New Mexico at UTEP Game Preview

After an opening week bye, coach Sean Kugler kicks off his head coaching career with a home game against longtime rival, the New Mexico Lobos. Kickoff is slated for 6:00 M.T., Saturday at the Sun Bowl.

The New Mexico Lobos (0-1) travel to El Paso Saturday to rekindle an old flame with the UTEP Miners (0-0) here at the Sun Bowl. Despite not having played since 2010, most expect this rivalry to pick up without skipping a beat.

UTEP Defensive Backs Coach Robert Rodriguez:

"I grew up in this rivalry, growing up in the old Western Athletic Conference. New Mexico is a big deal...It's really exciting to be a part of this rivalry again. I know certainly with the NMSU rivalry coming, its an exciting time for true UTEP fans."

The Lobos lead the all time series 42-31-3, but the Miners hold the advantage in El Paso with a 21-15-3 mark. UTEP has also taken 3 of the last 4, including the last meeting in the Sun Bowl back on September 1st, 2007. The Miners won that one 10-6.

New Mexico enters the contest at 0-1 on the young season, after falling in their opener 21-13 at home against UTSA. The Lobos actually jumped ahead 13-0 in that contest, but were held scoreless for the final 41:42 of the game, and allowed 21 unanswered.

UTEP comes in having not played in college football's opening week. The Miners had the extra week to prepare for their opener, but will also have to shake off those first game cobwebs in a hurry.

Sophomore quarterback Cole Gautsche spent more of the time under center for the Lobos in the opener, with junior Clayton Mitchem getting a few snaps of his own. Neither was extremely effective throwing the ball as Gautsche went just 4-12 for 65 yards and a touchdown, while Mitchem went 2-5 for 19 yards.

New Mexico coach Bob Davie said Monday that Gautsche would be out for Saturday's due to concussion like symptoms, so Mitchem will now have his opportunity to show what he's got.

Of course, throwing the ball isn't New Mexico's strong suit though, as the Lobos will look to run the ball early and often. Gautsche ran 16 times for 116 yards, leading the Lobos ground attack. Senior running back Kasey Carrier carried 20 times, but was held to only 54 yards. As a whole, New Mexico rushed 42 times for 196 yards in Saturday's opener.

While the Lobos completed only six passes against UTSA, half of them went to sophomore wideout Marquis Bundy (3 rec, 53 yards). Again, we know they won't be throwing the ball a ton, but Bundy may be establishing himself as the team's top pass catcher.

Defensively, senior linebacker Dallas Bollema, and senior defensive back Dante Caro led the way for the Lobos in week one. Bollema tallied six total tackles, while Caro had eight.

On the other side, the Miners look to be led by junior transfer quarterback Jameill Showers. Showers of course, was the backup to both Ryan Tannehill and Johnny Manziel, at Texas A&M, but transferred to UTEP to make an impact and name of his own.

Junior running back Nathan Jeffery, who rushed for 897 yards and 7 touchdowns on 184 carries, but was plagued by nagging injuries, looks to be the workhorse in the Miners' new two back offense.

That unit though is also the deepest for the offense, returning sophomores Autrey Golden and LaQuintus Dowell, as well as junior Josh Bell. Freshmen Aaron Jones and Darrin Laufasa (FB) also look to be in the mix, as does converted linebacker Hunter Nix (FB).

UTEP Coach Sean Kugler:

"They'll all get carries. We'll divvy up those carries according to what package we have. I'm very confident with any single one of those running backs in a game...Overall, depth wise as a group, its probably our deepest group."

Junior wideout Jordan Leslie, who led the team in receptions and yards a year ago with 51 and 973, looks to pick up where he left off as UTEP's top receiver. Junior Ian Hamilton, who was overshadowed by Leslie and also Mike Edwards, should step in as the clear number two.

Juniors Jim Jones, Malcolm Trail, and Devin Patterson also look to figure into the mix, as well as a handful of capable tight ends led by seniors Eric Tomlinson, Craig Wenrick, and Kevin Perry.

Defensively the Miners make the switch to the 4-2-5 under new defensive coordinator Scott Stoker. They are experienced in the front seven, led by senior tackles Germard Reed and Marcus Bagley, and senior linebackers Horace Miller (converted lineman) and A.J. Ropati.

The secondary, however, has to replace a quartet of starters, and in that 4-2-5 will have to find a 5th Miner to complete the unit. They do get back senior safety Richard Spencer, who was arguably the unit's best player a year ago, before being lost for the season with a knee injury. After that though, much is unknown.

UTEP Defensive Backs Coach Robert Rodriguez:

"I would say that when you add a secondary position, you've got to make sure that you've got the right guys, and I know right now we're asking a lot of young guys to step in because we need that depth...The young guys have done a tremendous job, we're going to have some freshmen playing and guys who are going to get their first action creating depth for us."

The opener for the Miners should be quite the test for a group that is experiencing great change. There are plenty of weapons on both sides of the ball that will help this team be successful, but how quickly they can put it all together in game action is the true question.

New Mexico will test the Miners in an area that they have struggled in for a long time. The Lobos, who were a top ten rushing team a year ago, will pound the ball probably 50 times or more, and one can only expect for them to improve upon their mediocre performance in their opener.

The Lobo defense was exposed in week one, allowing 237 yards through the air and 157 yards on the ground, and also gave up a 99 yard 4th quarter drive that gave UTSA the go ahead score.

The Miners will have to find a way to take advantage of that suspect secondary, and a line that did't have a ton of success pressuring the quarterback a week ago.

That being said, this game, like many, will be won and lost on the line. The Miners' offensive line will have to do well to open up holes and give Showers the time he needs, while the defensive line will need to contain the run to take the Lobos out of their comfort zone.

Special teams could also play a huge factor. The Miners will have a few new faces in the kicking game, and despite progressions that have been made, punting, field goal kicking, and even kickoffs are still an unknown.

UTEP Coach Sean Kugler:

"I think the kickers overall as a group, from the day they started, which really wasn't that good, to the last few practices they've been kicking pretty well. So, I'd say they've progressed the most."

One can probably expect a bit of a sluggish start for the Miners, as they get accustomed to the first game action they've seen this season. But I also expect them to find their way offensively within just a few possessions. The question is whether or not the defense can do the same.

If they can't, this game could turn into a shootout, but assuming they can, the Miners should be able to take care of the Lobos and give Sean Kugler his first career win.

Predictions:

Contributor Prediction
Asalom Miners 31, Lobos 27
MinerLeagueAROD Miners 34, Lobos 17
PaydirtRenzo Miners 24, Lobos 23
M_tx Miners 34, Lobos 16
UTEP915 Miners 24, Lobos 13
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