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New Mexico State at UTEP: Battle of I-10 Preview

Sept 8, 2012; Oxford, MS, USA;  Mississippi Rebels running back I'Tavius Mathers (5) is tackled by UTEP Miners defensive back Richard Spencer (24) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE
Sept 8, 2012; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels running back I'Tavius Mathers (5) is tackled by UTEP Miners defensive back Richard Spencer (24) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE

After putting on a somewhat disappointing effort on the road against the Ole Miss Rebels, the UTEP Miners must now turn around to take on our neighbors up the road, the New Mexico State Aggies, Saturday at 6:00 p.m. MT in the Sun Bowl.

As mentioned, the Miners enter the contest fresh off Saturday's 28-10 loss in Oxford, while the Aggies come in after being downed 51-24 at Ohio. UTEP is now 0-2 on the young season, and NMSU is 1-1, after taking out FCS opponent Sacramento State in the season opener.

The matchup marks the 90th time that the two teams have squared off, with the Miners holding a 52-35-2 advantage in the series. The last time the two team met, September 17th 2011, the Miners escaped with a 16-10 victory at Aggie Memorial Stadium in Las Cruces.

The Aggies are led by sophomore QB Andrew Manley who has thrown for 499 yards, 4 touchdowns, and only 1 interception thus far this season. Manley is the same QB who led NMSU a year ago against the Miners, but tore his ACL late in that game.

Junior RB Germi Morrison, and junior RB Tiger Powell lead the rushing attack for the Aggies. However, the two have struggled a bit thus far. Together, they have carried the ball 36 times for 131 yards, only a 3.6 ypc average. The two have, however, rushed for 4 touchdowns.

In the receiving game, there's really one name to look for; Austin Franklin. The sophomore WR has caught 13 balls on the season, for a total of 308 yards, and 3 touchdowns. He has accounted for better than 60% of the Aggies receiving yards thus far. Senior WR Kemonte Bateman is second on the squad with 7 catches for 89 yards.

Defensively, there are a couple big names to look out for. First, is junior LB Trashaun Nixon. Nixon, who has already racked up 24 tackles in two games, is the brother of former Miner Travaun Nixon. The other name to look out for, is junior DB Dele Junaid. Junaid did not play against Sacramento State, but tallied 15 tackles last week against Ohio.

The Miners are led by senior QB Nick Lamaison. After having a disappointing performance in week 1, Lamaison was able to improve in week 2 against Ole Miss, passing for 213 yards and a touchdown, on 21 of 33 passing. Lamaison has still got a long way to go though, if this team is going to be successful.

The rushing attack is led by sophomore RB Nathan Jeffery. Jeffery was out in week 2 against Mississippi, but rushed for 177 yards on 21 carries in the opener against Oklahoma. If his groin is back to 100%, look for Jeffery to make a huge impact in this game.

The receivers are led by senior Mike Edwards, and sophomore Jordan Leslie. Both had solid performances in week 2, catching 15 balls between them, after having only 1 against Oklahoma. Against Ole Miss, Edwards had 9 catches for 88 yards, while Leslie totaled 6 catches for 80 and a touchdown.

Defensively the Miners are led by LB Josh Fely. The senior from Oceanside, CA has already racked up 21 tackles, and a pass deflection in two games this year. Senior DB Deshawn Grayson is the leader in the secondary with 16 tackles and 2 pass deflections, and junior DL Germard Reed is the anchor in the middle of the line.

On special teams, senior P Ian Campbell has been his usual self, averaging 44.5 yards a punt on 15 kicks this year. Field goal kicking, however, is a completely different story. The Miners missed yet another field goal against Ole Miss, totaling 4, already in two games. Stephen Valadez did connect on his 1 attempt last week.

This week is an absolutely crucial one for the Miners' season. No one necessarily expected them to pick up a win in either of their first two contests, but they were in the games, and were just unable to get things done on the offensive end.

Minor injuries have taken their toll on the team, but coming into the year, depth was supposed to be one of their strengths. The Miners boast a handful of capable backs, yet only one has been able to get things going thus far. And he's injured.

The defense, which looked great in the opener against Oklahoma, was stifled against the run option and misdirection of the Ole Miss offense. While they only allowed 28 points, they were rarely able to get themselves off the field.

Bottom line, its time for the Miners to put it together. The offense should be much better than they've shown, and the defense needs to be able to make plays, and not give up the big play that has already bit them on more than a handful of occassions this season.

Of course, this game will not be easy. New Mexico State, while the not of the caliber of Oklahoma or Ole Miss, is our greatest rival and will not be a pushover. But, if the Miners season is going to be successful, its time for us to put it together in all aspects of the game. If we can't, we may be in for a very long season.

Miners 38, Aggies 21.