Who: UTEP (7-5) v Fresno State (9-3)
When: Saturday, December 18, 11:15AM PT
Where: University Stadium, Albuquerque, NM
How to Watch: Game is broadcast on ESPN
After a whirlwind two weeks that saw Kalen DeBoer depart to Washington along with multiple assistants, QB Jake Haener enter and then leave the transfer portal, and Jeff Tedford return for his second stint as head coach, now the team must prepare for a bowl game against UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl. Let’s take a look at what the Dogs need to get their 10th win for the third time since 2017.
For older fans, UTEP should be at least moderately familiar. Fresno State and UTEP shared a conference from 1992-2005 in the WAC, although this will be their first meeting in the postseason. Dana Dimel’s Miners started the season very well at 6-1 before fading down the stretch to 7-5, but they can still be dangerous. Quarterback Gavin Hardison and receiver Jacob Cowing have led the charge on offense. Hardison has not been the most dynamic, completing only 56% of his passes with 12INTs, but the completed passes normally find Jacob Cowing’s hands. He has more than twice the receiving yards of anyone else on the team to go along with 7 touchdown catches. He will prove to be a challenge for the defensive secondary of Fresno State
On defense, the name for Bulldog fans to know before Saturday is Praise Amaewhule. The pass rusher has been a huge problem for opposing offensive lines. He’s an expert at getting into the backfield and generating pressure, generating 12 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks this season. Fresno’s offensive line has not been great at keeping pressure off Jake Haener this year, but they will need to be at their best on Saturday.
Previewing the Bulldogs:
It really does remain to be seen which Fresno State team shows up Saturday. RB coach Lee Marks has been tabbed as the interim HC, and Kirby Moore will probably be getting his audition as OC in the bowl. The coaches have been very cagey about who will be starting at QB in the bowl. When Haener entered into the transfer portal, it was assumed that Jaylen Henderson would be taking the starting reps. Now with Haener back, do the coaches reward Henderson for the time he put in, or does Haener step right back in? Added to questions about the coaching staff, most Bulldog fans aren’t exactly sure what will happen on Saturday. Fresno State truly does have the talent advantage, and has been the much stronger team this season, but bowl games can get strange.
If I had to guess, I’d say that Haener does get the start, and Moore keeps the offense as similar as it has been. I’m sure that everyone wants to send the seniors out with a win to get back to that double digit win level once again to set the table for a strong 2022 season back under Tedford.
Betting Info and Projections:
(Betting info courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook) 19 available lines- Fresno State -11.5 O/U 52
Draftkings has Fresno State as a strong favorite, currently favored by 11.5 points. Various alternate lines all have the Bulldogs favored by at least one touchdown, and by as many as 17 points.
Looking at the other projections, everyone believes that the Dogs should win relatively easily, even with the coaching turnover. Bill Connelly has Fresno as an 81% favorite and a 15.3 point projected spread, while ESPN’s own FPI has an 80% projection for Fresno State and an 11.5 point spread. Two touchdowns definitely does seem like the most logical conclusion to this one, as Jake Haener and the offense are just too much to contain, and the opportunistic secondary is able to take the ball away from the Miners enough to keep them quiet. Getting that elusive 10th win should be very doable, and will be a great capper on the 2021 campaign. My prediction for the game is-