ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KTSM) — UTEP (7-5, 4-4 Conference USA) will play in their first bowl game since 2014 on Saturday when they take on Fresno State (9-3, 6-2 Mountain West) in the 16th annual New Mexico Bowl on in Albuquerque. The Miners are looking to end one of the nation’s longest bowl win droughts, standing at 54 years (1967) against the Bulldogs with kickoff set for 12:15 p.m. MT. The game will be played at University Stadium and will be televised on ESPN.

KTSM 9 Sports on the Road is with the Miners in Albuquerque and was live throughout the day on Friday for bowl game festivities. Andy Morgan and Colin Deaver preview the matchup:

KTSM 9 News at 10 p.m.

KTSM 9 News at 6 p.m.

KTSM 9 News at 5 p.m.

KTSM 9 News at Noon

Game Preview (Courtesy: UTEP Athletics)

UTEP (7-5, 4-4 Conference USA) will face Fresno State (9-3, 6-2 Mountain West) in the 16th annual PUBG MOBILE New Mexico Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 18 in Albuquerque. The Miners and Bulldogs will kick off at 12:15 p.m. MT and will be played at University Stadium (37,457 capacity). The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.

Fans can tune into “The Home of UTEP Football” 600 ESPN El Paso and the UTEP Miners app with “The Voice of the UTEP Miners” Jon Teicher calling the action, former UTEP QB Mike Perez providing analysis and Mando Medina roaming the sidelines.

Tickets to the PUBG MOBILE New Mexico Bowl are $40 each and are on sale now by visiting www.UTEPMiners.com/tickets. Fans are encouraged to purchase the tickets directly through UTEP to ensure that they are seated in the UTEP sections. Tickets can be managed via Print at Home or Mobile. Fans can also call (915) 747-UTEP or email tickets@utep.edu with questions.

“We are facing an outstanding opponent in Fresno State and we are thrilled to be renewing an old Western Athletic Conference rivalry,” UTEP Head Coach Dana Dimel said. “Our guys have been locked in all year and they’re excited about getting another opportunity to play and leaving it all out on the field in Albuquerque.  We look forward to a large contingent of Miner fans traveling down I-25 with us.”

Despite falling in their final regular season contest of 2021 at UAB, the Miners were one of the nation’s most improved teams this season, posting seven victories after finishing 3-5 in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. UTEP finished fourth in Conference USA’s Western Division. The Miners posted seven victories in a season for just the seventh time in 53 years, and for the 19th time in 104 years of football. UTEP also notched four C-USA victories for the fourth time since joining the league in 2005.

All-C-USA first team wide receiver Jacob Cowing has been an offensive juggernaut, tallying 1,330 receiving yards and eight total touchdowns (seven rec., one rush). Cowing’s 1,330 yards ranks sixth nationally and second in C-USA, while it’s the second best single-season performance in school history. Gavin Hardison has thrown for 2,966 yards, the most by a UTEP quarterback in over 10 years.

Defensively, the Miners rank 31st nationally in total defense, and rates second in C-USA. Praise Amaewhule, an All-C-USA first team selection, harassed offenses, tallying 5.5 sacks (tied ninth in C-USA), three forced fumbles (tied third in C-USA), 13.0 tackles for loss (ranked sixth in C-USA) and seven pass breakups (tied ninth in C-USA). Jadrian Taylor leads the Miners with 6.5 sacks, ranking fifth in C-USA. Dy’vonne Inyang missed a few games late in the season, but made his return for the final two regular-season contests. Inyang led the way with three interceptions (tied third in C-USA), and has tallied seven pass breakups. All-C-USA second team performer Breon Hayward led the Miners with 97 tackles (tied fourth in C-USA), while fellow linebacker Tyrice Knight gathered 87 stops (tied 13th in C-USA). David Perales, a 6-3, 245-pound senior DE and Kevin Atkins, a 6-2, 307-pound DT, each have posted 7.0 sacks. The Bulldogs overall recorded 29 sacks.

