Both teams are coming off loses, both teams are 1-2 on the season with wins over FCS opponents, both are teams searching for consistency. That’s where the similarities seem to stop however. The Aggies were picked to finish in the middle of the Western Athletic Conference this year – the last year for football in the WAC – and are looking to finally break through for a winning season in head coach Dewayne Walkers fourth year at the school.
The Lobos, on the other hand, are rebuilding their entire program under first year coach Bob Davies and were picked to finish last in the Mountain West Conference. Off the field, NMSU is looking at going independent in football for the first time since 1970 while UNM is looking at playing in a revamped MWC that is in transition but stable compared to the WAC.
Though the Aggies have won three games in a row against the Lobos, the well-worn cliché statement "You can throw the records out when these two play" applies here. Though NMSU dominated New Mexico last season in Albuquerque, the year before the Aggies needed a last minute drive and a last second field goal to win in Las Cruces. Likewise, the 2009 edition of the rivalry game was a thriller, with New Mexico State topping UNM 20-17.
This Saturday’s game at Aggie Memorial Stadium in Las Cruces, N.M. is likely to be similarly even and close.
The two teams are not mirror images when it comes to offense. The Aggies are averaging 264.0 yards per game passing while the Lobos average just 49.3 yards in the air. UNM’s offensive strength so far has been running the ball, where they average 213.3 yards per game. NMSU averages just 94.7 yards per game this season.
NMSU quarterback Andrew Manley is averaging 263 yards a game and has thrown seven touchdowns and two interceptions on the season. Despite losing 41-28 loss last week at UTEP, the Aggies finished with a pair of 100 yard receivers – Kemonté Bateman finished with seven catches for a season-high 115 yards and a touchdown while Austin Franklin finished with seven catches for 107 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
New Mexico State would appear to hold the advantage as UNM’s defensive secondary is both banged up and shown itself to be inexperienced so far this season. Aggie starting quarterback Andrew Manley has already passed for 789 yards this season with seven touchdowns and 2 interceptions leading NMSU’s spread offense.
But UNM’s schedule has been a bit more daunting than NMSU’s this season, so direct comparisons may not apply. And remember, this is a rivalry game.
As with it’s last two opponents, Texas and Texas Tech, New Mexico will likely seek to control the clock and establish their running game through the new Pistol offense.
The Aggie defense has allowed 186.3 yards on the ground per game so far and 303 yards through the air, so UNM’s offensive attack led by B.R. Holbrook and freshman Cole Gautsche is facing less of a defensive challenge than the last few weeks.
Kick returner Chase Clayton has proven to be an X-Factor this season, running back two kick kicks for touchdowns. His 98-yard kick off return against Texas Tech provided a brief spark for a lagging Lobos team. With an even match-up against New Mexico State, Clayton’s speed could tip the balance of the game.
Running back Demarcus Rogers has been the team’s leading running back with 109 yards on the season but Gautsche, a true freshman is currently the team’s leading rusher with 159 yards in three games for UNM.
New Mexico is looking for a breakout game against an FBS opponent while New Mexico State is hoping to live up to its catchphrase "It’s Time" and earn its first winning season under Walker and this is a game that the Aggies need to make that happen.
If NMSU can get off to a fast start as it did last year, UNM would have a hard time coming back. And though the Aggies have found ways to win the close games in recent times, the Lobos potential to control the line of scrimmage in the running game could give them an edge late in a close game.