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UTEP at NMSU Preview: Containing Larry Rose will be a chore for the UTEP defense

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UTEP takes on I-10 rival NMSU for the 93rd time Saturday night.

Can Sean Kugler rally the troops?
Can Sean Kugler rally the troops?
John Weast/Getty Images

Who? UTEP Miners (0-2) at NMSU Aggies (0-2)

When? Saturday, September 19th, 6:00 PM Mountain Time

Where? Aggie Memorial Stadium, Las Cruces, New Mexico

How to watch? ESPN3, Watch ESPN APP, Aggievision

Vegas says....UTEP -3, 61o/u

Series Record: UTEP leads 55-35-2

Battle of I-10 Breakdown

Both schools come in at 0-2 and both are looking for serious answers on the young season after rough, and heartbreaking starts.

For UTEP, how will the Miners respond from not only from losing stud running back Aaron Jones, but can the defense respond after two porous outings to start the season?

As much as the loss of Jones is a big blow, the UTEP defense should be the area of more concern as the unit is currently allowing 9.2 yards per play which is worst in the nation.

More than opening up the pass to create a new dimension for this team, the UTEP defense also has step up in a huge way with the loss of UTEP's main offensive weapon.

UTEP is expected to have senior defensive backs Traun Roberson, and Ishmael Harrison back from injury which will help greatly in the communication department which has been a struggle for UTEP's young secondary.

Jeremiah Laufasa will spearhead the Aaron Jones-less by committee rushing attack which will feature a new starting right tackle in Chris Thomas.

Look for Treyvon Hughes to also become more involved, the former three star prospect could become UTEP's next big time running back, and this smells like the perfect game for the talented freshman to breakout.

For the Aggies, special teams, and missed tackles burned their chances of finding that elusive Sun Belt conference win against Georgia State last week.

Junior quarterback Tyler Rogers has provided some steady play in completing 55 percent of his passes, and averaging 12.7 yards per completion with only one interception in NMSU's first two games so far.

Five NMSU receivers average more than ten yards per catch, led by JUCO transfer Tyrain Taylor who is averaging 18.8 yards per reception and leads NMSU in receptions and receiving yards also owing a 75 yard touchdown reception.

Sophomore receiver Gregory Hogan, and junior Teldrick Morgan also have been productive this year, repeating their consistent production from last year.  Morgan racked up 202 yards receiving last year against UTEP in the Sun Bowl.

The prime offensive weapon for the Aggies despite the impressive production from the NMSU wideouts is running back Larry Rose.

Sean Kugler sort of compared Rose to Aaron Jones, and the Fairfield, Texas native is as good as advertised.

Like UTEP, the Aggies are also searching for answers on the defensive side.

Defensive back Jaden Wright earned Sun Belt Defensive Student-Athlete of the week after he piled up 12 tackles, a fumble recovery for a touchdown, and also added an interception in NMSU's loss last weekend.

The Aggies lost some important depth with a severe injury to corner Kawe Johnson, NMSU's secondary is allowing 12.1 yards per completion in their two opening games.

The strength of the defense is at linebacker with senior Rodney Butler, and talented true freshman Terrill Hanks manning the middle.

Butler has seven tackles for loss which leads the team, and Hanks is a very good athlete from South Florida who will become a star for the Aggies down the road.

UTEP has won the last six Battle of I-10 matchups, while NMSU has dropped their last 12 games in a row.

Both teams are searching for a win not only for the first of the 2015 season, but to save grace on the 2015 season.

Something has to give for either team in this heated rivalry.

Five players to watch

Larry Rose, RB, NMSU

Rose may not have the gaudy stats you would expect from a star running back, but the electric sophomore is still averaging 4.4 yards per carry and is a shifty and tough runner.

UTEP's biggest defensive concern should be slowing down Rose on the counters, and spread formation draws, but also containing him in the screen game.

NMSU has utilized the screen with Rose a lot on third down this year, something the UTEP defense has been struggling and getting burned with so far this season.  Rose's longest reception of the year is 40-yards, coming off a screen behind a Florida Gator blitz in week one.

Tackling will be key, as well as playing in NMSU's backfield and putting an early lick on him.   Rose could change this game with one cut, and a burst down the sideline.

