EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – If you’re not very good up front, you won’t be a very good football team.
It’s an old cliche that has been recited by both coaches for UTEP and New Mexico State as the Miners and Aggies gear up for the 99th edition of the Battle of I-10 on Saturday.
Hyped as potentially the best defensive line in Conference USA in the preseason, UTEP’s vaunted unit has struggled some as the Miners began the season 0-2. Through two games, UTEP has just two total sacks and only one from the defensive line as Jadrian Taylor got to Oklahoma’s Dillon Gabriel last week.
Praise Amaewhule on the other side of the defensive line has just one tackle on the year, no sacks, no pass break-ups and no tackles for loss. Kelton Moss and Keenan Stewart have combined for only five tackles through two games. Simply put, the Miners’ front line hasn’t gotten off to the start it wanted to.
Some of that has been scheme from North Texas and Oklahoma, but head coach Dana Dimel said Wednesday it’s also on the guys up front to terrorize the opposing offense.
“It’s time for our defensive line to start making an impact in games, not only this game but moving forward,” Dimel said after practice. “We have good players and they need to start making plays. We need to start being more disruptive on defense in general, but especially up front.”
Dimel said that the offensive lines they faced vs. North Texas and Oklahoma were as strong of units as they’ll face all season, but the fact remains that the Miners need to get more from what was thought to be their biggest strength coming into the season.
It’s firmly on the shoulders of Amaewhule, who many believe possesses NFL-type abilities as an edge rusher. He has feasted on offensive lines in previous seasons for sacks and pass break-ups, but has none of either through two games, though he does have a fumble recovery.
“These past two games, I haven’t seen a lot of action. I’ve been a little bit bored out there,” Amaewhule joked on Monday. “But I know I need to do more out there, I can’t just be an average guy, I have to go above and beyond.”
Saturday may be the chance the Miners have been waiting for to unleash the defensive line. NMSU head coach Jerry Kill was not happy with his offensive line play in the first two games, as the Aggies allowed three sacks, plowed the way for just 123 total rushing yards and weren’t able to generate enough time for either of their quarterbacks to make plays.
The numbers may not totally show exactly what Kill is so unhappy about, but the fact remains that he doesn’t think the Aggies have been good enough up front. If they’re going to make strides as an offense as a whole, the unit needs to step up and improve, Kill said on Tuesday.
“Until our offensive line plays better, there isn’t anything we can do,” Kill said. “Our offensive line has to play better. When you’re under pressure all the time and throwing it quicker than you want to, it doesn’t matter. I’ve challenged our offensive line.”
Center Canaan Yarro didn’t play in NMSU’s loss at Minnesota, but Kill said he’s expected to play vs. UTEP. While the Aggies’ head coach hammered home the point that the offense wouldn’t improve until the O-Line got better, there may be some places where the quarterbacks – be it Gavin Frakes or Diego Pavia – can help them out.
“I have to put them in good situations. As a whole offense everybody has to run the right route and when pressure comes, I have to make the right decision and we have to catch and run,” said Frakes.
UTEP’s offensive line hasn’t been perfect through two games, either. The Miners have allowed seven sacks, five of them vs. Oklahoma, and has had multiple snap issues. A bad snap over the head of quarterback Gavin Hardison resulted in no point in a 4th and goal from the 1-yard line vs. North Texas.
otball is won up front, as Kill reminded his team on Tuesday. Whichever unit improves fastest before Saturday could be the key to a Battle of I-10 victory.
Elsewhere at New Mexico State, a team official confirmed to KTSM that wide receiver Dominic Gicinto was no longer on the Aggies’ roster, after he played against Minnesota last Thursday. He is no longer listed on the NMSU roster online.
No other details were given regarding Gicinto’s departure from team. Sources told KTSM on Wednesday that he is not currently in the transfer portal. A transfer from Missouri, he caught two passes for 16 yards in 2022 for NMSU, after snagging nine passes for 95 yards and a touchdown in an injury-plagued 2021 campaign for the Aggies.
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at the Sun Bowl Saturday night. UTEP is currently a 16-point favorite over NM State.