Nov 25, 2023; San Diego, California, USA; Fresno State Bulldogs quarterback Mikey Keene (1) throws a pass against the San Diego State Aztecs during the first half at Snapdragon Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Fresno State, minus head coach, stumbles into New Mexico Bowl

Fresno State finished the regular season with a three-game losing streak that ended its hopes for a potential 10-win season and a more prestigious bowl bid.

Now the Bulldogs go into the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday in Albuquerque without their coach for their matchup with New Mexico State.

Jeff Tedford announced on Dec. 1 that he was stepping away from the program to address personal health concerns. Assistant head coach and linebackers coach Tim Skipper will run the team for the bowl game.

In the second year of a five-year contract, Tedford led Fresno State (8-4) to an 8-1 start that included a win at Purdue in the season opener and a Top 25 ranking early in the season. Dating back to a nine-game winning streak that ended 2022, the Bulldogs were 17-1 before their late skid.

With Tedford away, Skipper has the responsibility of extracting a winning effort out of a team that ended the regular season by being blown out 33-18 at San Diego State on Nov. 25.

“The transition (to life without Tedford has) been as good as it can be because of the support staff and these players,” Skipper said. “Everybody is bought in. We all know we got a higher sense of urgency. We gotta have attention to detail and the people that surround me are awesome. It’s made everything a lot easier than it could be.”

Fresno State will need a big game from quarterback Mikey Keene, who threw for 2,596 yards and 21 touchdowns in the regular season despite missing time with a concussion. He was intercepted nine times.

Erik Brooks caught 55 passes for 711 yards and five touchdowns, leading four Bulldogs with at least 44 receptions. Malik Sherrod carried the load in the rushing game with 876 yards and nine scores on 152 carries.

Meanwhile, the Aggies (10-4) will try to cap off one of the best seasons in school history with their second win of 2023 in Albuquerque. On Sept. 16, they made the trip north from Las Cruces and stopped New Mexico 27-17.

After losing the following week at Hawaii, New Mexico State embarked on an eight-game winning streak that included the school’s first-ever win over an SEC team, a 31-10 thumping at Auburn on Nov. 18. The Aggies reached the Conference USA title game but lost 49-35 at Liberty.

Still, New Mexico State added to the resume of veteran coach Jerry Kill as one of the ultimate program-builders. He oversaw just the second 10-win season in program history and is in line for a contract extension that would include a raise from his current $600,000 deal.

A more immediate concern to Kill might be the status of starting quarterback Diego Pavia, who threw for 2,915 yards, rushed for 851 yards and had a hand in 32 touchdowns this year. However, Pavia left the game at Liberty with an upper-body injury.

“He is the toughest kid I’ve ever been around — and I have coached for 40 years,” said Kill, who was confident Pavia would be ready to face the Bulldogs.

Fresno State leads the all-time series 18-1, with the Aggies’ only win coming in 2011.

–Field Level Media

Dec 17, 2022; Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA; Brigham Young Cougars running back Christopher Books (2) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at University Stadium (Albuquerque). Mandatory Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

BYU stuffs SMU on 2-point conversion to win New Mexico Bowl

BYU cornerback Jakob Robinson tackled SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai on a two-point conversion with eight seconds left, stuffing the Mustangs and lifting the Cougars to a 24-23 win in their final game as an independent in the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, N.M., on Saturday night.

After Mordecai led SMU 88 yards in just under three minutes, the Mustangs (7-6) went for two and spread their receivers out. Mordecai tried to run it in but was brought down by Robinson on a fine one-on-one tackle well short of the goal line.

Slotting as the fourth-string quarterback entering camp, BYU’s Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters was the surprise starter and rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. He completed 7 of 12 passes for 47 yards with an interception.

Christopher Brooks rushed for a score, and linebacker Ben Bywater had 11 tackles and the first pick-six in New Mexico Bowl history for the Cougars (8-5), who will open play as a Big 12 member in 2023.

Mordecai was 27 of 37 passing for 218 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. SMU got scores from Roderick Daniels Jr. and Tyler Lavine (91 yards on 23 carries). Shanon Reid had an interception.

In the 17th New Mexico Bowl, SMU played uptempo and put points on the board at 12:01 when Collin Rogers booted a 35-yard field goal. But Maiava-Peters kept the ball on a fourth-down conversion and trotted into the end zone untouched from 1 yard out for a 7-3 BYU lead with just over six minutes left in the first quarter.

