After a week of conditioning and time in the weight and training rooms, the BYU Cougars begin their on-field preparations this week for their New Mexico Bowl showdown with the UTEP Miners.
Typically, the BYU coaches would primarily spend this week of bowl preparation as a kind of a spring practice, working with a lot of the non-starters, underclassmen and redshirts to help them develop their technique and fundamentals.
There may be less of that this week though, since the Cougars started and played so many freshman in 2010 that need the work themselves, and because the New Mexico Bowl is the first bowl of the season on Dec. 18. The early timing of the game in Albuquerque compresses the normal schedule just a bit.
The bowl’s date could also make things tough on the BYU student-athletes, since they will be making final preparations for the game next week and traveling to New Mexico while final exams are wrapping up on campus.
Early Look at the UTEP Miners
Both BYU and UTEP finished the 2010 regular season at 6-6, but arrived there in opposite fashion.
The Miners opened strong, winning five of their first six games, only to crash and burn at the end of the season, losing five of their last six. Their late-season slump left them with a disappointing 3-5 Conference USA record.
On the year, they picked up wins over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, New Mexico State, New Mexico, Memphis, Rice and SMU. They lost to Houston, UAB, Tulane, Marshall, Arkansas and Tulsa.
UTEP’s only victory outside of the friendly confines of the Sun Bowl happened at New Mexico’s University Stadium, the venue that hosts the New Mexico Bowl.
The first thing that stands out about the Miners is their inability this year to stop the run. That problem should play right into the hands of the Cougar offense. Since getting things together offensively over the final five games of the season, BYU is averaging 208 yards per game on the ground.
UTEP finished the year 90th in the country in rush defense, giving up 181 yards per game. In their next-to-last regular season game, the Miners gave up a whopping 326 yards on the ground to Arkansas in a 58-21 beat down from the Razorbacks.
The Miners also finished 80th in total defense. By comparison, the Cougars finished 33rd in total defense after being one of the worst defenses in the nation statistically following their first five games.
BYU shouldn’t have to change things up much to move the ball in this game. The Cougars have relied heavily on the run game and built the passing game off of their success on the ground.
However, given the progress of Jake Heaps over the second half of the season, the seasoning he developed in the Utah game and two weeks of prep time to get ready for this game, Cougar fans may finally see the playbook opened wide for the freshman in this game. Barring catastrophic events, BYU should be able to move the ball and put up plenty of points.
It doesn’t look real good for UTEP on offense either.
The Miners are 72nd in the nation in total offense, averaging 371 yards per game, and are 70th in scoring offense, putting up just over 26 points per contest.
UTEP will rely on senior quarterback Trevor Vittatoe (6-2, 220 Sr.) to carry the load against BYU. He is the school’s all-time career record holder for career passing yards and total offense, but has thrown for a pedestrian 209 yards per game this year and has completed just 55 percent of his passes.
The Miners are averaging just under 150 yards on the ground, with Joe Banyard (6-0, 205 Sr.) and Donald Buckram (5-10, 195 Jr.) carrying most of the load. Buckram set a school record with 1,594 yards in 2009, but has been held to just 340 yards in an injury-plagued season.
BYU will counter with a defense that has been very stingy over the past several weeks. The Cougars have been terrific against the run and since a 31-3 loss at TCU on Oct. 16, are giving up just 12 points per game.
There is no reason to believe that the BYU defense will do anything but continue its superb performance into the post season. It’s hard to see the Miners getting much started against Bronco’s defense.
Future BYU Football Schedules
We have added a new tab at the top of our site entitled “Football Schedules.” As BYU continues to put together its future schedules as an independent, we will be keeping you up to date on those games—so check out this new addition.
Stay tuned tomorrow, we will have more exciting developments on Deep Shades of Blue!