Rivalry games are fiercely competitive, pressure fueled, and always intense. The Battle of I-10 will be exactly that. Miners and Aggies, they just don't get along. The last 5 games in this matchup have been in favor of UTEP with an average score of 35 to 16. The Miners have had their way with the Aggies of late, but that's no reason to count them out.
Offensively the Aggies run a balanced offense in run vs. pass ratio and will enter 2014 with a new signal-caller. Similar to last season, the strength of the offense will be the receiving core. Though there isn't a go-to receiver, there is a well rounded collection of receivers. Jerrel Brown, Jordan Bergstrom, and Adam Shapiro combined for 1,121 receiving yards last season for the Aggies.
NMSU center Valerian Ume-Ezeoke was named to this years Rimington Trophy fall watch list and will be the anchor of the offensive line. Ume-Ezeoke recorded 56.5 knockdowns last season for a squad that rushed for roughly 1,700 yards. Running back Brandon Betancourt should step in and fill the starting role with last season's starter senior Germi Morrison departing. Betancourt rushed for 415 yards on 93 carries in 2013. Sophomore Xavier Hall is another running back to keep an eye on.
The biggest question mark of all is who will be the calling the shots at quarterback. The Aggies signed 6 quarterbacks including JUCO transfer Tyler Rogers, who is expected to be the front runner. Rogers was touted for his running ability and touch on the football in the Aggies' spring game. Don't expect the job to be handed to him though, he will need to win the job soundly in fall camp.
When it comes to the defensive side of the ball, this unit struggled last season giving up nearly 549 yards per game. The Aggies finished dead last in the NCAA in total defense. NMSU will be transitioning into a 4-3 defense with the secondary veering away from primarily man coverage.
Defensive end Clint Barnard will lead the Aggie defense which will be freshman heavy alongside many underclassmen. Barnard who played linebacker last season, finished 4th in tackles last season including a season high 20, against UTEP. To help beef up the defensive line, the Aggies converted two offensive lineman Houston Clemente and Alexander Trujillo. Both could start in the middle and give NMSU much needed size. Similar to UTEP, this defense struggled with creating a pass rush, finishing with only 11 sacks in 2013.
The secondary has undergone a reshuffling trying to add speed to a newly formed 4-3 defense. Sophomore Kawe Johnson returns at safety who tied for the team lead in interceptions with 2. Corner Kadeem Davis-Thomas received high praise in the NMSU spring game for some big hits and an interception.
One special teams note to make is the presence of Shapiro in the kick return game. He averaged 20 yards per return last season and could set up decent field position for the NMSU offense.
Bottom Line: UTEP runs well, NMSU passes well, this one will be all on the defenses. Both units struggled mightily last season but have a chance to step their game up in a night that means more than just the score. No matter the outcome of the game with Texas Tech the previous week, look for the Miners to come ready and hungry for this matchup. There is nothing in sports like a heated rivalry. The distance between these two schools is very close. Let's hope the scoreboard is anything but that.
Currently UTEP leads the all-time series 54-32-2