This week the Aggie football team hosts the UTEP Miners in the Battle of I-10. Like New Mexico State, UTEP has a new head coach and a new philosophy. The Miners are 0-1 after a 42-35 overtime loss to fellow rival New Mexico. We've recruited Alex Nicolas from MinerRush.com to answer a few questions about the new-look Miners and find out what Aggie fans can expect from the team on Saturday..
bleedCrimson.net: The Miners are 0-1 under new head coach Sean Kugler but the Miners could very easily be 1-0. What is your initial impression of the new-look Miners?
MinerRush.com: Well for one as an offense the Miners are not going to sling the ball around 50+ times a game anymore, the offense has a more NFL like look and feel, and Offensive Coordinator Patrick Higgins is going to pound the rock. But the culture is also changing, Kugler is bringing a blue collar, physical, disciplined feel and a bully type attitude. Kuglers attention to detail is remarkable, and how hard we played against UNM, shows me they are buying in to Kugler and are playing hard for him. Defensively the Miners are still trying to find their identity but I like the young guys they have and I really think UTEP is lucky to have Scott Stoker calling the shots on D.
bc.net: Defensively the Miners were gashed by the Lobo run game. What was the biggest issue for the Miners in stopping the run and do you think the Miners can keep the Aggies, who have themselves struggled in the run game, from getting their ground game untracked?
MR: I think the issues were missed assignments on the triple option and missed tackles. Germi Morrison is a very good back and if we don't wrap him or or lose him in the pistol shuffle, I could see us struggling again. Not an excuse, but its worth noting that the Miners did start 7 new defensive players, and Stoker only had training camp to install the new defense, but right now no one has stepped up dominated on D, I'm sure our fans and coaches are hoping someone can make some plays Saturday. Carrier must have had 100+ plus yards after first contact, so if the Miner defense can gang tackle and read keys correctly they should have success, but its still going to be a huge weakness until the Miners prove they can stop the run.
bc.net:With the Lobos utilizing the ground game, the Miners' passing defense wasn't tested. How do you think the unit will hold up against an Aggie passing attack that has been relatively efficient?
MR: Its hard to tell with UNM being so one dimensional, UTEP has 4 freshman and a JUCO transfer back there in the mix who will get their first taste of a spread type look, so I'm curious and excited to see these guys in game action against that. Richard Spencer is back and he got a pick against the Aggies last year. Andrew McDonald has been very efficient, and there is some speed in the Miner defensive backfield, but they can't let him have time. I think the Miners D-Line needs to get pressure you on him because the Aggies have very good reliable receivers, and in my opinion yall have the advantage in that matchup.
bc.net: Offensively the Miners, like the Lobos, relied heavily on the ground game. Do you expect to see more of the same against an Aggie defense that is giving up an average of 8.2 yards per rush or do you expect the Miners to try to attack the Aggies through the air more than they did against the Lobos?
MR: I expect the Miners to maybe throw the ball down field a little more, but Kugler made it clear in the post game presser that running the ball is who they are going to be. Nathan Jeffery didn't have a big game so I expect him to be fired up and hungry, the Miner O-line out weighs the Aggie D-line, so I think early Higgins will try to establish it and show off the depth of the RB's. The Miners stacked the box with tight ends last week and showed multiple back sets, they have 5 guys who could all get carries and are very talented.
bc.net: Your quarterback Jameill Showers transferred from Texas A&M and if not for Johnny Football, he might have been the starting quarterback for the Texas Aggies. What did he show you in the first game and what can we expect to see in the game on Saturday?
MR: I hate the to use the description, but he is the true definition of a "game manager" with the way the Miners run their offense. For what Kugler described as game plan reasons, they seemed to have had somewhat of leash on him last week. He is extremely accurate and I've seen that first hand in practice, and he is clearly a dual threat but he is better as a passer, tough he runs a 4.6. He was very upset after the UNM game and feels they can score every time out, so I expect a big game from Jameill.
bc.net: UTEP head coach Sean Kugler sent a shot across the bow of the Aggie fan base earlier this week when he talked about the Miner fans showing up in force at Aggie Memorial Stadium and either equalling them out or even out-drawing them. What do you think of the statement he made and do you think about him stirring the pot in the rivalry (for the record we think it's a good thing)?
MR: I think its great. I love Kugler's were going to come in here and kick your you know what attitude he has brought here, he has played in this rivalry and as an assistant coached in it, so he knows what this game means to people who live in this region. Some of our current assistants have also played in it and they will probably echo that statement with along with Miner Nation as well, so it brings a little excitement and shows he is a true Miner at heart.
bc.net: Who are a couple key players on defense to watch for?
MR: Senior Richard Spencer is the Miners most experienced DB, True Freshman DB Devin Cockrell had 10 tackles in his first game as a collegiate and is going to be a player, they have reportedly made some personnel moves on the D-line but return Marcus Bagley and Horrace Miller looks solid at Linebacker after switching from DE.
bc.net: Who are a couple of key players to watch for on the offensive side?
MR: Freshman and El Paso's own Aaron Jones, he's been the talk of camp and had 127 yards on 11 carries last week. As mentioned Showers and Jeffery, Ian Hamilton is a guy who I've talked a lot about since camp and of course Jordan Leslie, who had a rough night Saturday but is a threat but he had a huge game last year against NMSU so he educated on how big this game is.
bc.net: The Miners will win this game if…
MR: The Miners can get pressure on McDonald and make him un-comfortable, get off the field on 3rd down, and not give up big plays that give the Aggies momentum, they also need to keep our offense on the field so to me, that means the Miners have to tackle way better than last week.
bc.net: The Aggies will win this game if...
MR: The Miners let up big plays in the pass game and let the crowd get in it. If the Aggies can establish the run with Morrison and even McDonald or King Davis III breaks one out of the pistol option, it could be another long night for the Miner D.
bc.net: Your predicted outcome:
MR: UTEP 49 NMSU 31
Check out MinerRush.com for game previews.