Coverage: CBS Sports Network
5:00 PM ET, September 23, 2006
University Stadium (NM), Albuquerque, NM
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 Price.
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.