The Rio Grande Rivalry football edition renews Saturday night for the 109th time. Heading into Saturday night’s contest it appears that the Lobos and Aggies are heading in opposite directions, both giving their fans some concern.
New Mexico enters the game with a 1-1 record, and are coming off a 45-14 loss to Wisconsin last week. While the score makes it seem like a blowout it’s hard to imagine that the Lobos had a lead of 7-3 at the end of the first quarter, and only trailed 10-7 at halftime before the wheels fell off the bus. The Lobos saw their starting quarterback, Tevaka Tuioti, go out with a concussion early in the second quarter, and what left with him was UNM’s ability to move the football against the Badgers defense. Tuioti is expecting to miss Saturday night’s contest, but Lobo fans shouldn’t worry too much about the offense this week against New Mexico State.
New Mexico gets to go up against a defense that is struggling to slow teams down. New Mexico State enters with an 0-3 mark on the season, but have been soundly beaten in all three games. They lost 29-7 to Wyoming in week zero, 48-10 to Minnesota in week one, and 60-13 to Utah State last week. This is definitely not the same Aggies team that snapped a 57-year bowl drought last season. The Aggies enter Saturday’s game giving up 472 yards per game to their opponents offenses, and 45.6 points per game.
That’s great news for the Lobos who, as mentioned before, will be without Tuioti under center. Instead they will go with third string quarterback Sheriron Jones, who came in last week for Tuioti and promptly threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. He did finish 9 of 16 for 79 yards and a touchdown as well. Jones is a JUCO transfer who started his career at Tennessee, although this will be his first career start at the NCAA level.
For Jones to succeed the Lobos will have to again rely upon their veterans. Tyrone Owens only carried the ball 13 times for 57 against the Badgers last week, but with the Aggies allowing 293 yards on the ground, this seems like it could be a big day for him like he had against Incarnate Word in the opener. Receiver Elijah Lilly has been a reliable target through two games; catching only four passes on the season, but for 83 yards and two touchdowns. Jay Griffin IV has caught five passes this season, and Delane Hart-Johnson found the endzone last week. The Lobos have the pieces to move the ball against a weak defense that has already given up a lot of yards to two Mountain West foes so far.
Defensively for the Lobos they can breathe a sigh of relief that they don’t have to see Wisconsin’s running attack again for the rest of the season. However, that doesn’t mean they can take a break. What has been tough for New Mexico is stopping the run. The Lobos gave up 244 yards to Incarnate Word in the opener, and Wisconsin pounded out 417 yards last week on the ground. The Aggies, however, are putrid on offense running the football, averaging just 46 yards a game rushing. So, that bodes well for the Lobos chances of stopping the run.
The passing game has been down this season too for NMSU. Normally a formidable passing team the Aggies have struggled this season throwing the ball, and throwing it to the right team. New Mexico State is averaging just over 182 yards passing this season, compared to 340 yards per game last season, and 245 yards per game the previous season. Junior Matt Romero for NMSU is also struggling connecting with his receivers as he has been intercepted four times this season, and is completing just 53% of his passes. Again, numbers that bode well for the Lobos defense.
The winner in three of the last four Rio Grande Rivalry games has seen a winning margin of three points, or less. The last two have been a one point and two point wins for the Aggies. So, even though the numbers don’t add up in New Mexico State’s favor, we could still see a barnburner Saturday night down in Las Cruces.