EL PASO – New look, same old feeling for the New Mexico State Aggies at the Sun Bowl.
Riding high off their first 2-0 start in 15 years, the Aggies broke out all-black uniforms with crimson trim for their annual I-10 rivalry game against UTEP on Saturday night.
But in the end, things looked decidedly familiar. The Miners used their punishing ground game to good effect and pulled away late for 42-24 victory in front of 32,979 fans.
Running back Aaron Jones rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns to lead UTEP to its sixth straight win in the series. As a group, the Miners rushed 58 times for 344 yards and five TDs.
That allowed UTEP to keep the ball for 39:26, nearly doubling NMSU’s possession time of 20:34.
Aggies coach Doug Martin had expressed concern during the week that the Miners could win such a game of keep-away. He pointed the finger directly at his offense.
“We sputtered the whole football game,” Martin said. “We were terrible (5-for-12) on third downs, turned the ball over twice and didn’t score enough points. Our defense had no chance.”
The Aggies finished with a respectable 425 yards of offense (335 through the air), but too often failed on key plays.
“We just couldn’t finish drives,” quarterback Tyler Rogers said. “We missed too many opportunities we should’ve taken advantage of.”
It was not a game that got away from the Aggies (2-1) quickly. They trailed 21-10 late in second quarter but drove into UTEP territory three times with chances to trim the margin.
None of the drives produced points.
“We did not score enough points to win a major college football game,” Martin said. “It’s really that simple.”
The Aggies looked sharp enough on their opening drive. Rogers hit Joseph Matthews with an 18-yard scoring pass to cap an eight-play, 75-yard possession. NMSU led 7-0.
UTEP answered with a 75-yard drive, mixing runs and short passes effectively. Jones’ 1-yard TD rush made the score 7-7.
The Aggies continued to move the ball effectively but mistakes began to gradually turn the tide in UTEP’s favor.
On second-and-goal from the Miners’ 7, a shift by the Aggies left two receivers on the right sideline with just one UTEP defender. Rogers did not see the mismatch and threw elsewhere.
New Mexico State settled for a field goal and a 10-7 lead.
After Darrin Laufasa’s 2-yard TD reception gave the Miners a 14-10 lead with 8:31 left in the second quarter, the visitors made an even more costly error.
With his team in field-goal range, Rogers lobbed a pass into the end zone that was intercepted by UTEP’s Wesley Miller. The Miners went 80 yards on their ensuing drive, Laufasa scoring on a 1-yard run to make it 21-10.
Aggies defensive back Lewis Hill gave his team another prime opportunity, picking off a tipped pass early in the third quarter. But after taking over at the UTEP 46, New Mexico State ended up with a missed 50-yard field-goal try.
“You’ve got to score a touchdown there,” Martin said shaking his head. “Our defense kept us in the game for a long time and gave us opportunities. You’ve got to make those count.”
Instead, the Miners took over with power football. Their final three scoring drives included only one pass.
“They did exactly what we expected,” said Aggies linebacker Rodney Butler, who matched safety Kawe Johnson with a team-best 17 tackles. “I felt like we kept going as hard as we could, but (the Miners) are a hard-nosed disciplined team. They run the ball hard.”
Freshman running back Larry Rose III (knee sprain) was in uniform but did not play as NMSU rushed for just 90 yards. Rose is likely to play next week, Martin said.