UTEP vs New Mexico State Predictions & Game Preview
When: Saturday August 28
Start Time: 9.30pm ET
Where: Aggie Memorial Stadium, Las Cruces, NM
TV Channel: Bally Sports AZ, Flo Football
UTEP vs New Mexico State Predictions
Running out of the tunnel
It has been a long, stressful 21 months at New Mexico State. The last time the Aggies stepped on the field and played a competitive FBS game was Nov. 30, 2019.
NMSU played two games in the spring of 2021 against FCS schools Tarleton and Dixie State, but those may as well have been practices for the limited squad still dealing with Covid restrictions.
Think about this: for more than 400 days, the New Mexico State football team – which four years ago won seven games and the Arizona Bowl – didn’t practice. Heck, they barely met.
Doug Martin, a highly respected coach among his peers who has done more with less at two of the toughest outposts in college football (Kent State, New Mexico State), reached the end of his contract with no extension.
Now he’ll lead the Aggies on the road against UTEP, his first real game at NMSU since losing to Liberty to end the 2019 season.
UTEP battled cancelations and postponements throughout the 2020 Covid season, and never really found a groove under coach Dana Dimel. The Miners lost their last four games over the final two months of the season.
That’s right, four games in two months – sandwich around four cancelations and two postponements. When they actually played, the Miners showed flashes of a potential, enough to make the annual Interstate 10 rivalry an intriguing game this weekend.
When New Mexico State has the ball
Martin makes it very clear that this season is essentially a crapshoot.
“If we pull it off, it will be remarkable,” he says.
NMSU added 40 new players to the roster, 14 of whom are on the two-deep depth chart. Martin says 46 players will be making their NMSU debut this weekend, including quarterbacks Jonah Johnson and Weston Eget.
Just how strange was this camp for NMSU? Martin made everyone live during full pad scrimmages, including the quarterbacks. They simply had to know what they had.
They’ll be multiple on offense, and try spread principles with some quarterback run game. At this point, after such a long time off, the idea of success is incremental.
Protecting the ball. Converting third downs. Gaining momentum.
They lost to Tarleton this spring, and then followed that loss with a last-second win over Dixie State. Martin called the improvement from Game 1 to Game 2 “remarkable.”
Numerous key transfers – including Power 5 transfers WR Dom Gincinto (Missouri) and C Eli Johnson (Ole Miss) – must lead the way to build chemistry and a winning attitude.
Martin says he likes the effort of his team, and the bond they’ve created in such a short time. But can that translate to the field, and give Martin his fourth straight win in the rivalry?
When UTEP has the ball
Dimel fired offensive coordinator Mike Canales at the end of 2020, and hired longtime quarterbacks coach/OC Dave Warner.
Dimel, a longtime coordinator himself, will still be heavily involved in an offense that returns every starter, including quarterback Gavin Hardison.
Warner and Dimel worked together at both Wyoming and Houston, and Dimel feels the familiarity will help the Miners develop into a consistent passing team. Hardison showed flashes last season, but was too inconsistent with accuracy and third down efficiency.
Although UTEP will spread the field, the idea is to work a power isolation game with tailback Deion Hankins, the most consistent player on the offense last season. Hankins averaged nearly five yards a carry in 2020, and had 9 TDs.
There’s production on the outside, too, with wideouts Jacob Cowing (41 catches, 16.9 ypc.) and Justin Garrett (38 catches, 13.4 ypc.) leading a group of four returning receivers that all averaged more than 10 yards per catch.
Dimel wants to stretch the field and force defenses to make plays in space, while loosening the interior for Hankins. To do that, the Miners must be more physical up front, a point of emphasis all offseason.
The bottom line
This will be the first home game for NMSU since beating UTEP in November of 2019, a span of 644 days. That, as much as anything, tells you what the Aggies are dealing with on a daily basis.
The program, for all practical purposes, stayed afloat through a self-imposed death penalty. How quickly can they make it through that adversity, and find the formula to win games?
UTEP didn’t play all that poorly last season, but Dimel still hired new offensive and defensive coordinators. This program has come a long way since Dimel’s first two teams won a single game in each season.
Dimel likes Hardison, and the Miners have the advantage on the outside and should have their way on offense against a patchwork defense that hasn’t had nearly enough time together on the field.
UTEP vs New Mexico State Prediction & Betting Picks
Prediction: UTEP, 40-17