Saturday’s New Mexico State-vs.-UTEP college football opener has something of a high-stakes poker feel.
Neither coach wants to show his hand too soon.
New Mexico State’s depth chart for the Week Zero game at Aggie Memorial Stadium serves as a case in point. The Aggies don’t name definitive starters at key positions (quarterback and tailback among them), instead listing two potential starters with “OR” spelled out in capital letters in between.
Most notable is the quarterback position, where junior Jonah Johnson and redshirt freshman Weston Eget have been battling for the starting spot. Both saw playing time during the Aggies’ two-game spring season, and coach Doug Martin said Tuesday the competition is ongoing.
“We don’t know yet who will start,” Martin said during a media conference. “They’re both going to play. They’ve been getting equal (repetitions) in practice, and we feel good about both of them.”
Johnson, a transfer from Fresno City College, shrugged off the uncertainty about who will start.
“(Eget) has pushed me to be better and I’ve pushed him,” Johnson said. “I feel like we’ve gotten better as a team and as an offense since the spring, and Saturday we’ll be ready to go.”
Martin said part of the reason for delaying starting assignments is the COVID-19 pandemic, which effectively wiped out NMSU’s 2020 fall season. The Aggies and Connecticut, both Football Bowl Subdivision independents, were the only FBS teams that did not play a fall schedule.
“I don’t really like having two quarterbacks,” Martin said. “I’d rather have one guy. But with COVID and some of the complications that come with it, you almost have to prepare for guys being out and different scenarios. It’s a different era.”
Martin and his staff also have to prepare for some unknowns on UTEP’s side of the I-10 Rivalry. Miners coach Dana Dimel hired new offensive and defensive coordinators (Dave Warner and Bradley Dale Peveto, respectively) during the offseason, complicating NMSU’s game preparations.
“We really don’t know what we’ll get from them schematically,” Martin said.
Perhaps with that in mind, Martin is keeping a few cards up his sleeve. The Aggies figure to employ a “thunder-and-lightning” approach at running back, where junior transfer O’maury Samuels and redshirt freshman Juwaun Price are listed as potential starters.
“They complement each other,” Martin said. “O’maury is a slasher who likes contact, and Juwaun is more of a speed guy like we’ve had with Larry Rose and Jason Huntley. We’ll definitely use both guys.”
Saturday’s game will be the first played at Aggie Memorial since Nov. 23, 2019 – a span of 644 days. New Mexico State defeated UTEP 44-35 in its last home appearance before the pandemic.