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The Battle of I-10 Preview and Prediction: New Mexico State versus UTEP

The Battle of I-10 is a big game for all the wrong reasons

NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Aggies and the Miners are getting set to square off once again in the 96th meeting between the two schools, which may possibly be the biggest AND most meaningless game played between the rivals in the series’ history.

How’s that?

Well, both teams enter the contest winless, which makes it pretty meaningless if you are an outsider looking in. However, if you’re a fan of one of these teams (which I’m sure you are if you’re reading this) you’ll know NM State is coming in disappointed, with a new quarterback and hoping to get things back on track; and if you’re UTEP, you are hoping to break a long losing streak that dates back to November 26, 2016.

Oh and there are these two things.

#BEATUTEP

So, with that said, let’s take a closer look at this game.

I-10 Preview

Location: Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas

NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Arizona State vs North Carolina State Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

Game Time: Saturday September 22, 5:30 p.m. MT

TV: ESPN3

Radio: 99.5 KXZP

Weather Forecast: 79 degrees and sunny

Betting Line: NM State is a 3.5 point favorite!

Series History: UTEP holds a 57-36-2 lead. The Aggies won last year though!

What’s at Stake? See above Tweet.


UTEP Offense

The UTEP offense has struggled out of the gate this season in large part due to the loss of offensive lineman Derron Gatewood and Greg Long for the year, and Jerrod Brooks who was injured last week. That has led Ruben Guerra—the Miners’ most experienced lineman— to start at three different positions this season.

Trying to create some offense behind the rag-tag offensive line is Kai Locksley, a JUCO recruit and former Texas Longhorn, who is the son of former New Mexico coach Matt Locksley.

He is easily the Miners most important player—accounting for half of the team’s first downs and 62% of their plays—and is a huge dual threat. In fact, Locksley leads the team in rushing with 193 yards, followed by Quardraiz Wadley with 172 yards.

UTEP v Tennessee
Wadley is the Miners starting running back and second most lethal rushing weapon
Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images

However, Kai has been less than ideal throwing. He has only completed 41.7% of his passes for 216 yards no touchdowns and one interceptions. It should be no surprise that the leading Miner receiver, Warren Redix, only has 72 yards.

Miner Defense

Unlike the Miner offense, the defense is somewhat respectable. Led by graduate transfer LB A.J. Hotchkins (Oregon, 31 tackles) and DB Kahani Smith (25 tackles), they were able to hold an SEC team to 24 points last week.

UTEP v UNLV
A.J. Hotchkins is the driving force behind a mediocre UTEP defense
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

While that stat is impressive, they did surrender 30 points to FCS Northern Arizona and 52 to UNLV.

Big plays haven’t been too common for the Miners—they only have one interception and five sacks—but the same could be said for the Aggies so this should be an interesting game.

With that being said, the Miners do have two good DBs in Nik Needham and Kalon Beverly who are both in the top ten in the program’s history for pass defenses (Needham is #1).

Honestly, though, I think this is NMSU’s game to lose. If the offense struggles, which it might, then UTEP’s D will gain confidence and look pretty good. If the Aggies are clicking, they should be able to move the ball pretty well.

Prediction

Neither of these teams has much to boast about and it could be a very sloppy game on Saturday. However, with Josh Adkins starting at quarterback for the Aggies, I see the offense improving and NM State picking up their first win.

New Mexico State 31 UTEP 17