaJuan Hunt proved he could handle himself in the backfield, and he’ll get more work with Joe Hill gone. The biggest positive is a potentially dominant offensive line with four starters returning, and a receiving corps that welcomes back deep threat Hunter Sharp and four of the top five targets.

Say goodbye to do-it-all linebacker Zach Vigil, but Nick Vigil is back along with Torrey Green to the corps. The secondary loses three starters – with corner Jalen Davis the lone returnee – while the line has to replace B.J. Larson on the outside and Elvis Kamana-Matagi inside. Both P Jason Bentrude and PK Nick Diaz are gone.

5. What’s next for UTEP
Jameill Showers UTEP career is over, and it’ll likely be up to 5-10 Mack Leftwich and 6-7 Garrett Simpson to fight it out for the starting quarterback gig. The offense will revolve around RB Aaron Jones, but the top three runners behind him are all done – depth will be a big area of concern – but the line won’t be a problem with four starters back and only losing left tackle Jerel Watkins. The passing game didn’t have any irreplaceable targets, but leading receiver Ian Hamilton is finished.

Three of the top five tacklers are gone, but three starters return to the front of the 4-2-5. The secondary will be the biggest problem this offseason with four of the five starters gone and only FS Devin Cockrell back. Alvin Jones is a keeper of a weakside linebacker, while Jimmy Musgrave will get the first look at the middle spot. Jay Mattox will handle all the kicking duties again.

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