Mordecai hit Daniels for 9-yard score off the right side late in the first, but Maiava-Peters took the Cougars 66 yards on a 14-play drive that took 7:11 off the clock. Jacob Oldroyd’s 31-yard kick made it 10-10 with 3:34 left in the second quarter.

With SMU driving on its second series of the second half and inside the red zone, Bywater stepped in front of a bubble screen for an interception and dashed 76 yards to put the Cougars ahead 17-10 at 8:17.

Brooks padded the lead to 24-10 with a 22-yard run on BYU’s next drive, which went 82 yards in nine plays. But Lavine capped a 75-yard drive with a short touchdown run with 12:39 left to play.

Alden Tofa’s sack of Mordecai on fourth-and-2 forced a turnover on downs with 4:58 remaining in regulation before Mordecai marched the team down the field.

BYU is 17-22-1 in bowl games and 4-0 all-time against the Mustangs, who are 7-10-1 in the postseason.

–Field Level Media

Dec 18, 2021; Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA; Fresno State Bulldogs Jordan Mims (7) runs the ball in for a touchdown against the UTEP Miners defense in the first half at the 2021 New Mexico Bowl at Dreamstyle Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Mims’ three TDs lead Fresno State over UTEP in New Mexico Bowl

Jordan Mims ran for 165 yards and two short touchdowns and added a 22-yard scoring reception as Fresno State did just enough to beat Texas-El Paso 31-24 on Saturday afternoon in the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener, who weeks ago put his name in the transfer portal but reversed his tack when Jeff Tedford was hired as the next coach of the Bulldogs, started the game and passed for 286 yards and a score in the victory.

The Bulldogs (10-3) earned their first double-digit victory campaign since 2018 when they went 12-2 and won the Mountain West Conference championship.

Gavin Hardison passed for 252 yards and a touchdown but had two crucial fumbles in the fourth quarter for the Miners (7-6) in the loss. UTEP was denied its first bowl win since the 1967 Sun Bowl, extending the longest postseason victory drought in FBS that includes seven straight defeats in bowl games.

Fresno State drove the field on its opening possession, which culminated in Mims’ 2-yard TD run. Cesar Silva missed the PAT, keeping the score at 6-0 with 12:44 to play in the first quarter. UTEP answered on its first drive, with Trent Thompson hauling in a 1-yard scoring pass from Hardison that, after Gavin Baechle’s extra-point kick, granted the Miners a 7-6 lead.

Silva and Baechle added field goals for their teams from 42 and 38 yards, respectively — the latter of which put UTEP back in the lead at 10-9 with 14:49 to play in the second quarter.

Ronald Awatt’s 1-yard TD run extended the Miners lead to 17-9. But the Bulldogs were strongest over the final two minutes of the half, getting a 1-yard scoring plunge from Mims with 1:52 to play and a 45-yard field goal by Silva with 4 seconds left to take a 19-17 advantage into halftime.

Fresno State added to its lead on a 22-yard TD pass from Haener to Mims with 1:17 to play in the third quarter. But UTEP responded with a 51-yard touchdown pass from Calvin Brownholtz to Thompson to pull back to within 26-24 with 14:10 remaining.

Silva made it a five-point game with his third field goal of the game, a 21 yarder with 9:04 left. Then the Bulldogs added a safety, as Hardison fumbled while being sacked in his own end zone and the loose ball was recovered by UTEP lineman Elijah Klein.

–Field Level Media

Dec 24, 2020; Frisco, Texas, USA;  Hawaii Warriors wide receiver Dior Scott (87) gets tackled by Houston Cougars defense during the first half at Toyota Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Flores-USA TODAY Sports

Hawaii delivers milestone win vs. Houston in New Mexico Bowl

Hawaii turned a pair of first-quarter interceptions into touchdowns, and running back Calvin Turner Jr. caught a long touchdown pass and returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown to lead the Rainbow Warriors to a 28-14 win over Houston on Christmas Eve in the New Mexico Bowl.

The game was moved from Albuquerque to Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, due to COVID-19 restrictions in New Mexico.

Hawaii (5-4) intercepted Cougars quarterback Clayton Tune three times, with Penei Pavihi’s pick setting up quarterback Chevan Cordeiro’s short touchdown pass to Dae Dae Hunter.

