EL PASO, Texas - This weekend the UTEP football team gears up for the annual showdown against I-10 rival New Mexico State.
Although the Aggies (1-1) are coming off its first loss of the season last week to good Ohio team, NMSU is looking better in the first two weeks than it has in years. On the other side of the coin, the Miners have started the season with two losses, albeit to two BCS schools.
This match up is a must-win for both teams. With UTEP winless right now in the season, they are looking for a jumping off point to set them on the right track for the rest of the year. NMSU needs the win to help propel them to bowl eligibility. This season is arguably more important for the Aggies than the Miners, with NMSU unsure of their conference future after this season.
Here are a few matchups and predications to consider before the Aggies and the Miners square off for the 90th meeting of the Battle of I-10.
UTEP senior quarterback Nick Lamaison did not play up to par in the first two games of the season. Even with two loses and a dismal performance against Oklahoma, let's not forget he threw against two BCS-level secondary's.
With that being said, NMSU sophomore Andrew Manley still has the advantage in this matchup. Manley has 499 total yards and four touchdowns completing 56 percent of his passes this season. The only notable problem with Manley: his sack total. He's been sacked eight time this year and that total will only go up come Saturday.
Look for UTEP to Lamaison to take advantage of the short passing routes and a few screens to the wide receivers and tailbacks. NMSU throws the deep ball, usually off a play-action, this should make for an interesting game for the Miners defensive backs.
The battle up front wins the war
This is a one sided battle, unlike the quarterback matchup. UTEP has the advantage on both sides of the ball. The UTEP offensive line is a veteran group who has seen the worst and best of moments together. If the running-game performance against Oklahoma doesn't show how good this unit can be, I don't know what does.
On the defensive side of the ball the Miners have Germard Reed and Marcus Bagley (no relation to Beau Bagley of KTSM). They have anchored the line for a little over a season now and this year should be the best combination yet. Along with Reed and Bagley, are defensive ends Horace Miller and Greg Watkins.
The running game will dictate the outcome
The Miners have the better running game of the two teams, but running back Nathan Jeffery is still questionable for this week and backup Autrey Golden is battling his own injuries.
NMSU does not have a strong running game, but what they do have is consistency. Running back Germi Morrison stepped in last week for Robert Clay as he recovers from a concussion. Morrison has played well for a team that passes first and ranks 111th in rushing nationally.
Running game advantage goes to UTEP. It is not a landslide because of injuries, but if Golden and Jeffery are at least 80 percent come Saturday, UTEP will dominate this category.
History is on the Miners side
In the 90th meeting between the two schools, UTEP still holds the advantage in the history department. The Miners lead the series 52-35-2 and in the head coach Mike Price era UTEP is 6-2. The last time the Aggies beat UTEP was a 34-33 win in 2008 in the Sun Bowl. The home team is usually the victor in the Battle of I-10 with UTEP winning 18 of the last 27 games in the Sun Bowl.