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BYU's Bronco Mendenhall and UTEP's Mike Price met the media in Albuquerque today to preview their New Mexico Bowl meeting on December 18th.
The following recap of the press conference was provided by the New Mexico Bowl:
BYU HEAD COACH BRONCO MENDENHALL
Q: What are your initial thoughts on this match-up?
A: The matchup makes complete sense and I think it's very compelling. You have two teams that are 6-6 and have got their different paths, one having a great first part of the year, the other having a great second part of the year. You have a historical matchup from the old WAC days. You have a regional matchup and you have a common opponent match up with two fans bases that are passionate about supporting their team. I think when you add all that to it being the opening game of the college bowl season, the organizers of this did a good job. I think there are two teams who are hungry to play well and would love to finish their seasons rather than being 6-6, being 7-6. You get nice closure to one part of your year but you also get a nice start to your next year and so there is a lot to play for.
Q: How hard it is for you, having been recruited by Coach Price, to face off in a bowl game?
A: It is hard to explain. I remember I was playing junior college football and we were traveling, the only time we got to travel by airplane at Snow College. We were traveling to play Northeast Oklahoma and Tulsa, Coach Price and Coach Arslanian from Weber State were flying on the same plane. It was a charter plane and they were sitting next to my parents and I remember that like it was yesterday and I think about when was that. I'm 44 years old now. That's over 20 years ago. Coach Price has seen a lot of players since then and now to think I am coaching against Coach Price, it's bizarre.
Q: Is there a comfort factor to playing a bowl game in a place you are so familiar with?
A: The comfort part of it comes from all the fond memories of being here but in terms of the venue, I don't think that matters that much. UTEP played New Mexico at home here this year and we've been here many times so I think that part's a wash. I'm just a little bit nostalgic today. Normally when we come in to Albuquerque it's just to stay at the Marriott, play the game, then leave. I had a chance to actually drive around a little bit today and it's been fun.
Q: Is it a little bit of a relief not playing in Las Vegas again?
A: The Las Vegas Bowl has been a great experience in that BYU hadn't been to a bowl game in three years. We struggled and fought hard to get back to a bowl game in 2005 and then had a chance to go 11-2, 11-2, 10-3, 11-2 and it just worked out that the best teams we could play were in the Las Vegas Bowl and they treated us really well. They did a lot to accommodate us, changing venues and such each year. The main thing though is that BYU travels really well in support of the game. I think the Las Vegas Bowl really benefitted by having us there and we benefitted by having a chance to play there. This particular year it just seems right for not only Las Vegas but for BYU and the New Mexico Bowl to have us here. It just is the next step.
Q: After a very tough loss to Utah, how motivated are you to finish the season on a high note?
A: Really motivated. I think the Utah game and having controlled the game from beginning to end and not winning is playing into it. This particular team, from about the fifth or sixth game on, started to find themselves and I think we are going to run out of time before they reach their potential. So that clock ticking in addition to wanting to win the last game I think will end up in having a very motivated football team. That's what I've seen in practice so far.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what you expect out of UTEP?
A: I expect them to play really hard and be as motivated as we are to prove that maybe they are a better team than 6-6. I've had a chance to watch some of their games down the stretch and they were going in to score or at least to tie versus Tulsa. Tulsa's a good football team. They beat SMU at home and SMU plays for their conference championship. Coach Price, you just look at his history and what he has done at UTEP, you can tell they will be well prepared and have good schemes. I've seen it on film so I think you'll get good coaching in the game and two motivated teams with an intriguing matchup. I think it's going to be a great game.
Q: BYU travels well but with UTEP being so close, who do you expect to have more fans?
A: I would hope BYU. We had sold out the Las Vegas Bowl every year until the last year we went and I'm not sure if I was a fan that I would have gone to that one since it was so cold and windy. But wherever BYU goes, the bowl seems to benefit so I'd be very surprised if we don't travel really well. I think the fan base has embraced this team and its resurgence. I think they've admired the work we've put in to return to postseason play and I think the support will be strong.
UTEP HEAD COACH MIKE PRICE
Opening Statement: It's great to be here. The opportunity to play in this game is great but it is really perfect for our school , friends and fans to be able to come to the game. Tickets are going well and we're going to have a great crowd.
Q: How do you think you match up with BYU?
A: They are pretty hot right now. They might be one of the hottest teams in college football. Their freshman quarterback (Jake Heaps) has really turned it on lately and he's not a new freshman anymore. He's got 12 games under his belt so he knows how to play. They are huge up front and their backs are going to be hard to bring down. It is going to be a challenge I think for our defense. We've got to make plays on offense. We are healthier now. We're getting better as a team. We've got some of our offensive linemen back and I think our running back will be back. Our quarterback will be back. I think we will be as healthy as we've been for probably six games. The thing about it is we are really excited and we want to be here. That's the beauty about this game and I think BYU feels the same way. We've got something to prove.
Q: What are your thoughts about coaching against a former recruit?
A: It's amazing isn't it? He was 18-19 years old and his brother was on my team at Weber State and they were playing in a bowl game in Tulsa. We didn't have the rules like we do now so I just jumped on the team plane with him, bought a ticket from the boosters club and went to Tulsa to watch the game because I was trying to get a bunch of players off their team. I sat with his parents, got to know them and I got an offensive tackle and defensive back out of the deal. Not him, but I did pretty good. Now all of a sudden he grew right up in front of me and hopefully not past me. I still got a little gas in the tank.
Q: What does it mean for UTEP as a program to be back in a bowl?
A: It means a lot. It gives you another spring ball, 15-20 more practices for our young guys and we've been using it for our young players to build on for the future. But also, it is a pride thing and its been five years for us. We don't have anybody on the team that's been to a bowl game and that's not good. We're going out the right way and we want to go out the right way with a win.
Q: Do you feel like New Mexico is almost like home?
A: Yeah, we played pretty well in New Mexico this year and we started our year out in Socorro, beautiful downtown Socorro. We have our camp at New Mexico Tech and it is a great place to have it. They are just wonderful. Of course we played New Mexico State and then of course we came up here and played the Lobos in a pretty good game. I thought the Lobos were playing pretty good then.
Q: What kind of game do you expect to see?
A: Well I would have said an offensive struggle between the two teams because we traditionally move the ball real effectively and so do they. But they are down offensively and so are we in the statistics so I think it is going to be more of a defensive struggle. As soon as I say that, it will be 50-49.
Q: After a rough finish to the season, how motivated are your kids to turn it around?
A: I think that when we got the bid and Jeff (Siembieda, Executive Director, New Mexico Bowl) was there, the whole team was there at the press conference. They jumped up and gave him a standing ovation. It was real. There was so much enthusiasm. There were almost tears from some of our guys because this is where we wanted to go and where our fans wanted to go. We're going to show up with as many El Paso fans as we can.