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Three Matchups to Watch in the 2021 New Mexico Bowl

UTEP needs to win three key battles should they be able to walk away with the most beautiful and culturally-significant trophy in college athletics.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 24 New Mexico Bowl Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Our preview content for Saturday’s PUBG Mobile New Mexico Bowl continues as we take a look at the matchups that will determine whether the Fresno State Bulldogs or the UTEP Miners walk away wit the “Winner winner chicken dinner”. Fresno State heads into the contest as an 11 point favorite on DraftKings*, but if UTEP is able to win these key matchups then they could be in position to walk away with an upset and deliver El Paso its first bowl victory since a 14-7 win over Ole Miss in the 1967 Sun Bowl.

*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.


Field Position Battle

In a game with two strong defenses being showcased, field position could make a drastic difference for both offenses. Thanks to turnovers and forcing punts early in drives, Fresno State has been excellent at starting their offensive drives with good field position. If seasonal trends hold true, the Bulldogs will have a 3.3 yard advantage in field position on the start of each drive relative to the Miners’ average starting field position. If we assume approximately 13 drives from Fresno State’s offense in this game then that’s a roughly 43 yard advantage for the Bulldogs. UTEP may need to continue to rely on explosive plays in the passing game to make up for this disadvantage.

Third and Fourth Down

NCAA Football: Rice at Texas El Paso Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

Not only does Fresno State out-perform UTEP in average field position, they’re also substantially more efficient on third and fourth downs. Fresno State’s defense is 29th in the country in success rate on third and fourth down, while UTEP’s offense is just 97th in the country in converting on these crucial downs (39%). While UTEP’s defense is very strong on late downs, Fresno State’s offense is much better on these downs than the Miners offensive unit. The Bulldogs are converting on 44% of their third and fourth down attempts.

Running Backs vs Back Seven

Both UTEP and Fresno State’s rushing games have struggled to get going throughout this season. Both teams have offensive lines who have failed to get the job done up front as both programs reside in the bottom 23 teams in the country in offensive line yards per carry. Even in scenarios where the offensive lines are creating holes for their backs, the running backs for both teams have struggled to generate big runs past the first level of the defense with consistency this season. The analytics give Fresno State a slight edge in these rushing statistics, but UTEP’s defense is ranked 16th in the country in defensive rushing success rate so the two teams should be pretty evenly matched in this bowl game. Can one of the two programs break through this Saturday and really establish the run?