The Rivalry of the great Southwest is on again as New Mexico State travels to El Paso to take on the Miners with both teams looking for their first win. In a lot of ways, these teams mirror each other, poor offensive output leading to an exposed defense. The result is both teams average margin of defeat is north of 30 points. Something has to give on Saturday night.
Here’s how we see things.
When New Mexico State Has the Ball:
The Aggies are still trying to replace Tyler Rogers at quarterback and Larry Rose at running back. After trying out Matt Romera and Nick Jeanty at quarterback, the Aggies are turning to redshirt freshman Josh Adkins this week.
Adkins has shown the most promise, completing a team-best 58% of his throws for three more yards per attempt than Romero or Jeanty and his QB rating is far and away the best of the group. Last week in his most extensive action, Adkins played well in the Aggie loss to New Mexico.
If New Mexico is going to have any hope to resurrect the season, Adkins is Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The Aggies spread the ball around among several talented receivers, the group that stands out the most on the offensive side. Five Aggie receivers have ten or more catches, but none is the go to that Jaleel Scott was in 2017.
Jason Huntley is a breakaway threat at running back, and he too had his best game against the Lobos, averaging over four yards a carry, light years ahead of his previous three outings. As a team, the Aggies average just 2 yards an attempt. Last year Larry Rose averaged more than twice that.
Which brings us to the issues up front, where in spite of returning four of five starters on the offensive front, the Aggies aren’t moving opponents off the ball, and they lack a back like Rose to create space with a physical rushing style. If you want to rush the passer, the New Mexico State line is the rusty screen door you’re looking for. They’ve given up an FBS worst sixteen sacks.
UTEP showed a pulse on defense at Tennessee. Whether that was the Vols conservative approach or an uptick in effort, the Miners withstood Tennessee’s attempts to bully them. The defensive front continues to play well, and linebacker A.J. Hotchkins leads UTEP tacklers.
The UTEP secondary is a strength of the team, but they gave up some big plays to Tennessee last week. A large portion of UTEP’s defensive shortcomings come from being on the field too much as the offense doesn’t do them any favors.
When UTEP has the ball:
The Miners are dependent on quarterback Kai Locksley to make something happen, usually with his legs. We’d expect to see the Miners give running back Quadraiz Wadley a more significant portion of the offense this week, but we’ve assumed that for several weeks and been wrong.
David Lucero and Warren Redix are Locksley’s most dependable targets in the passing game, but the passing game’s been so impotent we’re not sure whether the Miners can count on it consistently.
On the offensive front, the Miners have settled on a starting unit, but it looks very different from the five who were slated to start as fall camp ended. The interior of the line is leaky, but the two tackles, Zuri Henry and Jerrod Brooks have played well.
The Aggies give up 44 points a game, allowing Utah State to throw a sixty burger on ‘em and even letting a Bob Davie team score 40. It’s been ugly.
Terrill Hanks is a tackling machine, averaging 13.5 per game including a team-best four tackles for loss. The Aggies schedule fed them to a run-heavy mix of opponents including Wyoming, who busted through for over 300 yards and Minnesota who averaged over six yards a carry.
Oddly, in spite of attempting 62 rushes last week, the Aggie defense held New Mexico’s option attack in check for most of the game. They’ll need to bone up for a UTEP team that will look attack on the ground.
If New Mexico can put the Miners behind the chains and stay disciplined against quarterback runs, they’ll force UTEP to go to the air and get uncomfortable.
New Mexico State and UTEP kick off at 6:30 central time Saturday night.