After the Arkansas Pine Bluff game, people complained that Pine Bluff was able to start the game with a long scoring drive, and I stated that I felt that Pine Bluff was a pretty decent team. UTEP went on to dominate the game. The defense, which is the key to UTEP's success or failure, eventually held the Golden Lions to less than 300 yards total offense. But, that was an FCS team. So, that wasn't a remarkable feat. How would the Miners do against a FBS team? Next came the Houston Cougars, and they answered that question with one of those beat-downs that Miners fans had seen all too often over the years. Those who looked for UTEP to be weak defensively found all of the proof they needed to support their beliefs, and the complaints and calls for heads to roll became a chorus which filled the message board posts all week long. Those who feel like UTEP's defense will be better this year, were rocked as Houston not only passed at will, but they ran the ball through UTEP's defense like Sherman marched through the South., slashing and burning the dazed and confused UTEP defensive forces. But, Houston proved to be deserving of the Top Twenty-Five ranking, against UTEP, at least. Two games played and there seemed to be no answer to the questions about UTEP's defense. Was it the defense that had held APB to just 76 yards of rushing, and only 278 yards of total offense? Or was it the same old UTEP defense that had been obliterated and run off of the field by Houston?
Next up were the hated Aggies of New Mexico State. Although the Aggies are also a FBS division team, they rank in the top five worst in the nation for that division. But, they are UTEP's oldest rivalry, and unfortunately for UTEP the meetings between the two are always hard to predict. Each team, no matter what their season's record, comes into these games usually thinking that this is the one game that they must win. These games often resemble a fight between two high school weaklings, but you can usually count on it being a vicious affair. They both may be skinny and small, and fighting over a girl that neither of them has any chance of landing, but a win allows one to at least have that. The girl may still turn and go the other way when he sees either of them, but they know that they at least can say that they kicked that wimps' ass. That's worth something when they often have nothing else.
So last night the Miners and Aggies met for the 88th time. Which one would walk away victorious and which one would be left with nothing but a busted lip and a bruised ego? Both teams came into the game having been beaten badly the previous week. One of them would exit the Sun Bowl with a win, and some regained dignity. When the fireworks boomed to signal the end of the game, the Miners proudly stood tall, and helped the beaten Aggie's to their feet. Like two old friends/enemies/rivals the fight was over. The Miners told the Aggie's that they would need to get that bitten ear looked at, and the broken tooth might be able to be fixed with a cap. They may hate each other, but these fights have been happening since they were in kindergarten together, and after so many years, and so many fights, they have developed a certain begrudging respect for one another and they know too that the next fight between them could easily leave last night's victor the one needing to be helped to their feet by the other.
Last night's meeting wasn't much of a fight. The Miners started off getting the best of the Aggie's with flurries that had the Aggie's trying to block the punches that were coming at them from every angle, and not having much luck. Then came the haymakers that left the poor guys from Las Cruces with blood pouring over their matching crimson shirts. Had this been a real high school fight, one of the jocks in the crowd watching might have stepped in to put a stop to the one sided affair. He would have been told by the combatants to get the hell out of the way. This was their fight, and they would be finished when they were finished.
The Miners won that fight, but does that mean that they have muscled up, and are badasses, or was it just another wimp getting their ass kicked by a kid who got the best of the other kid on that night? The Miners weren't just closing their eyes and windmilling punches at a seemingly helpless victim. The Miners were jabbing, throwing body punches, hooks and rights, and they were all landing. The guys in orange looked like they could fight. But, the guys in red liked like the couldn't. So last night's tough guys didn't really prove that they can fight against anyone yet. They looked good beating up on the 90 pound weakling, but can they beat someone their own size? Only time will tell as the season continues. The kids from Memphis come to fight next week, and they must weigh at least 125 pounds. These guys aren't too much better that the farmer from up the road, but they have a history of kicking the Miners' ass the past few years. A win by the Miners and there might be some proof that the Miners have pumped a little iron and the time in the gym may be starting to show. A loss, and the Miners will be exposed as the kid that beat up on an eigth-grader and a ninety pound weakling. One thing you can be sure of though, and that is it will be a cool fight to watch. Both of them will be throwing punches and getting hit. It will probably be one of those fights determined by who is the last one able to hold their arms up and throw punches.
Before I finish, I think the stats from the Arkansas Pine Bluff game and the NMSU game are worth looking at. The numbers are almost identical from the two games.
| APB/UTEP NMSU/UTEP
First Downs 14 28 16 25
Rushing FD's 4 12 6 13
Pass FD's 9 13 10 10
Net Rush. Yds. 76 234 96 249
Net Pass. Yrds. 202 229 200 246
Total Offense 278 463 296 495
The numbers beg the question, was Arkansas Pine Bluff as good as a really bad FBS team, or is NMSU as bad as a decent FCS team? Then, of course, the next question you have to ask is, is UTEP good enough to beat teams better than those two? The rest of the season will answer that last one.