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Battle of I-10 continues...

Two teams meet for interstate supremacy

Published: Thursday, September 16, 2010

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05

buckram

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The 88th installment of the Battle of I-10 returns to the Sun Bowl as UTEP tries to make it two in a row against their rival New Mexico State.

"The Aggies are coming to town right away and they're improved," head coach Mike Price said. "They have a really good quarterback who can run and throw. Their secondary is back from last year, and they have a couple of pro prospects there."

The Miners (1-1, 0-1 C-USA) look to get back into the win column after a disappointing loss to Houston on Sept. 10, where UTEP's defense gave up a total of 665 yards to the Cougars.

"Last week does not exist to me and it should not exist to these kids. We have made the corrections," linebackers coach Robert Rodriguez said. "We didn't show our true colors but that's OK, that's why it's so special to get this opportunity to play in the Battle of I-10."

UTEP holds a 50-35-2 advantage in the series and are 34-16-1 in games played in El Paso. Last year's game was postponed four hours due to a lightning storm, but the game eventually resumed and the Miners won 38-12. It was UTEP's first win against the Aggies since 2006 when they won 44-38 in the Sun Bowl.

In last year's contest Donald Buckram ran for 112 yards and three touchdowns. But this year his status for the game is still up in the air and the tailback said his injury is day-to-day.

"I am pretty confident right now. It feels a lot better than it did this past Saturday," Buckram said. "My calf is regular size now and my knee is still a little swollen but it's going down too."

Price said there will be no word on whether Buckram will play this weekend and his status will more than likely be a game time decision again.

The star running back said he has been rehabilitating his knee and working out on the practice field, away from the team practice in the Sun Bowl. He voiced his concerns about missing the first two games and said it was tough not being able to help his team.

"It was real frustrating watching us lose to Houston," Buckram said. "But this is our biggest game of the year. It's a rivalry game…I am trying to do everything to get back on the field and help the team."

NMSU is led by junior transfer quarterback Matt Christian who played his last two seasons at Palomar Junior College. He helped his team to an 18-6 record over those two years, including a win in the Golden Empire Bowl in 2008 and a Southern California runner-up honor in 2009. In last week's game, Christian completed 17 of 34 passes for 223 yards and two scores. He also rushed nine times for 37 yards.

The Aggies also return three of their top receivers from a year ago. Marcus Allen, Kyle Nelson and Todd Lee are all experience receivers.

"They look better than they were a year ago and they're making improvements," Price said. "We're going to work extra hard because it's going to be a great game against a great opponent."

UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe is coming off a week where he did not commit a turnover completing 30 of 54 passes for 340 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Kris Adams was back to his 2008 form as he caught seven balls for 114 yards and a touchdown against the Cougars.

Besides Buckram, the Miners are faced with a sudden rash of injuries. After losing Braxton Amy to a torn Achilles tendon and cornerback Traun Roberson to a knee injury, the team is hoping to get some players back this week.

"Roberson will probably have surgery on his knee and is out for the season. We'll petition to get that year back. Indications are that it could be an ACL," Price said. "I don't know if (tight end) Elijah Goldtrap will be back this week. Jonny Moore is laboring a little bit too. He has a bruised groin, so we'd like to see Goldie in there if we can."

The Miners will face a seasoned Aggies opponent and the coaching staff knows this will not be an easy game for either squad after both teams suffered at the hands of their opponent in the previous week. But even with their similarities, neither team holds any sympathy for one another.

"The colors don't mesh, the schools don't mesh and that's the way it is," Rodriguez said. "We expect a fight. This game means something more because of the rivalry and because we just don't like each other."

Alex Morales may be reached at prospector.utep.edu. Sal Guerrero contributed to this story.

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