BYU football: Cougars roll to New Mexico Bowl victory over UTEP
UTEP coach Mike Price was impressed with Heaps. "I like him a whole lot. He didn't play like a freshman, he played like a veteran," he said. "He commanded the offense really well."
BYU rushed for 219 yards as freshman Joshua Quezada gained a game-high 101 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries while JJ Di Luigi had 98 yards and a TD on 20 carries.
"Being able to run the football and be able to protect our quarterback was the difference in the game," Mendenhall said.
Heaps also gave credit to the Cougar offensive line, which gave up zero sacks against UTEP.
"We have the best offensive line in the country," he said. "They've carried us all year long."
The end of the first half and the opening minutes of the second half played key roles in BYU's victory. Late in the second quarter, after UTEP intercepted Heaps, the Miners reached the Cougar 3-yard line but were turned away by the BYU defense as time expired. The Cougars held a 31-10 lead at halftime.
Then, to open the third quarter, the BYU offense drove 75 yards in 6:36 to extend their advantage to 38-10.
"When they came out and put together a fine drive (to start the third quarter), it was difficult to take," Price said.
For Mendenhall, the defense's overall effort was gratifying. He took over as defensive coordinator in early October after firing Jaime Hill, a move that sparked the entire team.
"These guys have a special place in my heart," Mendenhall said of the defense. "I made a very difficult decision eight weeks ago. Our team was struggling and our culture was failing. I didn't really know what else to do, other than immerse myself in the coaching and lock arms with our team and try to provide an example and let them know I was with them. To see them respond the way they have, I don't think they've played a poor game since then."
And they nearly erased memories of that abysmal 1-4 start.
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