The 2022 New Mexico Bowl came down to the final seconds on December 17 as the Southern Methodist University Mustangs staged a late-game comeback but failed to convert a two-point try to give Brigham Young University a 24-23 win. SMU had battled back from a 14-point deficit in the third quarter before the failed attempt brought an end to the game. BYU recovered a desperate SMU onside kick attempt that went out of bounds and knelt for victory.
WHAT TO KNOW
The New Mexico Bowl is held in Albuquerque at one of the highest-elevation fields in the country. In addition to the thin air, game time temperatures were in the 20s, making for a challenging environment. BYU relied on the strength of their running game and did not complete a pass in the second half. The Cougars were forced to start a rookie quarterback making his first college start in the bowl game due to injuries at the position.
SMU was without star receiver Rashee Rice who elected to sit out the game while healing from a lingering toe injury. Rice has been invited to the Senior Bowl and will participate in the NFL Combine in advance of the 2023 NFL Draft. His presence was noticeably missed on the field as the Mustangs were unable to uncork the backbreaking aerial attack the team is known for.
BY THE NUMBERS
Mustangs quarterback Tanner Mordecai passed for just 218 yards, completing 27 passes on 37 attempts and scoring two touchdowns. His lone mistake in the game was a ghastly pick-six that ignited a momentum shift in favor of BYU in the third quarter. On the play, Mordecai did not see a lurking Ben Bywater, who took Mordecai’s pass 76 yards in the opposite direction for a score.
Bywater was a constant nuisance for the SMU offense throughout the game. His stat line at the end of the night read 11 tackles and four solo takedowns. The BYU defense held the SMU run game to 171 yards and sacked Mordecai twice. The stout defensive effort slowed down the Mustangs and prevented the team from getting into a rhythm.
BYU needed a strong defensive showing as they were tossing an untested quarterback into the fire. Making his first college start, Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters was not asked to do too much through the air and was able to rely on a running back group that could carry the team. Playing largely in an option offense, Maiava-Peters finished the game as the Cougars leading rusher with 96 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown, but he completed only seven passes on 12 attempts in the first half. Maiva-Peters was picked off in the third quarter on the drive preceding the Mustangs’ own turnover.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said: “I’m just proud of the whole team. At BYU, the QB gets a lot of attention, but everybody played really hard. I am proud of the preparation of the entire team and happy to get this win for the outgoing players and Cougar nation. Thank you.”
The 2022 New Mexico Bowl is the final game of the season for both SMU and BYU. It is also the final game for BYU as an independent. BYU earned its 99th win tonight and will join the Big 12 conference next season.