The Utah State Aggies and the UTEP Miners are getting ready to square off in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Saturday. But before that happens, here is a look a some of the key matchups ahead of kickoff.
1. Aaron Jones and Nathan Jeffery vs. Utah State Run Defense
It is no secret that the Aggies have one of the best run defenses in the country, ranking in the top 20 in the country in the last three years. They have constantly been put to the test this season, and that will hold true for the bowl game. Sophomore Aaron Jones and Senior Nathan Jeffery have been workhorses for the Miners this season, combining for 1,746 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns. The Miners rank 34th as a team in rushing yards per game with just under 213 yards per game. With a run defense as good as Utah State, it will be crucial for the Miners to try to establish something early or it could be a long day. Look for the Vigil brothers to come up big in this one. Neither of them may make it to 20+ tackles, but they will make their presence felt early in this one.
2. Matt Wells vs. Sean Kugler
Both coaches are going to have their teams fired up for this one. Utah State is going for their third bowl win in four years while UTEP will be seeking its first bowl win since 1967. These men have done great jobs at their respective schools. Matt Wells inherited a good football team from Gary Andersen 2013, and he has kept the train rolling. He went 9-5 in his first year at the helm and will be looking for win number 10, which would be the school's second 10-win season in three year. Sean Kugler has done a good job getting the Miners back to a bowl game. He took over last year, where he went 2-10 in his first year, but has vastly improved this year, having his team on the verge of an eight win season. It will be interesting to see these two head coaches square off.
3. Utah State vs. itself
This may seem like a silly one at first, but I say this in the sense of how the season has gone so far. They have had an up and down season, losing to Tennessee in the opener, then losing to Arkansas State a month later. They then beat in-state rival BYU before going 6-1 in conference play. It is the loss to Boise State that is still sour in the mouths of Aggie fans, players and coaches. This loss may influence how Utah State begins the game: will they start fast and strong, or will it be a slow start and trying to play catch up. If Utah State can get off to the fast start, this game may be over early. But if they get off to a slow start, we may see a very interesting game going into the fourth quarter.