This year’s edition of the Rio Grande Rivalry features two football teams in similar situations.
UNM and NMSU hold 1-2 records for the season so far; both teams opened their seasons with routs over Football Championship Subdivision teams, and both lost consecutive road games by considerable margins.
While the Lobos enter Saturday’s in-state rivalry game in Las Cruces following losses to Texas and Texas Tech, NMSU looks to bounce back from a 51-24 loss to Ohio and a 41-28 setback to Texas-El Paso, another key Aggie rival.
“We’re not in a position where we can take anyone lightly,” said fourth-year NMSU head coach DeWayne Walker, who has led the Aggies to three consecutive wins over UNM.
During a Western Athletic Conference teleconference Monday, Walker said that he would prepare for UNM the same way he prepared for UTEP. The Miners also faced two big-time programs in Oklahoma and Mississippi. UTEP lost those games — 24-7 to Oklahoma and 28-10 to Ole Miss — before beating the Aggies.
Against UTEP, NMSU found itself in a 27-0 hole after surrendering touchdowns on its first four defensive series. The Aggies scored their first touchdown late in the first half and outscored the Miners 21-14 in the second half. It wasn’t enough to complete a comeback.
NMSU totaled 402 yards and gave up 487 against UTEP.
“I think it’s tough,” Walker said, referring to back-to-back rivalry games. “Our guys were jacked up for the UTEP game, and we just came out flat for whatever reason. They caught us on our heels and by the time we got our act together, it was a little bit too late for us.”
Aggie quarterback Andrew Manley lines up under center for the Aggies. He averages 263 yards per game, and he has seven touchdowns and two interceptions in three games.
Manley’s favorite targets are senior receiver Kemonte’ Bateman and sophomore wide out Austin Franklin. On the season, Franklin has 20 catches for 415 yards, followed by Bateman with 13 catches for 193 yards. Bateman and Franklin exceeded 100-yard receiving games against UTEP — 115 and 107, respectively.
“They are really good players,” UNM head coach Bob Davie said. “Every game, you see them running down the field and you see a quarterback who can throw the ball deep. That’s obviously the challenge.”
While Bateman and Franklin could pose issues for the UNM secondary, Walker said he wants to see Manley spread the ball around to other receivers.
“We just need to spread the ball around a little bit more,” Walker said. “I know we had a chance to get the ball to our tight end, and I think he’s a good pass-catching tight end. I know (Manley) likes to get that ball downfield a little bit.”
Walker wants to see more production from the NMSU rushing attack. On the ground, the Aggies average 2.7 yards per carry and 94.7 yards per game. Junior running back Germi Morrison leads the way with 147 rushing yards and a 5.4 per-carry average.
Defensively, Walker said NMSU needs to stop UNM’s option running game. While he respects quarterback B.R. Holbrook’s ability to throw the ball, Walker said UNM’s bread and butter comes from run plays.
“That’s what they do … they’re a running football team,” he said. “We’re going to take care of the running game.”
The key for the Aggies, however, is playing a complete four-quarter game. Walker admitted that while his team shines in two or three quarters of each game, the Aggies have yet to maintain their intensity for a full 60 minutes.
Perhaps that will change Saturday against UNM.
“I think once we get some consistency, we’ll have a chance to win some more football games,” Walker said. “We’re still a work in progress and we’re looking forward to trying to get back to .500 this weekend.”