The 96th meeting of the Battle of I-10 between UTEP (0-3) and NMSU (0-4) will be a war for a first win between the two programs.

The long-time rivals have both had shaky starts, each traveling two different roads to get here in week four.

On the UTEP side, the Miners are vying for their first win in 15 games, dating back to last season’s 0-12 finish. First-year head coach Dana Dimel is looking for his first win under the program himself, while the team is looking for revenge after last year’s 41-14 loss to NMSU in Las Cruces.

NMSU, under sixth-year head coach Doug Martin, hopes to get back on track this season after dropping their first four games to Wyoming (29-7), Minnesota (48-10), Utah State (60-13) and New Mexico (42-25), respectively. Their 2017 season saw program history, as the team finished 7-6 and made its first bowl appearance in 57 years, where they beat Utah State 26-20.

Dimel had this to say about his first Battle of I-10 as the Miners’ head coach:

“I’ve said from the very beginning, my first week on the job, the first thing I did way back in December was go home and study New Mexico State, study what they have. The first thing I did when I turned on the film was that I was hoping that they were a one and done team. That they had a bunch of guys who had graduated and had lost, and that wasn’t the case. Defensively, they’ve got a lot of talent with most of everybody coming back this year that played last year. They’ve been a little bit beat up throughout the early part of the season, but they were healthy and had most of their starters back for this last ball game against New Mexico.”

 

Problem with both squads as of late is the fact that they are each young at most positions and are both trying to find their own identify.

UTEP holds a 57-36-2 advantage over NMSU through 96 meetings throughout history. The Miners have also won 10 of their last 11 games at the Sun Bowl, including winning the last four at home by 13 points or more.

On paper, the two match up pretty comparably. Both teams have struggled in total offense, with the Miners averaging 250 total yards per game and NMSU averaging 263. While the Miners struggle through the air (96.3 yards per game), the Aggies have a tough time generating yards on the ground (64.3 ypg).

They each are averaging less than 14 points per game, while each allowing over 35 points per game, and both teams are in the negatives for turnover margins.

“It’s exciting, it really is,” Dimel said. “I talked about rivalries that we were involved in before at Kansas State, comparing it to the Kansas State/KU rivalry, which is a very heated rivalry just like this one is. That’s just how these rivalries are. It’s a huge rivalry. Even though I haven’t been involved in it, I know how important it is for our football team, how important it is for our fans, how important it is for the whole area of El Paso and Las Cruces. That makes it exciting to have an opportunity to be involved in it. So, I’m definitely very, very excited about the opportunity.”​

So now both teams enter their practice week with high hopes to beat out their rival and get their first win. It will be JUCO transfer quarterback Kai Locksley at the helm of the Miners’ offense, while Oregon graduate transfer A.J. Hotchkins will lead the way for the defense (10.3 tackles per game, 24th overall among FBS players).

Locksley will hope to bounce back after a 39 yard passing day in UTEP’s 24-0 shutout loss against Tennessee last week.

“Again I think it comes from just execution, more than anything, with what we’re doing from every position that’s involved with the passing game,” Dimel said. “So that’s basically the whole football unit. We’ve got to be better on our pass protection. We’ve got to be better on our route running. We’ve got to be better on our quarterback play in the passing game. Our backs have to do a good job in their protection, when they’re staying in to protect. So all segments in our passing game need to improve. To me, it’s just a matter of execution with what we’re doing.”

Kickoff between the two is slated for 5:30 p.m. MT on Saturday in the Sun Bowl. It will also be streamed live on ESPN 3.