Martin hopes his Ag­gies play with rage tonight

NMSU a 22.5-point dog in opener at ASU

Albuquerque Journal - - SPORTS - BY KEN SICKENGER JOUR­NAL STAFF WRITER

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.

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