NM State and UTEP Football Teams Heading in Different Directions
For the last few weeks, UTEP fans were hopeful for any sign of life from their football team. A rare conference road win against FIU in Miami last Wednesday night offered them a small glimmer of hope that maybe all was not lost for 2023. Those dreams came to a crashing halt during the second half of last night's 28-7 loss against New Mexico State.
For the first 30 minutes of action at the Sun Bowl stadium, The 100th Battle of I-10 was anyone's football game. The Miners and Aggies were tied at seven during the break, and the home team blocked a field goal and hung in with their long time rivals to keep the contest close. However, NMSU came out in the second half and completely dominated their opponents.
Redshirt junior quarterback Cade McConnell found out that the Aggies defense was not going to let him throw all over the field the way he did seven days earlier. Instead, the crimson and white battered and bruises UTEP's starting QB all game long. As great as Kelly Akharaiyi, who exploded for eight catches and 223 yards in Miami, had just one catch for six yards against NMSU. Aggies quarterback Diego Pavia had his way with the UTEP defense and he looks like the kind of leader that can take them to the top of Conference USA.
There were other troubling signs on the field last night. Both Akharaiyi and Maurice Westmoreland were called for unnecessary roughness penalties. Westmoreland's flag negated a third down stop in the first half and the Aggies would later score a touchdown on the same drive. As for Akharaiyi, his punch would lead to being ejected from the game in the fourth quarter.
The final score also is a clear indication of where both of these football programs are headed. The Aggies under head coach Jerry Kill are now 5-3 and just two wins away from returning to a postseason bowl game for the second straight year. The last time that happened was in 1959 and 1960, when they appeared in back to back Sun Bowls. In fact, NMSU has never lost a bowl game (4-0-1 all time). Coach Kill's team is filled with underclassmen (just six seniors) and he should be able to contend for a conference title if his team can stay healthy.
Meanwhile, UTEP now is 2-6 on the season, including a 1-3 mark in conference play. A season that was supposed to be the best year yet for head coach Dana Dimel has turned into an utter disaster. The Miners came into 2023 with a veteran club full of three and four-year starters. The team could not get out of their own way to start the season, making costly mistakes that cost them wins. It has been a story reminiscent of the last five seasons under Coach Dimel. An announced crowd of just under 20,000 fans attended last night's Battle of I-10 contest. The Miners will be lucky to get half that total as they finish up their home season against Western Kentucky on November 4th and Liberty on November 25th.
As for the fan bases, the Aggie Nation is in a rebirth when it comes to their football program and their success helped take some of the sting away from the horrific off the court issues that suspended their men's basketball season back in February. As for the Miner Maniacs, basketball season cannot come soon enough while Dana Dimel's future as head coach of the UTEP football program will be the biggest storyline over the next four weeks.
UTEP vs. NMSU Battle of I-10 Gallery Recap
Gallery Credit: Jorge Salgado and UTEP Athletics