Aaron Jones rushed for 249 yards, a career-high and third-most in UTEP history, and the Miners celebrated his return to the lineup by dusting NM State, 38-22, in the FirstLight Federal Credit Union Battle of I-10 on Saturday.
UTEP (1-0) has now beaten NM State (0-1) eight consecutive times for its longest winning streak in the 94-game series.
“I thought it was a very good first game,” UTEP coach Sean Kugler said. “The kids on both teams competed extremely hard. There’s a lot of things that we need to clean up but as a whole offensively, defensively and special teams, it was a great team win.”
The Miners led throughout after Jones put them ahead 7-0 on a 37-yard touchdown run five minutes into the game. Jones added a 75-yard scoring burst early in the fourth period.
He carried the ball 31 times and added a pair of catches for 43 yards with 292 yards of offense, also a personal best.
Jones appeared to get stronger as the game wore on. He rushed for 55 yards in the first quarter, 33 in the second, 21 in the third and a whopping 140 (on only nine attempts) in the final frame.
The Miners finished with 518 yards of offense and 289 rushing. Quarterback Zack Greenlee had a successful debut. The Fresno State transfer completed 15-of-27 passes for 229 yards and three scores.
“We found out a lot about our team. I think we found out a lot about our quarterback,” Kugler said. “I came out of this game admiring his toughness the most. He tweaked his MCL the first series. He dinged his shoulder, popped his shoulder out of place, came back in and mangled his finger. The thing I was most impressed with was his management. We had tons of personnel groupings, tons of shifts and motions and he put the team in the right position with a lot of his run pass options. He really did a nice job for his first game. For him only being here for the summer, he was really impressive.”
The UTEP defense yielded 345 yards to the Aggies, as Jones’ brother Alvin registered a team-high 12 tackles.
But the story of the night was a return to dominance for Aaron Jones, who missed the final 10 games of the 2015 season with an ankle injury but showed on Saturday night that he’s back and better than ever.
“He can’t throw the ball to save his life. There’s a negative on Aaron Jones,” Kugler joked. “It was an unbelievable performance. He was just so happy to be back out there and I was so happy for him. He has built his body up. He was 165 pounds, then 185, now he’s a 210-pound kid. Today was kind of important for him. He wanted to be in the series, he wanted the ball.”
Another El Paso native, receiver Cole Freytag, put together a great start to his senior year by recording four catches for a career-high 95 yards, including a 46-yard TD midway through the second quarter. Warren Redix and Hayden Plinke also had touchdown catches for UTEP.
True freshman Quadraiz Wadley had a promising debut for the Miners, gaining 36 yards on 10 carries. Another impressive newcomer was junior college transfer Terry Juniel who ignited UTEP’s special teams with six punt returns for 104 yards and one kickoff return for 26 yards.
Quarterback Tyler Rogers completed 17-of-41 passes for 206 yards for the Aggies, and was also the team’s leading rusher (63 yards and a score).
UTEP led 31-10 late in the third quarter before NM State put together a couple of late scoring drives to keep the score respectable. The Aggies’ last-ditch chance at a comeback expired when Rogers’ slant pass to Jaleel Scott fell incomplete at the UTEP 29-yard line with 6:36 remaining.
The Miners ran out the clock after moving deep into Aggie territory.
“I think we were very balanced [offensively],” Kugler said. “I think we left some yards on the field. We did fumble the ball twice. We can’t put the ball on the ground. That was disappointing. We work on ball security extremely hard.
“Defensively, I thought the coverage was great. I thought there was good pressure on the quarterback. It isn’t going to show up in the sack department, but anytime the quarterback is their leading rusher it’s a good thing. I thought we held their running game in check. I thought our defense did an outstanding job tonight. They only really held them to 16 [points], the other points were given up by an offensive fumble.”
The Miners will play at Texas on Saturday, Sept. 10. The game will be televised on the Longhorn Network beginning at 5 p.m. MT with a live stream available on ESPN3.
Check out the PHOTO GALLERY