The 105th I-25 rivalry football game between New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico will be played Saturday, in Albuquerque, between two teams that could use such a victory.
Neither club has been particularly good to this point of the 2013 season - the Aggies enter the contest with an 0-5 record while the Lobos hold a 1-3 mark - while UNM is favored by nearly 11 points as kickoff approaches.
Both programs have talked this year about the in-state rivalry’s importance, however, and for the Aggies it would be their first win under first-year head coach Doug Martin.
Here, we take a look at the key elements going into Saturday’s contest for state supremacy:
The Lobo run game: This is obviously a major storyline, as UNM has a prolific rushing attack (the team ranks No. 3 in the nation with 1,298 yards on the ground while scoring 14 rushing touchdowns). The Aggies, in turn, are dead last in the FBS (No. 123) in rush defense (surrendering nearly 300 yards per game).
UNM runs a variation of the triple option: The Lobos will often line up with quarterback Cole Gautche in semi-shotgun, which can also come with him flanked by three backs. The team will play power football, utilizing the zone-read to run the ball up the middle, between the tackles. Gautche will also take the ball to the outside as well - with the pitch runner in tow - in an effort to break off a big run on the perimeter.
The Lobos offensive line, coached by former Aggie assistant Jason Lenzmeier, is a strength.
In short, such a gameplan will test the Aggies discipline on defense throughout the evening.
A handful of players highlight the Lobo stat sheet, headlined by leading rusher Kasey Carrier (93 carries, 559 yards and five touchdowns). The team will also utilize running back Crusoe Gongbay (21 carries, 200 yards, one touchdown) and wide receiver Carlos Wiggins (five carries, 133 yards, two touchdowns).
Gautche is a big player (6-foot-4, 223 pounds) who can be tough to bring down (44 carries, 276 yards and five touchdowns) and the team can also bring in backup quarterback Clayton Mitchem (24 carries, 38 yards and two touchdowns) to aid in the rushing effort.
Another element of the Lobo attack: they’ll keep their eye on the Aggie safeties, and their proximity to the line of scrimmage. If they feel the NMSU defensive backs are too close for comfort, a play-action pass will likely be ran, with a deep ball to follow.
Stopping the Lobos rushing attack all together is a likely impossibility - they’ve had big efforts against UTEP (57 carries, 395 yards) and UNLV (59 carries, 497 yards) and a respectable showing against BCS program Pitt (52 carries, 213 yards). The team averages 31 points per contest, while scoring 42 points on two separate occasions this season.
Slowing it down, however, is a must if the Aggies want a chance at victory. At the very least, NMSU has to make UNM earn what it gets - short gains and a ball-control offense would be preferred rather than watching the Lobos rip off a handful of long runs, something they’re capable of.
Aggies offensive production: Martin said in order for the Aggies to win Saturday, a high-scoring attack must be in the offing.
The reasoning is simple: while UNM has a unique offense, the Lobos certainly shouldn’t be considered a team that’s capable of playing in catchup mode. And, if the Aggies can play from ahead, and perhaps get up by multiple scores, UNM might be forced out of its run-heavy comfort zone.
The Aggie offense also must get first downs and sustain drives of its own. Last week against San Diego State - a 26-16 loss - the Aggies got off to a hot start, although the offense fizzled, and the defense was on the field far too long.
Who starts - or better yet, who plays the majority of the game - at quarterback will also be an area of intrigue. While senior Andrew McDonald has proven to be a consistent passer (70-percent completion percentage, 910 yards, six touchdown passes to two interceptions), freshman King Davis III’s lone start of the season against UCLA saw NMSU run for a season-high 187 yards (with Davis III accounting for 51 of those yards). Davis suffered a concussion against the Bruins, however, and just returned to practice this past week.
Offensive gameplan: Last week saw the Aggies attack San Diego State through the air early. NMSU completed 15 of 20 first-half passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns, while building a 16-0 lead.
Sure enough, the offense lost its zip in the second-half. The team tried establishing a running game to no avail (40 carries on 27 yards) and the passing attack lost it’s effectiveness.
Regardless, the Aggies need to be the aggressors from the start Saturday, and carry that through the game’s entirety.
On paper, the team just might be able to make plays through its passing game once again. UNM ranks No. 120 in the nation in pass efficiency defense (920 yards surrendered, nine touchdowns given up and just two interceptions recorded) and the Aggies welcomed back standout receiver Austin Franklin last week after the junior missed the first four games of 2013 due to academic ineligibility. NMSU has since elevated Franklin atop the depth chart, and certainly a couple big plays Saturday - and perhaps a touchdown or two - would seem necessary against the favored Lobos.
Finishing: Through five games of the 2013 season, the Aggies have yet to play at a high level for a game’s entirety. Such a fact goes for both sides of the ball, and special teams.
The team is riding a 16-game losing streak, and the last time it defeated an FBS team was in November, 2011 (a 48-45 win over Fresno State).
Tonight’s contest is a winnable one (NMSU has won three of four meetings against UNM). With that being said, the Aggies must play a complete game - all four quarters - and capitalize at every opportunity that’s presented.
Who: New Mexico State (0-5) at New Mexico (1-3)
What: College football, Week 6
Where: University Stadium in Albuquerque
When: Saturday, 5 p.m.
Radio: KGRT-FM 104; Vista-FM 98.7 (Spanish)
TV: ROOT Sports on DirecTV channel 683; DISH Network channel 414
Spread: NMSU plus-11
Weather: Clear, temperatures in the 50s