ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Rio Grande rivals need a victory to reach .500 for season, as Lobos, Aggies meet for 104th time
For three weeks, the New Mexico Lobos and the New Mexico State Aggies have pursued parallel courses.
Tonight in Las Cruces, their paths merge. The intrastate rivals meet for the 104th time at Aggie Memorial Stadium.
For the winner, it’s back to .500.
For the loser, it’s back to the wall.
Both the Lobos and the Aggies enter tonight’s game with a 1-2 record. Each has a lopsided season-opening victory over an opponent from a lower division – the Aggies over Sacramento State, the Lobos over Southern.
Since then, both teams have been hammered. The Lobos were routed by Texas, 45-0, and by Texas Tech, 49-14; the Aggies fell to Ohio, 51-24, and to UTEP, 41-28.
“Both teams are kind of in the same situation,” New Mexico coach Bob Davie said. “This is a really good measuring stick for us to see where we are, if we’re dead honest.”
Aggies coach DeWayne Walker is dead honest about his team’s urgent need for a victory, something that, he said, transcends the rivalry aspect of tonight’s game.
New Mexico State has won three straight against the Lobos, but one in a row sounds good to Walker right now.
“I think our guys understand how important this is,” he said, “Not only it being a rival game but a game that we need to get back to .500 football.
“The whole objective for us this week is, we need a ‘W’, and we need it bad. I think the rival part of it, all that is understood. We need to win another football game.”
The Aggies are favored by 6 1/2 points, perhaps in light of their three-game win streak in the series, perhaps because they’ve scored no fewer than 24 points in any game this season. The Lobos have scored just one offensive touchdown the past two weeks, though against two sturdy, Big 12 Conference defenses.
Better offensive production in UNM’s souped-up triple-option offense, Davie said, starts with the quarterbacks, senior B.R. Holbrook and true freshman Cole Gautsche.
“We need to get better at the quarterback position with our option game,” he said. “Some of our rides on the back, our angles at coming down on the pitch. That’s the first thing.”
Tonight also would be a good time to get the UNM passing game untracked; the Lobos are averaging only 49 yards in the air, ranking 119th in the nation.
Still, said senior tight end Lucas Reed, UNM’s is a run-first attack.
“(The Aggies) like to protect against the run,” Reed said, “but we’re still gonna try to hammer the ball as usual and then see what else we can work in.”
On defense, UNM’s injury-depleted secondary must try to contain fleet Aggies Austin Franklin and Kemonté Bateman, who combined for 223 yards receiving last year in NMSU’s 42-28 victory at University Stadium.
The best prescription might be pressure on Aggies quarterback Andrew Manley, who has been sacked 13 times in NMSU’s first three games.
“The game’s gonna boil down to whoever gives the most effort,” Lobos senior linebacker A.J. Butler said. “If we get a lot of pressure up under (Manley’s) face, I think we’ve got a good chance of getting them to turn over the ball.”
The Aggies haven’t run effectively this season, averaging just 95 yards per game and 2.7 yards per carry.
But against the pass-oriented Texas Tech offense, Davie said, the Lobos couldn’t send enough people to pressure the quarterback without exposing their secondary. When they dropped more players into coverage, the Red Raiders ran at will.
“That’s the dilemma,” Davie said.
Defensively, tonight’s game could be described as oatmeal vs. cream of wheat. The Lobos rank 110th in total defense, the Aggies 111th, with just 3 yards per game difference.
Both teams are hoping the other will cure what ails them tonight.
For the winner, the Rio Grande Rivalry will take care of itself.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal