The New Mexico Bowl may have seen some crazy endings the past few years, but this year’s game went against that script. Instead, Utah State (10-4, 6-2 Mountain West Conference) recorded just the second 10-win season in program history with its third straight bowl victory with a 21-6 victory over UTEP (7-6, 5-3 Conference USA).
UTEP opened the scoring in the first quarter with a field goal on the game’s opening possession, but Utah State later scored a touchdown in the first quarter when quarterback Kent Myers broke off a 48-yard touchdown run down the left sideline for the lead. The Aggies punched in a second touchdown in the third quarter with Nick Vigil pushing one in from three yards out to cap a 75-yard drive. UTEP would add a late field goal.
UTEP’s chances to get the ball back for one last chance to tie things up took a critical blow when a kickoff following the second field goal by Jay Mattox went out-of-bounds, setting Utah State up in good field position. UTEP burned a timeout before the field goal try, which meant the decision not to go for the onside kick was a little extra confusing with under three minutes to play remaining. Utah State simply let running back Joe Hill carry the team the rest of the way with some big runs to run clock, including a touchdown run with 1:33 to play for the knockout blow.
Heading into 2015 the first big question for Utah State will be how does quarterback Chuckie Keeton look? Keeton’s return to the field in 2014 did not go according to plan, as he never seemed to be playing at full speed after a knee injury ended the 2013 season for him. The knee acted up again early in 2014, but he has one more year of eligibility to play. It would be wise to have Utah State proceed with extreme caution with Keeton in order to make sure he is ready for the rigors of the 2015 season.
Enough cannot be said about the coaching job Utah State head coach Matt Wells did this season. The Aggies won 10 games using four different starting quarterbacks along the way. That included a bowl game victory that even saw Myers receive some brief medical attention.
UTEP will look to find a way to build on the momentum the second half of the season saw on the field. The Miners win five of their final seven games of the regular season, although they fell a couple of games shy of the division title. The start to the 2015 season could be rough with three consecutive road games against Arkansas, Texas Tech and New Mexico State. UTEP will look to replace some key position players like quarterback Jameil Showers and receivers Jarred Shaw and Ian Hamilton, but the bulk of the offense should be in place. The defensive secondary will be hit hard as well, but the front of the defense should largely in good shape.