It's a toss-up game.
The New Mexico State Aggies face the UTEP Miners 6 p.m. Saturday at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
NMSU enters the contest as three-point favorites with momentum on its side, while both teams, holding identical 1-1 records, need the victory.
Expect a competitive affair Saturday night between these two heated rivals.
Here's where NMSU has to deliver.
1) Play a complete game: In other words, the team needs to play the same way it did in last week's 28-21 win at Minnesota. Offensively, get up early on UTEP, which is starting a freshman quarterback. Defensively, make big plays when they matter. Be sure both units complement each other. Four solid quarters of football will be required, with the Aggies being the aggressors. Last week's gameplan was well executed. A similar performance and the Aggies will be in the driver's seat this Saturday.
2) Aggie offensive line: Inserting Mike Grady at center and Valerian Ume-Ezeoke at guard paid dividends for the Aggies, who played much better on the offensive line last week. The team needs such a performance again this Saturday. Some simple math: If NMSU can push around the Miners up front, they will be able to run the football. If they can run the football, the play-calling can open up with play-action passing and rollouts. If the play-calling opens up, quarterback Andrew Manley can throw the ball downfield. Oh, and then the opposition is typically in trouble. It all starts up front.
3) Aggie defensive line: It would be nice if the Aggie defensive line applied some pressure on UTEP this weekend. The Miners are starting a freshman quarterback in Jay Hall, haven't played well on the offensive line and haven't been able to run the ball. UTEP will throw the football under head coach Mike Price — they always do — but one would think the Miners will still try to establish the run — the Aggies are susceptible in this area and UTEP is young under center. Minnesota quarterback Marqueis Gray was a runner and the Aggie front-four played adequately against him. Still, NMSU has recorded just 10 sacks in its last 14 games. More pressure is needed. UTEP could look to spread the Aggies out — a space game. If that's the case, the Aggie defense will have to tackle well.
4) Special teams: The Aggie kicking game can be better. Tyler Stampler was accurate last year on field goals, but is 1-for-3 on attempts this season — sooner or later they're going to need him. Punter Jake Capraro can improve his game too. And can the Aggies boot a kickoff into the endzone? A touchback would be nice, as kickoff coverage will be an important factor this week against a good Miners return team.
5) The little things: The Aggies have forced four turnovers through two games and hold a plus-one turnover ratio on the season. So far this marks an improvement — the team was minus-six on the turnover front last year and forced just 12 overall. The Aggies also can't make silly mistakes — two personal-foul calls on late hits during Minnesota scoring drives last week are good examples. Simply put, NMSU can't beat itself.
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