Ferguson rushed for a career-high 162 yards and Nelson threw for
two touchdowns and had New Mexico's first rushing score of the
season Saturday in a 26-13 win over UTEP.
New Mexico's defense sacked UTEP quarterback Jordan Palmer five
times, the first sacks given up by UTEP's offensive line this
season. And the Lobos won at home for the first time in more than a
year, snapping a five-game losing streak in Albuquerque.
"The boys finally put one together," New Mexico coach Rocky
Long said. "That's the first full game we've played."
New Mexico (2-2) constantly pressured Palmer, forcing him to
hurry throws or settle for short-yardage completions. Palmer
completed 13 straight passes early in the second half, but by then
New Mexico led 26-3.
Palmer, who holds virtually every UTEP passing record, completed
26 of 37 passes for 211 yards, including a 25-yard TD pass to
Daniel Robinson in the third quarter that extended his streak of
touchdown passes to 23 straight games. But Palmer had trouble
sustaining drives against the Lobos' blitzing defense and UTEP
(1-2) couldn't stop Ferguson's bullish runs.
"They got to us on our protection," Palmer said. "They did a
good job of mixing things up and bringing people from different
areas. Some of it we knew what they were going to do, but they've
had three different game plans for three different games."
After the Palmer to Robinson TD, the Miners drove to the New
Mexico 12 late in the third quarter. But Palmer was sacked three
straight times by Kendal Briscoe, Brett Madsen and Major Mosley. It
was the first career sack for those three Lobos.
New Mexico scored on its first two possessions. Nelson hit
Ferguson with an 8-yard touchdown pass and threw an 18-yard TD to
Marcus Smith. Nelson got the Lobos' first rushing touchdown of the
season with a 1-yard plunge on the Lobos' first drive of the second
half that put the Lobos in control at 26-3.
New Mexico's defense set the tone three plays into the game.
Linebacker Herbert Felder got through untouched and blindsided
Palmer, forcing a fumble that Mosley recovered at the UTEP 21.
"The tackle didn't notice me at all," said Felder, whose hit
on Palmer was his only tackle of the game. "I had a free shot at
him. In practice I had a shot like that too and I tried to hit the
ball out and it worked the same way."
Three straight runs by Ferguson got New Mexico to the 8 and on
third-and-goal, Nelson found Ferguson open over the middle.
UTEP, scoreless this season in the first quarter, went
three-and-out on his next possession and New Mexico went 57-yards
in eight plays, with Nelson tossing the 18-yarder to Smith with
6:27 left in the first quarter. Nelson scrambled for 27 yards on
third down to keep the drive going.
New Mexico also got a safety and a 35-yard field goal from Kenny
Byrd in the second quarter. The safety was set up by punter Jordan
Scott's kick that was downed inside the UTEP 1-yard line. Palmer
was called for intentional grounding after being tackled by Lobo
lineman Tyler Donaldson in the end zone.
The Miners, who got their first first down five minutes into the
second quarter, got their only score in the first half on a 36-yard
field goal by Reagan Schneider with 1:51 left before halftime. It
followed Bryant Tisdale's interception of Nelson's pass at the New
Mexico 25. Earlier the Miners wasted a 15-play drive to the New
Mexico 11, where they came up short on a fourth-and-1 play.
UTEP had just 30 rushing yards. Johnnie Lee Higgins, the Miners'
leading receiver, had just 3 catches for 18 yards and Palmer had
just 59 yards passing in the first half.
"We came out flat and never recovered," said UTEP coach Mike
Ferguson, who took over the halfback slot vacated by DonTrell
Moore, the all-time leading rusher and scorer in school history,
ran behind a line that opened up hole after hole.
"They were pushing so hard up the field they were virtually
sucking me into the holes," said Ferguson.
It was a much different offensive line from the one that gave up
eight sacks last week in a 27-17 loss to Missouri and faltered
against Division 1-AA Portland State in a 17-6 season-opening loss.
Apparently it wasn't what UTEP expected.
"We thought their offensive line would be on their heels
because they have been kind of maligned lately, but that wasn't the
case," Price said.