OK, we know how big the Aggie win was over Minnesota on Saturday. Over a Big Ten team, on the road, 20-point underdogs. A Big Ten team that lost 19-17 to USC the week before. It was absolutely, positively, huge for the NMSU program.
And the Aggies face another huge game this Saturday against UTEP. NMSU needs to maintain momentum and build the local excitement following the Minnesota win. A loss against the Miners will take much of that away.
And this is a big game for UTEP as well.
The Miners haven't had a running game this year and will be turning to freshman quarterback Jay Hall after starter Nick Lamaison went down against SMU with a separated shoulder. Hall is a thrower with some athletic ability. He will be a key factor in the contest.
UTEP is 1-1 — they barely got by Stony Brook Week 1 and looked better last week in a 28-17 road loss to SMU, a top-tier Conference USA West Division team.
After NMSU, the Miners face South Florida and Houston, so getting a win against the Aggies is big — either that or the team is staring at a 1-4 start to the season.
Yes, this is a critical game for both teams.
For the Aggies, it's about building and establishing momentum after an upset win that could jumpstart the program. The players and the community need to know this team is on the move. NMSU faces the underbelly of their schedule now — four straight winnable games vs. UTEP, at UNM, at San Jose State and vs Idaho — before it gets tougher.
For UTEP, it's about proving itself in a big game on their schedule — against a rival and in a winnable game.
Should be a sellout too. Get there early.
Can't wait for this.
Some more positives from Saturday
• I thought middle linebacker Alexander LaVoy played well. He continued to show he can make plays in pass coverage — tipped ball that was intercepted by Boyblue Aeolua in Aggie endzone stands out. Aggies played well in the interior Saturday — two fourth down run stops continue to stand out.
• The Aggies held Minnesota to 2-of-12 on third downs and 1-of-4 on fourth downs. They'll take those numbers every time.
• The moves on the offensive line helped — no issues from Mike Grady who started at center this week. Team was able to run the ball and didn't give up a sack. The Aggies had nine sacks last year, Minnesota eight so it was a good matchup for them.
• The Aggies were able to run the ball which opens up the entire playbook. Play-action passing becomes a factor as do rollouts and bootlegs. When a team runs the ball well, it provides flexibility in play calling. When they don't, it limits them.
• Aggies played mentally and physically tough.
Areas of work
• I thought the team did some things to bother the Minnesota quarterbacks, but overall the Aggies need to get to the quarterback more. This has been a theme the past two years. NMSU had one sack on Saturday and there were times they got a push up front but there were also other times when the quarterback could have baked a batch of cookies and checked his mail back there. Certainly facing a running quarterback — which Minnesota's MarQueis Gray is — will hold back the rush slightly. But this is more than just a one-week issue.
• Thought the Aggie secondary continued to play well — still believe this is the strength of the defense. There is talent and numbers back there. But Minnesota also was looking Jonte Green's way and he got beat a few times. Again, Jonte can be a terrific cornerback for the Aggies — from a physical standpoint he's there and pro scouts see his potential. But I think he can play better.
• The Aggie kicking game concerns me. When was the last time NMSU had a kickoff that went into the endzone? I want a touchback. Punter Jake Capraro needs to get better. Kicker Tyler Stampler was accurate last year but missed a 27-yarder Week 1 and wasn't close on a 49-yarder vs. Minnesota. Aggies have to get better in the kicking game.