Martin hopes his Aggies play with rage tonight
NMSU a 22.5-point dog in opener at ASU
The New Mexico State Aggies have gotten accustomed to being football underdogs over the years.
Fifth-year coach Doug Martin is tired of it.
To the surprise of perhaps no one, NMSU is a 22½-point dog (as of Wednesday) going into tonight’s season-opener at Arizona State. The Aggies will receive an $800,000 guarantee for making the trip to Tempe, and most observers expect the Sun Devils to get a win for their money.
Martin, on the other hand, is not satisfied with just a payday. He wants his players to feel the same way.
“We’re 22-point underdogs,” Martin said, “and I hope our guys take that personally. I want to see us go play with a little bit of rage. We’ll always be underdogs until our players get fed up with that.”
No one wants the Aggies (3-9 last season) to rise up more than senior quarterback Tyler Rogers. He’s one of six players from Arizona on NMSU’s roster, and Rogers hasn’t played in his home state since 2013, when he was a freshman at Arizona Western College.
“I have about 70 family members and friends coming,” Rogers said. “It actually makes me a little nervous but that can be good, too. It gets you focused and ready to go.”
Rogers, standout tailback Larry Rose III and the rest of the Aggies’ offense figure to have their opportunities against an Arizona State defense that struggled mightily last season. The Sun Devils ranked last nationally against the pass, but they’ve since brought in veteran defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who spent the last six seasons at Baylor.
“We’ve watched a lot of Baylor
film,” Rogers said. “They were not a big pressure team (under Bennett) and played a lot of zone, but he might do something else (at Arizona State). We have to be ready for anything.”
The same is true for New Mexico State’s defense because ASU also has a new offensive coordinator in Billy Napier, who spent the past five seasons as Alabama’s wide receivers coach. Napier has a number of proven skill position players to work with, including dual-threat quarterback Manny Wilkins, but his plan for employing them remains to be seen.
“A lot of unknowns,” Martin said, “but we do know Arizona State has talent.”
Martin hopes the Aggies’ defense, which was frequently burned by big plays last season, can make significant strides in defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani’s second season. Defensive lineman Roy Lopez, another Arizona native, expects his unit to show improvement.
“We all know the base defense now,” he said. “We’re comfortable and ready to create some havoc.”
Lopez said the Aggies have picked up a few extra tips about the Sun Devils from graduate transfer Calvin Allen, a La Cueva High grad who spent the past three seasons at Arizona.
“He’s been a Pac-12 tackle,” Lopez said of Allen. “He’s pointed things out and helped all of us. It’s good to have someone who’s been there.”
Special teams could also be significant as both squads have new place-kickers. Kickoff returns will bear watching. ASU ranked 125th (among 128 FBS teams) in return coverage last year. NMSU was 127th.