ALBUQUERQUE — Freshman Jake Heaps threw four touchdown passes, connecting with Cody Hoffman on three scores, and finished with 264 yards passing to help BYU beat overmatched Texas-El Paso 52-24 on Saturday in the New Mexico Bowl.
It capped a big turnaround for the Cougars (7-6), whose 1-4 start included a rare loss to instate rival Utah State. At that point, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall told his team it would be a remarkable feat to reach a bowl game and win it.
Mission accomplished for the Cougars, who won five of their last seven regular-season games to become bowl eligible. In the first game of college football's bowl season, Mendenhall's team showed just how far BYU came by dominating the Miners (6-7).
Coffman had eight catches for 137 yards, while Joshua Quezada ran for 101 yards and J.J. DiLuigi added 98 yards on the ground to help the Cougars in their final contest before they begin play as an independent in football next season.
Heaps became the first freshman quarterback to start any of BYU's 29 bowl games. For most of the day, he looked like a polished veteran and showed why he was one of the nation's top recruits coming out of high school in the Seattle suburbs in 2009.
He completed seven of his first nine attempts, with both of those incompletions on drops.
The Cougars raced to a 14-0 lead. J.D. Falslev returned the game's first punt 43 yards to set up a 4-yard TD run by Bryan Kariya.
Heaps threw a 9-yard strike to Luke Ashworth, a 31-yard pass to Coffman and made it 31-3 midway through the second quarter on a 3-yard pass to Hoffman.
On that play, Heaps also broke Ty Detmer's 22-year-old BYU freshman record for most passing TDs in a season. Heaps, who finished with 15 TD passes on the year, was 25 of 34 with one interception and was selected the game's most valuable offensive player.
BYU also got two interceptions by Andrew Rich, voted the most valuable defensive player.
UTEP's season went in the opposite direction compared to BYU, with the Miners losing six of seven after opening 5-1. They still reached a bowl game for the first time since 2005 but dropped to 0-5 since beating Mississippi 14-7 in the 1967 Sun Bowl.
Trevor Vittatoe, who postponed surgery on his left ankle just so he could play in the postseason, threw three TD passes, all to Kris Adams on plays of 67, 37 and 49 yards. But that was the bulk of the offense for the Miners, whose 233 total yards included minus-12 yards rushing.
Vittatoe was 14 of 29 for 245 yards with two interceptions.