college football picks New Mexico State at Texas-El Paso 9-18-10

September 18, 2010

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DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 18th, 9:05 p.m. (et).

FACTS & STATS: Site: Sun Bowl (51,500) — El Paso, Texas. Television: None. Home Record: NMSU 0-1, UTEP 1-0. Away Record: NMSU 0-0, UTEP 0-1. Neutral Record: NMSU 0-0, UTEP 0-0. Conference Record: NMSU 0-0, UTEP 0-1. Series Record: Texas-El Paso leads, 50-35-2.

GAME NOTES: The New Mexico State Aggies visit the Sun Bowl to take on the Texas-El Paso Miners in a non-conference tilt.

This marks the 88th all-time meeting between the two I-10 rivals, with UTEP holding a 50-35-2 series edge. For the Miners, it’s the longest running rivalry in program history.

The Aggies are just 1-9 in their last 10 road games dating back to the 2008 season. They kicked off their season last week with a 41-21 setback at home to San Diego State. Following this weekend’s contest New Mexico State will play at Kansas next Saturday before returning home for two straight.

Meanwhile, the Miners have two games under their belt although the most recent one wasn’t pretty, as they were dealt a 54-24 loss at Houston in last week’s Conference USA opener. The team also lost senior captain Braxton Amy to a season-ending knee injury in the loss. This weekend’s tilt is the first of two straight home games for the Miners, who will host Memphis next weekend.

Matt Christian earned the starting quarterback gig for New Mexico State and in his debut last week threw for 223 yards and two scores. While those are modest numbers for a lot of other programs, the fact is the Aggies only eclipsed 223 passing yards on one occasion last year. In fact, his two passing touchdowns were more than the Aggies totaled in their first three games of the ’09 season. Marcus Allen scored on a 58-yard reception and finished with 114 yards on four catches. Kenny Turner had 43 yards on 10 carries, but the flow of the game prevented him from getting more opportunities on the ground. The Aggies need to work on sustaining drives, as they converted just 2-of-13 third downs and lost the time of possession battle.

Defensively, New Mexico State has a lot of work to do, particularly against the run. Aztecs’ tailback Ronnie Hillman gashed the Aggies for 150 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries, allowing San Diego State to keep the chains moving and control the clock. It also resulted in some tired bodies on the NMSU sideline. SDSU quarterback Ryan Lindley also found some holes in the Aggies’ defense, as he passed for 319 yards and a touchdown. The Aggies didn’t register any takeaways, although three players did reach double-digit tackles. Boyblue Aoelua led the way with 16 tackles, followed by Alphonso Powell with 14 and Donyae Coleman with 13. Being that Powell and Coleman are the safeties, their tackle totals mostly indicate that the opponent was getting into the second level of the defense far too often.

UTEP racked up 24 first downs and 440 yards of total offense in last week’s contest. That’s solid production, however Houston was moving the ball at will, and the Miners were simply unable to keep pace. Trevor Vittatoe completed 30- of-54 passes for 340 yards and three TDs, while Kris Adams headlined the receiving corps with seven catches for 114 yards and a score. The running game was a non-factor as UTEP was forced to play catchup for virtually the duration. Adams had five 100-yard receiving games in 2008 as a sophomore, but none last year. Eight of his nine catches on the year have resulted in first downs, and he has caught a pass in 26 straight games. Look for New Mexico State to key on Adams in hopes of taking away Vittatoe’s favorite option.

UTEP head coach Mike Price is hoping he doesn’t have to watch too many defensive performances like last week’s from his team. After all, Houston racked up 32 first downs and a staggering 656 yards of total offense, and of course 54 points on the board. Cougars’ running back Bryce Beall rushed for 195 yards and three scores, while backfield mate Michael Hayes ran for 77 yards and also scored three times. Moving on from such an abysmal effort won’t be so easy because UTEP also lost its best defensive player in that contest. Senior strong safety Braxton Amy, who has amassed 229 tackles and 10 interceptions for his career, suffered a torn ACL that will end his season, and ultimately his collegiate career.

Neither team was effective at all in stopping the run last week, particularly the Miners who allowed an embarrassing six rushing touchdowns. Look for UTEP to rebound with a sharper effort at home, although replacing Amy won’t be easy.


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