Fresno State made national headlines following the regular season, as Kalen DeBoer accepted the head coaching job at Washington. Running back coach Lee Marks will assume the position as interim head coach. Jake Haener, after entering the transport portal, returned to the program and is listed as the no. 1 QB on the Bulldogs’ depth chart heading into Saturday’s contest. Haener put up big numbers in 2021. The 6-1 senior threw 32 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He threw for 3,810 yards on 303-of-449 passing. Haener added three rushing scores. Ronnie Rivers leads the run attack with 788 yards and five scores. Jalen Cropper, a 6-foot junior, leads the Bulldogs in yards receiving (827), receptions (76) and receiving scores (11). Josh Kelly, a 6-1 sophomore, hauled in 50 passes for 768 yards and three touchdowns. Junior DB Evan Williams leads the defense with 89 tackles and three interceptions.

Fresno State’s pass offense ranks ninth in FBS, averaging 330.1 yards passing per game, while ranking 14th in total offense (464.7 ypg) Defensively, the Bulldogs rank 18th in FBS with 22 forced turnovers, rank sixth with six fumble recoveries, and 14th in tackles for loss (7.2 TFL per game).

The Bulldogs finished the campaign 9-3 and 6-2 in Mountain West action. Fresno State got off to a 4-1 start, falling at no. 11 Oregon, 31-24 on Sept. 4. Following a 27-24 loss at Hawai’i, the Bulldogs responded with their second three-game winning streak of the season that included a 30-20 win at no. 21 San Diego State on Oct. 30. The third loss of the season came against Boise State, 40-14, on Nov. 6. Fresno State closed out the regular season with victories against New Mexico 34-7, and at San Jose State 40-9.

UTEP (7-5, 4-4 C-USA) vs. Fresno State (9-3, 6-2 C-USA)

Date: Saturday, Dec. 18

Time: 12:15 p.m. MT

Location: Albuquerque, N.M. (39,224)

Venue: University Stadium

Twitter Updates: @UTEPFB

TV: ESPN

PxP: John Schriffen

Analyst: Rene Ingoglia

Sideline: Stormy Buonantony

Radio: 600 ESPN El Paso

PxP: Jon Teicher

Analyst: Mike Perez

Sideline: Mando Medina

Longhorn Distributing Countdown to Kickoff: 11 a.m. MT

Hunt Companies Locker Room Report: Immediately following the game

Miners Notables

SERIES HISTORY

Fresno State leads the all-time series with UTEP 8-3-1, although the Miners have won two of the last three matchups. In the last meeting during the 2004 season, UTEP – under the direction of first-year head coach Mike Price – topped the Bulldogs in Fresno, 24-21. The last nine meetings between the teams came as joint members of the Western Athletic Conference.  UTEP and Fresno State also squared off three times as non-conference foes from 1938-40.

COMMON OPPONENTS

UTEP and Fresno State have had two common opponents this season – Boise State and New Mexico. The Miners lost at Boise State, 54-13, on Sept. 10 and beat New Mexico in the Sun Bowl, 20-13, on Sept. 25. The Bulldogs lost to the Broncos at home, 40-14, on Nov. 6, and beat the Lobos in Fresno, 34-7, on Nov. 13.

BOWL HISTORY

The Miners are making their 15th postseason appearance, and their first since 2014. UTEP is appearing in the New Mexico Bowl for the third time in 12 years after facing BYU in 2010 and Utah State in 2014. UTEP is 5-9 all-time in bowl games (0-2 in the New Mexico Bowl).  The Miners are seeking their first postseason victory since defeating Mississippi in the 1967 Sun Bowl, 14-7. UTEP has lost its last six bowl games.

DIMEL IN BOWLS

UTEP Coach Dana Dimel is leading a team into a bowl game for the first time as a head coach. He has coached in 13 bowl games overall, including 12 as an assistant at Kansas State (1993 Copper Bowl, 1994 Aloha Bowl, 1995 Holiday Bowl, 1997 Cotton Bowl, 2008 Las Vegas Bowl, 2010 Pinstripe Bowl, 2012 Cotton Bowl, 2013 Fiesta Bowl, 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, 2015 Alamo Bowl, 2016 Liberty Bowl, 2016 Texas Bowl, 2017 Cactus Bowl). Dimel also coached in the 1991 Japan Bowl, a college football all-star game.

DIMEL VERSUS FRESNO STATE

UTEP’s Dana Dimel is 0-1 as a head coach against Fresno State. His 1997 Wyoming Cowboys lost to the Bulldogs in Fresno, 24-7. 

