New Mexico Bowl Mailbag Questions Ahead of UTEP vs. Fresno State
We're about 48 hours away from the PUBG Mobile New Mexico Bowl and Saturday's game between UTEP and Fresno State will be a huge one for Miner fans.
The Miners (7-5) are hoping to shatter a drought spanning over 54 years without a bowl win. On the other side, Fresno State (9-3) is vying to get to 10 wins this year without their head coach, as Kalen DeBoer left the program to become the next coach at Washington.
Before we get into a full game preview, let's answer some questions. Thanks to Mountain West Wire for the feature on getting to know the Miners.
Miner Mailbag ahead of Saturday
AB: Good news here! Miners will enter Saturday relatively healthy. Against UAB, they were without defensive end Josh Ortega and defensive tackle Tevita Tafuna. Safety Justin Prince seems doubtful, although the staff hasn't ruled him out. He has only played in five games this year. Even though the Miners are very tight-lipped on their injury report, I would bet on the Miners being mostly healthy for this game.
AB: El Paso is an easy 3.5-hour drive to Albuquerque. UTEP will need as many of the Miner faithful on Saturday as they can get. It's good to hear there will be a good student group represented at the game, along with the spirit crew.
AB: Through UTEP's first six games, quarterback Gavin Hardison threw for 250+ yards only once (vs. UNM, 293 yards). But in the final six games, Hardison threw for 200+ in each game and passed for over 250+ yards in four of the games. The running back corps hasn't been as productive compared to the start of the season. As a result, UTEP is throwing the ball more on offense. I could see UTEP going as much as 65% pass, 35% run on Saturday. However, don't be surprised if they present a balanced approach on offense against Fresno State.
Mountain West Wire: UTEP’s push toward bowl season definitely became one of college football’s best feel-good stories. What would you say has been the biggest overall difference in this year’s team that put the Miners over the top?
Adrian Broaddus: The biggest overall difference that put the Miners over the top is their defense vastly improving from last year. They have a stout pass rush and they have strong run stoppers on their defensive front. They are great at getting off the field on third downs. The defense has also shown sharpness in red zone defense. They also feasted on lesser-quality teams this year and capitalized on a favorable schedule.
MWW: One thing that’s hard to overlook is that the Miners took some lumps in the second half of this season. Was that mostly a matter of having faced tougher competition, like UTSA and UAB, or was there something else at play down the stretch?
AB: They definitely took their lumps and it 100% had to do with their schedule. They played six very beatable teams this year in non-conference play and the early part of the conference schedule (NMSU, Bethune-Cookman, New Mexico, Old Dominion, Southern Mississippi, Louisiana Tech) and stood no chance against the likes of UAB, FAU and UTSA.
MWW: Why is Jacob Cowing the best young wide receiver in college football that no one talks about?
AB: Great question, I’m trying to figure this one out, too. Jacob Cowing is a phenomenal wideout that’s hidden in West Texas. Cowing is dynamic, a game-changer and he earned the first team all-conference selection. Head coach Dana Dimel decided to open things up a bit more during the latter part of the season and his biggest goal was to get Cowing the ball as many times as possible during games.
MWW: Running back Deion Hankins had a great freshman year in 2020, so it’s hard not to notice that he wasn’t UTEP’s leading rusher this season. What has his 2021 been like and what kind of a role do you expect the Miners’ running game will play in the bowl?
AB: Hankins dealt with injuries over the course of this season. It really hurt the highly touted running back group for the Miners since they never had continuity at the position. They shuffled between Hankins, Ronald Awatt and Quardraiz Wadley, who was also hurt this year. I expect UTEP to present a run-by-committee approach, with Awatt leading the way and Hankins being more of a red zone back.
MWW: The Miners defense came into the season with some established talents like Praise Amaewhule and Keenan Stewart, but who’s had a breakout campaign on that side of the ball worth notice?
AB: Dy’vonne Inyang. Last year he played the nickel corner spot and this year, he moved over to safety. Inyang has anchored the secondary while Justin Prince has been out almost all year with an injury. His three interceptions lead the team in takeaways. He has been a difference-maker for this squad and he would’ve been an all-conference selection had he stayed healthy all year. Linebacker Breon Hayward is another standout candidate that had a breakout season. He led the Miners in tackles this year as well.
MWW: Lastly, how do you see the PUBG New Mexico Bowl matchup unfolding between UTEP and Fresno State?
AB: I think Fresno State pulls it off if they have quarterback Jake Haener, as most expect. UTEP is a year away from winning a bowl game. The Miners have to stay intact this offseason and bring back as many players as possible.