It was the first of three first-half touchdown passes for Cordeiro, who threw for 136 yards
and set up a second-quarter score with a 52-yard run.

Right after Michael Washington picked off a Tune pass, Cordeiro found an open Turner over the middle and Turner turned it into a 75-yard touchdown. Hawaii led 21-0 at halftime after Cordeiro shovel-passed to defensive end-tight end Jonah Laulu for a touchdown in the second quarter.

The score marked the first time Hawaii had held an opponent without a point in the first half since 2014.

Houston (3-5) was without as many as 16 players due to COVID, opt-outs for the NFL draft and academics. Four of those were wide receivers.

The Cougars’ offense woke up in the third quarter with consecutive touchdown drives. Tune threw touchdown passes to Nathaniel Dell and Christian Trahan to make it a one-score game.

But Turner took the kickoff after the Trahan touchdown all the way to the end zone, and the Warriors prevented a Cougars comeback the rest of the way.

The Cougars’ last chances to make it a seven-point game were lost on a coverage sack by Warriors Khoury Bethley, who dropped Tune for his second sack of the game with 3:26 to play, and Hawaii’s defense forcing a turnover on downs.

Tune finished with 216 passing yards. He left the game after the late sack and was replaced by Logan Holgorsen, son of Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen.

Hawaii played in just its third-ever mainland United States bowl game. Head coach Todd Graham won the 100th game of his career as a college head coach, in his first season guiding the Warriors.

–Field Level Media

Oct 24, 2020; Fresno, California, USA; Hawaii Rainbow Warriors quarterback Chevan Cordeiro (12) attempts a pass during the third quarter in a game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Bulldog Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kiel Maddox-USA TODAY Sports

Houston, Hawaii meet in Texas-based New Mexico Bowl

Houston won’t have too far to go to play in the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 24. The Cougars do not have to head west to Albuquerque, where the game is normally played.

Instead, Houston will face Hawaii on Thursday in Frisco, Texas, near Dallas. The game was relocated from New Mexico due to that state’s health guidelines regarding intercollegiate athletics and travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The game was set on Dec. 13, the day after both teams played their final regular-season game. Hawaii got its fourth win with a 38-21 triumph over UNLV, leveling its overall and Mountain West Conference marks at 4-4, then accepted the bowl invitation.

Houston (3-4, 3-3 American Athletic Conference) is headed to its seventh bowl in the past eight seasons and the first under second-year head coach Dana Holgorsen. The Cougars are 11-15-1 all time in bowl games, having lost their past three.

It’s been a bumpy ride for teams all across college football, and the Houston program has not had it easy. The Cougars had eight games postponed, canceled or rescheduled due to COVID-19 issues. Between Nov. 14 and the upcoming bowl game, they played just one game, a 30-27 loss to Memphis on Dec. 12.

Houston is 19-7 all time against current Mountain West Conference teams, including losses in three straight bowl games to Mountain West teams.

“I challenge (our players) to win this game so we can buy some rings that say ‘COVID CHAMPS’ on them, something to remember 2020 by,” Holgorsen told Houston radio station SportsTalk 790 last week. “Let’s do something to feel good about what happened in 2020. Let’s get a ring, put it on the shelf and look at it and say, ‘I remember 2020,’ and tell your kids about it one day.”

Quarterback Clayton Tune has 1,832 passing yards with 13 touchdown tosses and seven interceptions. He also has 269 rushing yards and five TDs on the ground.

The Rainbow Warriors left early Monday morning for the mainland, and they will make just their third-ever trip to a bowl in the 48 contiguous states and first since the 2008 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. First-year head coach Todd Graham led Hawaii to its fourth bowl bid in the past five seasons.

Graham can reach 100 wins as a head coach with a win on Christmas Eve.

“I am so excited for our team and staff,” Graham said in a release. “They’ve worked hard throughout this entire season, under such challenging circumstances. This game is a great chance to showcase our team to the people of Texas and to a national television audience. Houston is a fine program and we can’t wait to compete against them on Christmas Eve.”

The Rainbow Warriors are led by quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, who has thrown for 1,947 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. He leads the team in rushing with 450 yards and seven TDs.

The teams are set to meet for the second time in a bowl game. Hawaii edged Houston 54-48 in triple overtime at the 2003 Hawaii Bowl.

–Field Level Media