NMSU seeks running game and consistency in the third quarter
EL PASO – If it’s symbolism you want, this rivalry’s got it in spades.
It starts with the Silver Spade, a traveling trophy that’s gone home with the UTEP-New Mexico State football winner after each meeting since 1955. The Brass Spittoon (technically named the Mayor’s Cup) was added to the victor’s spoils in 1982.
Still not satisfied, current Mayors Ken Miyagishima of Las Cruces and John Cook of El Paso decided this week that a friendly wager on tonight’s Battle of I-10 at the Sun Bowl was in order.
NMSU at UTEP, 6 p.m. Radio: KQTM-FM (101.7); KGRT-FM (103.9) in Las Cruces
The losing mayor will fly the winner’s city flag over his City Hall next week.
Symbols notwithstanding, NMSU’s coaches and players see this game as significant, too.
“I want to beat UTEP real bad,” junior cornerback Darien Johnson said. “It’s something we haven’t done since I’ve been here, so I’m taking this seriously.”
Junior linebacker Bryan Bonilla had similar sentiments.
“People around school and around town don’t let us forget who we’re playing,” Bonilla said.
Aggies coach DeWayne Walker offered a different perspective, one largely free of rivalry hype.
“This is not a game you want to put the whole season on,” Walker said, “but it can elevate our confidence and get us headed in the right direction a quarter of the way through the season. In that respect, it is a big game.”
New Mexico State rolls into the Sun Bowl at 1-1 – just where most observers likely expected its record to be after two games. The Aggies handled Sacramento State at home but were knocked out in the second half last week at Ohio.
Even Walker conceded his team’s 1-1 start comes as little surprise, but that doesn’t mean he’s satisfied.
“I’m not totally happy because I wanted us to play four good quarters,” Walker said. “I don’t think we did that in either of our games.”
Third quarters, specifically, have been a problem for the Aggies. Sacramento State trimmed a 28-10 deficit to 28-19 in the third quarter of NMSU’s opener, and Ohio turned a 21-14 lead into a 45-24 romp.
“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on having a better third quarter this week,” Walker said.
Additional emphasis has been placed on a rushing attack that sputtered in last season’s 16-10 loss to UTEP. New Mexico State rushed for just 16 yards in that game.
With that in mind, Walker believes the Miner defense will be in attack mode tonight, crowding the line of scrimmage and blitzing Aggie quarterback Andrew Manley on a regular basis.
“We’ve got to prove we can make a play in the running game,” Walker said.
UTEP has won three straight games in the rivalry, but the 2011 game left a particularly bad taste in the Aggies’ mouths. Three plays were especially bitter.
♦ After driving the length of the field on its opening drive, NMSU fumbled the ball away at UTEP’s goal line.
♦ Leading 10-6, the Aggies were burned by Joe Banyard’s 60-yard run on a fake punt late in the third quarter. It set up UTEP’s lone touchdown.
♦ Late in the fourth quarter, Manley went down with a knee injury that would require surgery and end his season.
“(The injury) was not really anything they did,” Manley said. “It just happened. But I am really excited to play UTEP. I’ve never beaten them. It’s a rivalry game, and we really want to be 2-1. We have to win this game to get there.”
UTEP (0-2) also feels some urgency about the 90th installment of this football rivalry. The Miners have lost to a pair of power-conference foes in Oklahoma and Mississippi, but they can ill-afford to start 0-3 with a pair of road games on the horizon.
Coach Mike Price is not above using a little hype to provide motivation.
“Whether you’re an alumni or fan, you want to beat the Aggies,” Price said. “It’s important for our players to know, so they understand the history of the spade and the spittoon.”