The UTEP Miners and the New Mexico State Aggies are set to meet in the 2013 version of the Battle of I-10. The meeting will be the 91st overall, with the Miners holding the overall series lead at 53-32-2. They have also won four straight.
Last year the Miners scored on their first four possessions of the ball game to win going away 41-28. Jordan Leslie went off for 7 catches and 147 yds and a TD. Richard Spencer had a pick, and Josh Bell scored twice for the Miners.
Of course, the Miners are coming off a heartbreaking 42-35 OT loss to UNM. Kasey Carrier ran all over the Miners for 291 yds and 4 scores, the Miner D gave up 7.5 yards per play against the Lobos triple option attack, and only forced them to punt once.
Head Coach Sean Kugler:
"After a tough loss its good to have a game next, the key thing is we don't look back, we're just going to look forward. We've got to get better fundamentally. There were too many missed tackles, many at the line of scrimmage or even behind the line of scrimmage that they converted to big runs. That's the first thing on the agenda and that will be the main focus this week."
No excuse here, but the Miners did start 7 first time starters on defense, and had 5 new Miners record their first career tackle.
Traun Roberson led the Miners down The Mine Shaft and in total tackles with 13, his first multi-tackle game of his career. Freshman Devin Cockrell added 10 in his Miner debut, and Marcus Bagley also added 10 up front for the Miners.
Ish Harrison suffered a concussion vs the Lobos and is going through the tests and precautions and his status is questionable for Saturday.
Wesley Miller, who missed the opener, is also questionable which is why the Miners went deep into the depth chart Saturday and will continue to if Miller is not ready.
Special teams, a spot of worry for me all night, was pretty decent besides one hiccup, a bad snap leading to an 8 yard punt by Mike Ruggles which led to a Lobo TD drive. Jay Mattox hit three touchback's on kickoffs and nailed every extra point.
Autrey Golden was, well Golden on returns as usual, he took 4 kickoffs back for 104 yards (26.0 avg). For his Miner career, Golden now has 17 kickoffs returned of 25 or more yards, and can move into the top-10 all time list for career yardage as a Miner kick returner this weekend.
On offense the Miners were led by Aaron Jones, who established a career high of 127 yards in his Miner coming out party, a mark I think he will top by the end of the year.
Nathan Jeffery found the end zone twice vs the Lobos. He's now found the end zone 9 times in his last 5 games as a Miner coming into Saturdays game.
Kugler said Jeffery has a knee issue that continues to nag, but I would expect him to be go.
Sean Kugler on Showers:
"I thought Jameill Showers managed the game in his first real start since high school. We wont always keep a lid on Jameill Showers because we feel he does have a strong arm and can throw the ball field."
Jameill Showers completed 70 percent of his passes, hit 4 different receivers more than twice, and showed off his open field speed and elusiveness. More importantly, he did not turn the ball over. He was very critical of himself on a late 4th Quarter delay of game penalty, but he led the Miners on 4 straight TD drives in the first half.
Ian Hamilton had a career high with 42 yards on 4 catches, and had the longest pass play of the season so far of 21 yards. The Miners only took three shots down field, going 1-3, and ran the ball 46 times for a impressive 280 yards. The offense had a very impressive drive in which Showers managed to drain 6:21 and tie the game late in the fourth.
Look for more balance this week which should mean more pass, but the way Minnesota racked up 342 yards on the ground last week against that team from Cruces, the Miners have to be looking establish the pound before the pass.
The Doug Martin era began rather disappointing, but at the same time very challenging. The first two games under Martin have been vs the Texas Longhorns and Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Aggies are testing the waters as an independent this season, and to some Aggie faithful, this is the school's toughest schedule in their history.
Sean Kugler on Doug Martin:
"I just met him recently but I think he's a heck of a guy. I think he's doing a great job there. He seems like a real good guy and from people I know he's very well respected and respected by us."
On offense the Aggies will run a pistol/spread mix, and senior Andrew McDonald is the starting QB. He completed 22 out of 31 passes vs Minnesota and also had 47 yards on the ground, but did not throw a TD pass and has only thrown 1 so far this season. Freshman King Davis III might also see some time out of the pistol/shotgun looks the Aggies will bring. He had a 19 yard run last week and also went 7 of 9 through the air, and is the Aggies' QB of the future.
Sean Kugler on NMSU:
"I think they've done a good job in their first two games. They have been very competitive against two excellent teams from the Big 12 and Big Ten. They gave both of those teams all they could handle. You could tell they're well coached. They're a little bit different than they were last year. They run more of a pistol type formation on offense and a little bit different schematically up front on defense."
The Aggies have had trouble moving the ball on ground against their first two BCS opponents. As a team, they have rushed for only 207 yards while averaging 2.6 a carry.
Germi Morrison is the main back and despite scoring twice on the ground this season, he is only averaging 1.8 yards a carry through the first two games.
The Aggies rely heavily on their WR corps to produce yards on offense, as they only threw twice to their TE's last week and the first attempt didn't come until late in the 2nd quarter. So, we will see how our young secondary will fare against their first opponent who will spread it out and throw.
Joshua Bowen is the Aggies' leading receiver. He has pulled in 14 catches for 121 yards and a score. Joseph Matthews is second on the team in yards, and also has averaged 15 yards a catch. Jordan Bergstrom will also be a name Miner fans will hear. He's the slot guy for the Aggies, and has pulled in 11 balls so far and will be one of McDonald's first reads as he goes through his progressions.
The Aggies have a pair of seniors on defense that have put up very impressive numbers through the first two games. Expect to see a lot of zone and zone blitzes from defensive coordinator David Elson.
LB Trashaun Nixon has 18 total tackles and a forced fumble to lead the Aggies, along with DB David Cazares who has had 16 stops. They are the two un-questioned leaders for the Aggies.
Despite those two studs it takes 11 to defend. The Aggies gave up 342 yards and gave up 100 yards to two different rushers vs Minnesota. The Aggies also gave up 715 yards of total offense vs Texas, allowing Texas to run for 359 yards as a team, along with 4 TD's on the ground.
Up front, the Miners will be bigger than the Aggies DL, but the Aggies are led by RE Willie Mobley, who recorded a sack vs the Gophers. The Aggies play a one gap, slanting style scheme up front on the D-Line that is used to help their smaller D lineman shoot through the line and create more pressure.
Adam Shapiro will return kicks for the Aggies, along with Joseph Matthews and Darien Johnson, who is mainly used to return punts.
Cayle Chapman-Brown booted a 73 yard punt for the Aggies last week and will be the punter. Maxwell Johnson is the Aggies' kicker, but has not attempted a field goal other than extra points.
After last weeks 280 yard performance against UNM. the Miners have a clear advantage vs the Aggies. Patrick Higgins has to be fired up while watching film on the Aggies' porous run defense.
Expect Showers to have a little more freedom and look for the Miners to continue to control the ball on the clock as at this early point in the season, its the Miners' best defense.
The biggest key to the game for the Miners is not giving up the big play. The Aggies will be looking for it early and often. If they can get off the field on 3rd down and not give the Aggies confidence with their talented group of wideouts, they will greatly improve their chances of winning this one.
Also, if they move the ball they way the did vs UNM, the Miners should be able to wear the Aggies down and have their way on offense. Last, the Miners have to get pressure on McDonald. They'll need to force him to make plays with his feet, and not let him get comfortable in the pocket. If they don't, this will turn out to be a very close and exciting ball game.
Prediction UTEP 49 NMSU 31