EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – It’s only week three of the college football season – but game four, for UTEP – and Saturday’s 80th showdown between UTEP and New Mexico feels like it could swing the Miners season.
Sure, there’s still eight more games after Saturday’s clash in Albuquerque, but a UTEP loss to the Lobos would drop them to 1-3, with a short week to prepare for a tough Boise State team at home on Friday, Sept. 23.
From there, the Miners have back-to-back road games at Charlotte and Louisiana Tech; needless to say, getting a win over the Lobos to move to 2-2, rather than 1-3, would be massive. Of course, 2-2 looks better in the record books, but in terms of climbing out a hole, the Miners don’t want to dig themselves too big of one.
“It’s big to try to get back to 500. You know that’s big because as we look at our schedule, I’ve talked about it, but our first seven games, they’re not easy,” said head coach Dana Dimel. “Two of them are back-to-back road games down the stretch here, you know, game six and seven and then two of your first five are against Boise State and Oklahoma. Then you have a perennial high level North Texas team in your conference to open of the season. So, I wish we played an easier opponent. I don’t think we had any games on our slate here in the first seven that you can say ‘gosh that’s an easy win.’ You’re just going to show up and win, None of those. Obviously, I’d feel really good if we get back to ,500 after four games. I think we’d be in a great position. So, that’s probably what makes it a really important game for us.”
UTEP enters Saturday as slim, 2.5-point favorites over the Lobos, after beating them last year in El Paso. UNM is 1-1, with a week one win over Maine and a week two loss at the hands of Boise State.
The Broncos handled UNM’s triple option attack in a way that UTEP could model. The Miners will need to slow down the Lobos’ rushing attack in order to win; that’s something they haven’t done so far this year, allowing 212 rushing yards per game.
The Miners will also need to force turnovers at the clip that they did in the Battle of I-10 last Saturday at home. UTEP’s performance vs. New Mexico State wasn’t perfect, but they managed to force three turnovers that helped decide the game late.
Offensively, the Miners have scored 37 points in the second quarter of games this year and just nine in all other quarters. Simply put, that’s not good enough and UTEP needs more consistency from its offense and especially quarterback Gavin Hardison in order to get the job done vs. the Lobos.
UTEP has also managed only two red zone touchdowns through three games. The Miners have put together drives that reached the red zone, but have either been shutout entirely, or been forced to kick a field goal. That can’t happen against UNM.
Saturday has the feel of a game that could dictate the rest of UTEP’s season. The Miners want to be in control of their own destiny; a win over the Lobos would go a long way towards doing that.
Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. in Albuquerque; the game will air on the Mountain West Network.