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PROVO -- BYU will be looking to prove to the nation, and themselves, that they are better than a 6-6 team when they lineup against UTEP in the first bowl game of the season.
"We feel that in our hearts and from the last few games we've played that we are not a 6-6 team," said running back JJ DiLuigi. "We didn't reach our abilities till mid-season and we just want to show what we have to offer."
"There's a lot of excitement seeing how we have the opportunity to play in a bowl game and I feel that we have the desire to make this game a statement game," commented defensive back Brandon Bradley. "Our season didn't turn out as well as we expected it would be and we feel that we're a lot better than a 6-6 team. We feel that this is a game we can make a statement to all those who know us and show what we're really about."
The Cougars are ready to hit the gridiron again after a disheartening 17-16 loss to the University of Utah. Bradley was the center of a controversial play after he fumbled the ball on a potentially game-ending interception. To the dismay of BYU fans, the ruling on the field was confirmed after some deliberation by referees. Utah scored on the ensuing drive. BYU ended up losing the game on a blocked field goal attempt.
"I feel that the word disappointment is the feeling that we had after the game," said Bradley. "We were sad, but we were also proud with the way we played as a team. It's one of those things that you know it's a game we should win. When it comes down to a play of one missed assignment it hurts a lot more, but at the same time it's something we can be proud of. We're proud of the progress we've made throughout the season and it's something we're looking to carry on into this next game."
BYU will focus on exploiting both UTEP's run and pass defense which is ranked 90th and 72nd respectively. The three-fold running attack of Di Luigi, Bryan Kariya and Joshua Quezada is seeking to establish dominance against the Miners after a mediocre performance against Utah. The three were contained to just 80 rushing yards combined.
After a week of conditioning the running backs, as well as the rest of the Cougar squad, are getting ready physically and mentally for the game.
"We're working on getting back in our rhythm. (Monday) was an exciting day of getting back into throwing the ball after a week of conditioning," DiLuigi pointed out. "We're moving fast and the defense was flying around so we didn't lose a lot of momentum. We're trying to do what we can to stay focused and go out there and reach our potential."
"It's a great honor to be part of the program and I hope that in the future I can become one of those players that can be depended on," said freshman tight end Devin Mahina. "I feel that I've contributed a lot in the past season and so the coaches know I'm willing and able to make plays. I want to show that even though we're young we can still play with the older kids."
BYU and UTEP are no strangers to each other. Before BYU moved to the Mountain West Conference and UTEP moved to Conference USA, they were fierce competitors in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). BYU has a 28-7-1 record against UTEP and has won 25 of the last 27 matchups between the two schools.
In their last bout which took place in 1998, the Cougars dominated on both sides of the ball and pulled a 31-14 victory over the Miners. Players on today's BYU team would have still been playing backyard ball as BYU playmakers Ronnie Jenkins and Kevin Feterik were stars at the running back and quarterback position.
"It doesn't' matter what bowl game, we're just exciting to be in one. We're excited to get that rivalry again against UTEP. I heard earlier today that it was quite the rivalry," said Di Luigi.
"We are anxious to participate in the postseason and kick off the bowl season with UTEP at the New Mexico Bowl," said BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall. "Coach Price is a very successful coach, and UTEP and BYU have a long history as former conference opponents that fans from both schools can renew and enjoy."