For the first time since 2002, UTEP enters a college football game with the NMSU Aggies as a double digit underdog.
And also for the first time since 2002 when NMSU went 7-5, the Aggies are in a positon to beat UTEP for the first time in eight seasons when the rivalry is renewed this weekend in Las Cruces.
Despite a 1-2 record, NMSU is a few possessions away from a 3-0 start, and playing some of the best football under head coach Doug Martin.
It all starts with senior quarterback Tyler Rogers who is one of the most accurate passers in FBS, and now has a plethora of legit weapons to distribute production.
Rogers has the Aggies sitting in the top-60 nationally in passing success rate, and has only been sacked seven times in 159 pass attempts.
Larry Rose III is still around, and his offensive line is very much improved. Rose is also heavily involved in NMSU’s passing game as their second most targeted pass catcher.
NMSU ranks 58th nationally in rushing success rate, and NMSU’s offensive line is ranked 13th overall in creating yards for their running backs.
10 of NMSU’s pass catchers have been targeted more than nine times this season, led by stud Jaleel Scott.
Scott adds a big play, and red zone dimension to NMSU’s offense, and the future NFL prospect is a big target at 6’6.
The speedy Izaiah Lottie had a big game last week, and NMSU still has veteran wide out Greg Hogan, while sophomore Anthony Muse has an 80 percent catch rate on 15 targets this season.
NMSU is deeper than ever on offense, but have also made some productive strides on defense. The Aggies employ an aggressive, blitz heavy scheme, and have developed some playmakers to fit.
Starting with their two leading tacklers, Dalton Herrington and Terrill Hanks who are both linebackers. Herrington has a team leading five run stuffs, while Hanks brings speed and three years of experience as NMSU’s top defender.
In the secondary, Malik Demby has been NMSU’s biggest surprise, and splashed onto the scene against Arizona State. Demby had five tackles for loss against the Sun Devils, and he also has four run stuffs on the season.
UTEP has the tall task of an early season coaching change on the offensive side of the ball, all while trying to fix a number of issues on both sides of the ball that have led to an ugly 0-3 start.
Brian Natkin takes over play calling duties for a unit that ranks 129th in total offense and yards per play.
Who starts at quarterback will depend on the health of Ryan Metz who is unofficially questionable this week with a shoulder injury.
Sean Kugler has been mum on his starter, but the Miners run game and improving it will certainly be a theme this week.
UTEP could shake up their running back rotation and see freshmen Josh Field, and Ronald Awatt take some carries away from normal starters Kevin Dove and Walter Dawn.
The Miners top three targeted wide outs have catch rates of 43.8, 40, and 50 percent which won’t win very many ball games, nor move the chains.
UTEP’s defense also needs a boost of energy, since there aren’t 11 Alvin Jones’ to go around.
This is a pivotal game on the UTEP schedule, lose this one, and the early season hole becomes a major crater that will turn the prospect of a winless season in a reality.
Four keys to a UTEP win
Put hats on Tyler Rogers
One of Tyler Rogers’ best attributes is his escapability in and out of the pocket. Pursuing the quarterback, or players in the backfield is a major weakness from the UTEP defense. If he’s not wrapped up, he will make the Miner D pay in a big way.
Defense has to step up
Yes it starts with stopping Rogers, but the UTEP defense needs to create momentum with run stuffs, tackles for losses, turnovers, and yes as difficult as it is, points. A defensive touchdown, or field position flip could be huge in this game, and the UTEP defense has to step their game up in this department to help a struggling offense.
First down play calling
UTEP is one of the worst team nationally when it comes to standard downs execution. UTEP is averaging just three yards per carry on first down, and has only picked up a first down on first down situations just three times. This is where Brian Natkin’s creativity as a play caller will be tested.
Play pissed off, and have fun boys!
You’re 0-3, everyone says you suck, your head coach is on the scorching seat, play with nothing to lose, have fun, and bust them Aggies in the mouth boys!
UTEP has tons of issues, but it will great for UTEP fans to see their team give a full effort, and have a chance to win.
But, NMSU is “G5” good, and the Miners just have too many issues to predict an upset. (Can’t believe UTEP beating NMSU is considered an upset in 2017)
NMSU 45 UTEP 21