Miners put finishing touches on New Mexico Bowl gameplan for Fresno State


ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KTSM) — UTEP has been in Albuquerque a little over 24 hours ahead of the 2021 New Mexico Bowl, and the red carpet has been rolled out for the Miners as they get set to play Fresno State on Saturday.

UTEP held their final practice of the season on Thursday inside the University of New Mexico’s indoor facility. The Miners followed that up with a visit to a local elementary school to speak with fourth graders, as part of the community involvement portion of the bowl game’s festivities. On Thursday night, UTEP got their first look at their opponent, Fresno State, at the team dinner at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

“The bowl experience, overall, has been pretty amazing,” said UTEP senior fullback Forest McKee. “Going to the gift suite, all the food has been incredible, and the time to spend with all my teammates in a different atmosphere that we haven’t been able to spend in a long, long time with each other has been really rewarding.”

The Miners (7-5) are playing in their first bowl game since 2014, and it is requiring a balancing act of enjoying the bowl game experience — something this team fully deserves — while also preparing for Saturday’s football game against a very good Bulldogs (9-3) team. Beating Fresno State would be UTEP’s first bowl win since 1967, and it would go long ways in completing the turnaround of a program that has been building under head coach Dana Dimel the past four years.

Postseason success is the ultimate measuring stick in today’s game of college football, and it has been missing at UTEP for 54 years.

“I think the momentum into next season is gigantic with a bowl win,” said Dimel. “But it’s also about the guys understanding that the preparation that we’ve done can pay off. It can pay off with our guys playing their very best game of the season. That’s the effort we are going to have to have to get a win on Saturday. It will take our very best effort of the season, because in my opinion, we are playing — if not the best — one of the two best teams in the Mountain West Conference.”

UTEP returns the vast majority of their roster next season, including starting quarterback Gavin Hardison, wide receiver Jacob Cowing, running backs Deion Hankins and Ronald Awatt, as well as defensive end Praise Amaewhule and defensive back Dennis Barnes, just to name a few.

“[Fresno State] is a really good team,” said Hardison. “They’ve played really well this year and have beat some really good teams. This would be big for our program moving forward and just building our confidence.”

UTEP is currently an 11.5-point underdog with kickoff set for 12:15 p.m. on Saturday at University Stadium. The game will be broadcasted nationally on ESPN.

For local and breaking news, sports, weather alerts, video and more, download the FREE KTSM 9 News App from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.