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Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Get to know UTEP

Alex Nicolas of Miner Rush gives us a preview of the UTEP Miners in the New Mexico Bowl

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Utah State and UTEP are taking on each other in the New Mexico Bowl. Get your fix about the Miners from Miner Rush.

Connor Comeau: Sean Kugler has done a tremendous job as head coach, with him going 7-5 this year after going 2-10 last year. What has been the biggest key to this turnaround?

Alex Nicolas: Usually when you see an improvement like that it's either one player or a group of new players, or a new scheme, but with the fighting Sean Kugler's it's been the fully purchased embrace of his wanted culture by the players .The seniors fully bought in to the blue collar football approach Kugler wants UTEP to be, and it's really been all about hard work in all phases of preparation, and being mentally tough. Since day one of camp, UTEP hasn't had a bad practice, off the field issue, or any other type of distraction, and this team has really come together from an emotional to chemistry standpoint .X's and O's wise the offensive line has been a huge key in keeping the chains moving, and the running game on par by dominating the time of possession, and wearing down opponents. It also helps to have a game changing back like Aaron Jones run for over 1,000 yards. Defensively, UTEP probably has the deepest of personnel options in all of Conference USA, and second year defensive coordinator Scott Stoker has his unit rolling with his aggressive 4-2-5 scheme .All of these aspects came together along with very minimal injuries to key guys, and is why UTEP has one of the better turnarounds from a year ago.

CC: With the USU run defense as good as it can be, how do the Miners prepare and be able to get the run game going?

AN: I think this will fall upon the offensive line more than anything. UTEP has the depth at running back to mix things up and keep Utah State off balance in terms of personnel chess matches, but plain and simply put: the offensive line has to get after it. Kugler and his staff don't seem to get cute with things or have a bag full of tricks. I would expect UTEP to follow the same formula they have used in the run game all season. Kugler is a blue collar guy, so it's just about working hard to improve on what Utah State's defense does well, and what UTEP's offensive line doesn't do well in the run game. What they have probably been working on the most from a preparation standpoint is offensive line execution from the smallest of details from technique to scheme execution.

CC: Now to the passing game. We know the Aggies are down to their 4th string QB, but Myers has done well in the games he's played in this year. What is going to be the key to slowing him down?

AN: I think shutting down the run/pass read option game, and also the jet sweeps with JoJo Natson should be main keys for UTEP's defensive game plan when it comes to minimizing the pass threat. The Miners will go with lots of man on the outside so Natson and Hunter Sharp will see a ton of one-on-one matchups if they are lined up there. But if UTEP can shut the run down and force second and third down and long situations, I like UTEP's chances in slowing down the passing attack with their pass rush and play calling schemes. I think that the fact of who Myers faced once he took over gave him confidence, but I feel UTEP has a respectable enough defense to show him looks, speed, and athleticism he has never seen before or yet in his high upside college career. So as much as stuffing the run actions he has at his disposal, mixing up coverages, blitzes, and overall pre-snap looks are also huge marks of execution from UTEP in making the Utah State pass game non-existent.

CC: What is your prediction for the game?

AN: UTEP may come out with energy, but I really like Utah State's front seven. UTEP's defense keeps them in it, but Utah State grabs some late momentum thanks to their defense. Utah State 27, UTEP 16.