UTEP COACHES IN BOWLS

Dana Dimel becomes the 10th UTEP coach to lead the team to a bowl game, joining Mack Saxon (1937 Sun Bowl), Jack Curtice (1949 Sun Bowl), Mike Brumbelow (1950, 1954 & 1955 Sun Bowl), Ben Collins (1957 Sun Bowl), Bobby Dobbs (1965 & 1967 Sun Bowl), Bob Stull (1988 Independence Bowl), Gary Nord (2000 Humanitarian Bowl), Mike Price (2004 Houston Bowl, 2005 GMAC Bowl, 2010 New Mexico Bowl) and Sean Kugler (2014 New Mexico Bowl).     

DECEMBER FOOTBALL

UTEP is 6-10 all-time in games played in December. UTEP played eight non-bowl games in December during the 1923, 1938, 1948, 1950, 1963, 1973, 1985 and 2020 seasons. The Miners haven’t won a game in December since Dec. 30, 1967, a 14-7 victory over Mississippi in the Sun Bowl. UTEP is 2-6 in December bowls.

BOWL EXPERIENCE

Only one player on UTEP’s 2021 roster has experience playing in a bowl game. CB Walter Neil, Jr. transferred in from Kansas State this season. He saw action in a reserve capacity in the 2019 Liberty Bowl versus Navy, where he was credited with one solo tackle.

COMING HOME

UTEP has three New Mexico natives on its 2021 roster.  Starting QB Gavin Hardison hails from Hobbs. FB Forest McKee is from Las Cruces. LS Connor Villalpando, who is redshirting this season, is from Roswell.

MINERS VERSUS THE MWC

UTEP is 8-10 versus MWC schools since the WAC split following the 1998 season. The Miners are 1-3 against MWC opponents under coach Dana Dimel (52-24 loss at UNLV in 2018, 37-21 loss to Nevada in 2019, 54-13 loss at Boise State in 2021, 20-13 win over New Mexico in 2021).  

GUNNING FOR EIGHT

With a victory in the New Mexico Bowl, UTEP would have eight wins in a season for the first time since 2005 and for only the 11th time in school history. The Miners tallied a school-record 10 victories in 1988.  They posted nine wins in 1956 and eight on eight occasions (1948, 1949, 1953, 1954, 1965, 2000, 2004, 2005).

LOOKING FOR 3,000

Gavin Hardison is 34 yards away from hitting 3,000 yards passing in 2021. Hardison would be the first 3,000-yard passer since 2009 when Trevor Vittatoe threw for 3,308 yards (third best in program history during a single-season). Jordan Palmer holds the school record with 3,595 yards in 2006. Prior to that season, Palmer threw for 3,503 yards – second best all-time in program history. Hardison’s 2,966 yards in 2021 currently ranks eighth on the program’s all-time single-season passing yards’ list.

REELING IN RECEPTIONS

Jacob Cowing has hauled in 67 receptions in 2021. His total ranks fourth best on the program’s single-season list. Chuck Hughes tallied 80 receptions in 1965, ranking second, while Lee Mays ranks third with 70 catches in 2000. Johnnie Lee Higgins Jr. leads the all-time list with 82 receptions in 2006.

SECOND-MOST RECEIVING YARDS

Jacob Cowing has registered 1,330 yards receiving, ranking second on the program’s single-season receiving yards’ list. Chuck Hughes holds the school record with 1,519 yards set during the 1965 season. Cowing needs 190 receiving yards to set the school’s single-season record.

THE RETURN OF INYANG

Dy’vonne Inyang made his return to the lineup after being injured, staring at strong safety for the first time in two games against Rice, while also getting the nod at UAB. Inyang responded with 11 tackles, four pass breakups and an interception. Inyang leads the Miners with a trio of interceptions, and ranks fourth on the team with 49 tackles. Inyang is tied for the team lead with two other Miners with seven pass breakups.

MORE IN INYANG’S INT’S

Dy’vonne Inyang’s team-leading three interceptions is the most by a Miner in a season since Travaun Nixon had four in 2011. Inyang is ranked tied third in Conference USA with his three picks. MT’s Quincy Riley leads C-USA with five, while Rice’s Naeem Smith tallied four interceptions.   

A PAIR HITTING THE CENTURY MARK

UTEP starting linebackers Breon Hayward and Tyrice Knight have an opportunity to became the first pair of Miners to each tally 100 or more tackles in a season since 2005. Hayward just needs three tackles to reach the century mark, while Knight needs 13. Jeremy Jones (130 tackles) and Troy Collavo (112) were the last pair of Miners to do so.

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