It’s been an off-season that Bob Davie would like to forget. The New Mexico Lobos head coach had to suspend starters SaQwan Edwards, Crusoe Gongbay, and Jamal Price due to arrests, though all three players have since had their charges dropped and have been reinstated. Thankfully, it is now time to put all of the distractions behind and play football.
The Lobos draw their long time rival, the UTEP Miners, in the season opener. Last year’s game was a shootout that the Lobos won 42-35, ending with a stop on fourth-and-inches stop by the New Mexico defense in overtime. This first game is critical for both teams if they want to reach bowl eligibility this year.
WEEK 1: New Mexico Lobos vs. UTEP Miners
WHEN: Saturday, August 30 – 6:00 PM, MST
WHERE: Branch Field at University Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico (39,224)
2013 SEASON: New Mexico 3-9 (1-7 MWC), UTEP (2-10, 1-7 CUSA)
TV: The game will be broadcast online as part of Mountain West Network and Campus Insiders. Click here for further details.
RADIO: New Mexico’s Albuquerque radio affiliate is part of the Lobo Radio Network, 770 AM (KKOB). The UTEP broadcast can be heard in English on KOFX 92.3 FM, and in Spanish on ESPN Deportes 1650 AM.
SERIES RECORD: New Mexico leads the series 41-31-3.
What to watch – New Mexico:
1. Crusoe Gongbay: When Gongbay was reinstated, the Lobos offense was instantly upgraded. He is a talented runner who has quickly gotten back into game shape and should reclaim his starting running back job this season. Don’t look for Gongbay to start, but he should be on the field within the first couple of series. Once he establishes his role in the offense, look for Gongbay to receive a majority of carries, with Jhurell Pressley and Teriyon Gipson spelling him as needed.
2. Cole Gautsche: Gautsche did not play in last year’s game due to a concussion. His presence should create issues for the Miners, who had trouble stopping the Lobos' pistol offense a year ago. Gautsche worked on his throwing in the offseason, and he gives opposing defenses fits because he runs like a fullback and has the ability to make big plays while running the option. Gautsche is the Lobos' leading returning rusher and, despite his concussion issues, he does not expect to alter his downhill running style.
3. Lobos Defense: The Lobos were near the bottom in almost every relevant defensive statistic last year. That prompted the team to make a change and promote Kevin Cosgrove from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator. Cosgrove has worked with this experienced group through the fall, so look for the defensive unit to improve from 2013, starting with this game.
What to watch - UTEP:
1. Jameill Showers: Showers had success against the Lobos last year, passing for 119 yards and a touchdown while adding 47 yards on the ground with another score. Look for Showers to have more control of the pro-set offense the Miners run. He will have run and pass options at the line, and will be tasked with consistently making the right call.
2. Aaron Jones : Jones earned many honors as a freshman in 2013. He was named to Conference USA's All-Freshman team, the College Football News All-Freshman team honorable mention honors and Athlon Sports Freshman All-American third team. Last year, the talented Jones ran for 127 yards and twotouchdowns against the Lobos. Jones will be a focal point for the Miners and the Lobos must find a way to contain him.
3. Miners Defense vs. Lobos Pistol Offense: Last year, the Lobos ran all over the Miners to the tune of 395 yards. UTEP head coach Sean Kugler does not think that his team was prepared to face the Lobos attack, so this year they were able prepare for the game for two weeks instead of oner. Even though Kasey Carrier is gone, the Lobos still have plenty of talented run options, which could still cause matchup issues for the Miners. They will adjust their defensive sets based on how the Lobos line up.
Key matchup – Carlos Wiggins vs. UTEP special teams, defense: Wiggins is a versatile weapon. He led the NCAA with 1,303 return yards a year ago and was fifth nationally with a 29.6 yard per return average. He is also used as a slash, receiver/running back and is used in different positions in different sets so, needless to say, the Miners must find a way to contain Wiggins. He is New Mexico's X-factor because he is a big play threat every time he touches the ball. If the Miners can stop the preseason All-American Wiggins, it gives them a good chance at a win against the Lobos.
For more coverage of Miners football, be sure to check out SB Nation's UTEP blog, Miner Rush.