NMSU Aggies @ UTEP Miners
Series Record: UTEP leads 56-35-2
Kickoff: 6:00 p.m. Mountain Time
TV: beIN Sports Network
Vegas says: UTEP -10, O/U 60
UTEP looks to keep their winning streak against their hated rival alive, and start the season off in style against New Mexico State.
A couple of weeks ago it looked like the Miners dominance could be in jeopardy as the Aggies have improved in a number of ways, but the past two weeks have been nothing short of straight bad news hell for the folks in Las Cruces.
Larry Rose III, and top defensive player linebacker Derek Ibekwe went down with hernia surgeries, putting both on the shelf for the season opener.
Then starting quarterback Tyler Rogers got himself caught up in some legal drama, and the Miners now look like heavy favorites against a program that has seen their three top players possibly sidelined for week one.
Rogers’ situation could lead up to a game time decision as far as a suspension, but on Tuesday Doug Martin said Rogers would play if he cleared through the legal hurdles.
UTEP will usher in new quarterback Zack Greenlee and new offensive coordinator Brent Pease in their first time as play caller and quarterback under the Sun Bowl lights.
Greenlee won a heated quarterback competition during camp thanks to accuracy and consistency. A hidden aspect is his running ability that hasn’t been talked about much, but could become something UTEP could use Saturday.
The Miner offense was very vanilla in terms of play calls during fall scrimmages, and the Miners spring game back in April, so it will be interesting to see the Miners offensive game plan unfold.
UTEP has had major success running the ball against the Aggies the past three seasons, so situations could dictate how much variety the Miners run in terms of run/pass mix.
The main things these two teams have in common besides all-world running backs is new defensive schemes.
NMSU brought in former Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani, and UTEP welcomed Tom Mason in the off-season.
Mason's attacking 3-4 defense fits the Miners current personnel on the roster, and all reports from the Miner players' is that the defense will be a strong point in 2016.
Without Ibekwe, the Aggies could have a hard time stopping the Miners run game, but senior linebacker Rodney Butler returns along with sophomore stud Terrill Hanks and safety Jaden Wright.
UTEP's offensive line could be the key with UTEP trying to play keep away, and controlling the clock with Aaron Jones, Darrin Laufasa, and Quadraiz Wadley spearheading the running attack.
If Rogers is not cleared to play, the Aggies list Nick Jeanty as the backup. Jeanty threw for 531 yards and three touchdowns in seven games last season and is a running threat if not contained.
One of the strengths the Aggies will bring is what Doug Martin described as the best wide receiver corps he has coached in over a decade.
Tyrian Taylor, Royce Caldwell, and Greg Hogan are the Aggies leading returning pass catchers and will test the Miners new zone coverage looks.
A breakout star to watch for along the NMSU offense is true freshman running back Gamar Girdy as the Aggies look for Larry Rose replacements.
Girdy was a dual threat quarterback in high school, but ran for over 4,000 yards in his high school career in south Texas and is listed as the Aggies’ #2 running back on the depth chart.
A matchup that a few weeks ago looked like a legit toss-up, now it looks like UTEP should be able to control the clock, and minimize the big plays if Rogers is indeed out.
But it’s a rivalry, and strange things happen, like last year.
UTEP's Three Keys for a Win
Dominate the Line of scrimmage
They've done it against NMSU the past three seasons, and with a seasoned and mammoth offensive line, this shouldn't be a big issue for UTEP.
This one is very important since there a lot of unknowns for both teams. Adjusting to NMSU's new defense, and whoever NMSU puts out there at quarterback and running back will be key for the Miners. In-game, and halftime adjustments could dictate the outcome in a major way.
Get to the QB often
No matter who lines up at quarterback for the Aggies, UTEP needs to set a defensive tone by getting the Aggie offense out of rhythm. The Miners did a great job of pressuring Rogers last year in Cruces, but the Miner defense could have more sacks overall this season with the new 3-4 scheme.
Stop or contain the option
NMSU could have a trick up their sleeve without Rose and Rogers, and that is running an effective option against UTEP’s zone blitzes. Jeanty is athletic, and Rogers does a really job of running the option if he's available. Girdy could also play a factor in the option, and the Miners attacking defense has to stay sound as the Aggies could use this to offset missing parts like Larry Rose.
Five Players to Watch:
Aaron Jones, UTEP, For obvious reasons Jones is always fun to watch, but expect more leadership, more passion, and more fire from the Miners star.
Greg Hogan, WR, NMSU, With Miner killer Teldrick Morgan gone, Hogan could be NMSU’s main target in the passing game. His size could become a matchup problem against UTEP’s speedy corners.
Alvin Jones, UTEP, Alvin went off last year against the Aggies. If the Aggie offensive line has trouble keeping him in front again, watch out.
Terrill Hanks, LB, NMSU, The Aggies are going to need a huge game from Hanks to help cancel out the impact loss of Ibewke. This is a guy who has the skills to play at the next level and is only a sophomore.
Zack Greenlee, UTEP, First time under center as a Miner, and all eyes will be upon the former Fresno State transfer. Interesting to see how much freedom he gets because it seemed like he earned tons of trust in camp.
Who has the advantage?
If Tyler Rogers does play: UTEP 45 NMSU 31
No Rogers: UTEP 34 NMSU 17