Final score: BYU 52, UTEP 24
Offense: We'd wanted to see BYU get Jake Heaps rolling early, and did he ever. The freshman quarterback continued his hot streak from the last month of the regular season with another four-touchdown effort, and the running back tandem of J.J. DiLuigi and Joshua Quezada kept the chains moving late, combining for 199 yards on 35 carries and two second-half touchdowns. The Cougar offense rolled to 31 points on its first five possessions and never looked back en route to BYU's greatest scoring output in its bowl history. Grade: A
Defense: On UTEP's first five possessions, the Miners managed one first down: a 12-yard pass on their first play from scrimmage of the entire game on a drive that went nowhere. Even on UTEP's one scoring drive of those five, the drive went backwards 13 yards and resulted in a 52-yard field goal. Don't read too much into the Miners' eventual point total of 24 points; all three touchdowns came on deep passes and the last two were with the game well out of reach. Grade: B+
Coaching: Bronco Mendenhall faced a not-insignificant challenge in motivating his players to put the frustrations of a 6-6 regular season behind them and get focused for a 6-6 opponent from Conference USA in a bowl whose concept seems like some weird parody of serial excess, like CSI: Topeka or Backgammon With The Stars. But the Cougars came out firing and completely outclassed their opponent, and Jake Heaps avoided any regression to his early 2010 self in shredding the Miner defense. Grade: A
Offense: One of our keys to success for UTEP was seeing QB Trevor Vittatoe connect with star receiver Kris Adams for big plays, and on that front, the two most certainly delivered; Vittatoe found Adams for 153 yards on three catches -- all touchdowns -- over the course of the game. Problem was, none of them brought the Miners to within any less than 21 points, and if Adams wasn't burning his man deep, he wasn't doing much of anything ... and neither was the rest of the Miner offense. Joseph Banyard , a reserve tailback who saw his role diminish with the team over the course of the year, was the Miners' leading rusher -- with two carries for 11 yards. Vittatoe was sacked so often that the Miners ended up with negative rushing yardage. The bombs to Adams are cool, but that's not a sustainable offense. Grade: D
Defense: Obviously, giving up 31 points in the game's first five possessions isn't a formula for success, and the game was pretty well lost when it was 31-3. And yet, UTEP wasn't completely out of the game when the second half began, trailing 31-10 and carrying a bit of defensive momentum after forcing a punt and getting an interception on the last two possessions of the first half. Then the Cougars grinded out a 14-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a touchdown to open the second half, and that was pretty much that. 52 points given up is, pardon the term, indefensible. Grade: F
Coaching: It'd be easy to fault UTEP coach Mike Price for not getting any points out of his team's last drive of the first half; the Miners drove to BYU's 3-yard line and had five snaps in the red zone before time ran out on the half and BYU took its 31-10 lead into the locker room. Really, though, that's a call that has to be made; there's little difference between a 31-10 deficit and a 31-13 deficit after you've sent the message to your offense that you don't trust them to get a touchdown nine feet away from BYU's end zone. Sometimes, the right call doesn't work. So while we won't bury Price for that decision, it does seem as if he should catch a little heat for his team getting savaged on national television and continuing its bowl winless streat to 43 years. Maybe things go differently if Vittatoe connects with Adams on the final play of that first half and the Miners only have to make up a 14-point deficit at the break, but instead that number was 21, and it never got lower for the rest of the game.
Once BYU got off and rolling to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, it was pretty clear that UTEP wasn't going to overcome its deficiencies on both sides of the ball, and the remaining 45 minutes of dominance were little more than a foregone conclusion. It wasn't a good game by any stretch, the listed attendance of 32,000+ was about twice the amount of people actually in the stands, and the favored team rolled to an easy victory. All the same, it takes more nerve than we've got to really complain about a bowl game with 76 total points scored, especially one to kick the whole postseason off, so perhaps some charity is in order for this one. Grade: C-