Mack Leftwich, QB, UTEP

Sean Kugler said the offensive game plan for UTEP might change, and that could mean more responsibility on Leftwich.

UTEP's sophomore signal caller has executed UTEP's conservative game plan in the first two weeks of the season, which leads to the question if the staff now trusts Leftwich to be more of a focal point and sort of cut the leash to a certain extent.

He has completed 63 percent of his passes in the first two games, but hasn't been asked too do much down field.

With NMSU's struggling secondary, it would be a nice breakout day for Leftwich, of course that will have to come via balanced play calling.

Autrey Golden, WR/KR, UTEP

With Aaron Jones out, Golden is now UTEP's biggest home run threat  on offense.

NMSU has struggled with kickoffs and coverage meaning the NCAA legend could etch his name in the records books with a house call against NMSU's questionable special teams play so far.

Not only is Golden always a threat on special teams, UTEP's coaching staff HAS to get Golden more touches on offense.

Whether it's on reverses, screens, or regular passing routes, Autrey Golden has to become a game plan staple in the UTEP offense going forward.

Rodney Butler, LB, NMSU

One of the best linebackers in the Sun Belt, Butler is NMSU's best defensive weapon.

It's going to be interesting to see how much NMSU blitzes him to make up for what has been a weak front four upfront on defense.  His lateral movements scream NFL prospect, and Butler is probably NMSU's most physical player.

The Aggies will change up their defensive fronts in hopes of getting Butler loose in between gaps.  Blocking technique in the second level has to be sound against NMSU's best and only pro prospect.

Hayden Plinke, TE, UTEP

Every quarterback has that one receiver they mesh with, and for Leftwich its been Hayden Plinke in the first two weeks.

Plinke is UTEP's leading receiver so far, and is by far UTEP's best weapon in the passing game. He could be a matchup problem for the Aggie secondary, and particularity test NMSU's linebackers which could lead to a another strong outing from Plinke.

Plinke has proved he can be an issue for opposing defense, getting him the ball could become important in this one.

UTEP's keys to win

Create turnovers

The Miners are -5 on the season in turnover margin, and that has to change if UTEP has any hopes of competing in the C-USA West, much less on Saturday night.

The tough part is that the Aggies have played sound in not turning the ball over by only turning it over twice so far, and the kids from Cruces also haven't fumbled all year.

UTEP has to be opportunistic in not only creating turnovers, but tackles for loss, and gaining overall momentum from big plays on defense which is greatly needed at this point.

Make NMSU's offense earn it

Simply put, allowing big plays via the pass will not get the job done Saturday for the UTEP defense.

This means communication from the back end to the front end has to be on point, and the Miners have to tackle wayyy better than what they have shown.

Playing in NMSU's backfield is also a key in bringing down that sour yard per play average.

UTEP has to be smartly aggressive, while playing sound with their technique against the legit speed of the Aggie skill players.

Run the ball efficiently

This is a program goal each game for UTEP, but more so against NMSU's struggling run defense.

The Aggies are allowing 4.9 yards per carry so far, and even without Aaron Jones the run game is still and will always be important to UTEP.

Controlling the clock against explosive offenses is important, but wearing down a suspect NMSU front seven could be UTEP's biggest key and may become the most important aspect when UTEP has the ball as the game wears on.

Guys like Jeremiah Laufasa and Treyvon Hughes will play a huge role, but how the offensive line responds after a sub-par performance at Texas Tech is the bigger need heading into this one.

Bottom line

Yes the Miners are 0-2, and have not had very many positive areas to point on, but its still early in the season with a "manageable" schedule ahead.

Sean Kugler is in the toughest predicament he has been in since he has been at UTEP.

Coming into a season with higher than normal expectations, a non-competitive 0-2 start, then losing your best player has been leading to a lot of questions this week.

If Kugler can rally the troops, and the staff can put together an effective game plan on both sides of the ball, UTEP's talent should take over this one, thus giving the UTEP sidelines some juice and energy going forward which is the important need for this team at the moment.

But if the Miners show any hangover signs from the first two weeks, El Paso we might have a problem.

Score and one stat prediction

UTEP 37 NMSU 28

Treyvon Hughes rushes for 100 yards