NM State seek­ing its third win in suc­ces­sion

New Ag­gies QB Adkins has won both of his starts

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

It’s not a Sun Belt Con­fer­ence show­down or even a mem­ber­ship au­di­tion, but to­day’s bat­tle in Lafayette, La., won’t be just an­other foot­ball game to the New Mex­ico State Ag­gies.

It’s im­por­tant for the usual rea­sons. NMSU (2-4) still has hopes of be­com­ing bowl el­i­gi­ble for a sec­ond straight sea­son and needs ev­ery win it can man­age. The Ag­gies were 2-4 at last sea­son’s half­way point and man­aged to re­verse their record over the fi­nal six games to earn a bowl berth.

But New Mex­ico State is ad­mit­tedly still ticked about be­ing dumped by the Sun Belt af­ter last sea­son. Play­ing as FBS in­de­pen­dents this sea­son, the Ag­gies would love to el­e­vate their play over the next three week­ends when they face SBC mem­bers Lou­i­si­ana Lafayette, Ge­or­gia South­ern and Texas State.

“I hope our guys have an edge about play­ing Sun Belt teams,” NMSU coach Doug Martin said. “I know I do.”

An emo­tional edge could only help in to­day’s meet­ing with the Ra­gin’ Ca­juns (2-3). ULL is tak­ing an old-school ap­proach in coach Billy Napier’s first sea­son, at­tempt­ing to bat­ter op­po­nents on both sides of the ball. The Ca­juns run early and of­ten with sopho­more run­ning backs Trey Ra­gas and Eli­jah Mitchell. On de­fense they at­tempt to win the day with a stout line and phys­i­cal line­backer play.

“This game will be de­cided up front,” Martin said. “I don’t know if (Napier) wants to be so run-ori­ented but he’s play­ing to his strengths right now. As usual, Lafayette is phys­i­cal and fast ev­ery­where so we’ve got be ready for that chal­lenge.”

Job one for NMSU’s de­fense will be to slow ULL’s rush­ing at­tack. The Ag­gies are al­low­ing 245 yards per game on the ground and, while they’ve shown im­prove­ment in re­cent games, the Ca­juns will un­doubt­edly try to im­pose their will with time-con­sum­ing drives.

New Mex­ico State ranks last na­tion­ally in time of pos­ses­sion with less than 24 min­utes per game. Martin does not put much cre­dence in that statis­tic but ac­knowl­edged that his de­fense must force ULL out of its com­fort zone.

“We’re not go­ing to stop their run­ning game,” Martin said, “but we have to at least slow them down and put them in some third-and-long sit­u­a­tions so we can go af­ter (Ca­juns quar­ter­back An­dre Nunez).”

The Ag­gies’ of­fense fig­ures to be able to make some plays against a ULL de­fense that’s al­low­ing 488 yards per con­test. NMSU is com­ing off by far its best per­for­mance of the sea­son, a 49-41 win over Lib­erty in which the Ag­gies racked up 573 yards.

Red­shirt fresh­man quar­ter­back Josh Adkins is 2-0 as a starter and has sparked New Mex­ico State’s pass­ing game. Adkins says his com­fort level in the of­fense con­tin­ues to grow.

“Hav­ing two starts un­der my belt def­i­nitely gives me more con­fi­dence,” Adkins said. “I’m start­ing to click with the re­ceivers now and I feel like we can make plays. (Lou­i­si­ana Lafayette) is re­ally ath­letic and they’re go­ing to make plays, too, so I think it comes down to us ou­t­ex­e­cut­ing them.”

Martin opened the play­book for Adkins last week and the fresh­man went 34-of-51 pass­ing for 402 yards and four touch­downs. He has not thrown an in­ter­cep­tion in two starts af­ter the Ag­gies were picked off nine times in their first four games.

Adkins grinned when asked about the pass-heavy game plan.

“I’d never thrown more than 50 passes in a game,” he said, “not even close. I don’t think I ever threw more than 35 in high school. I don’t care if I throw for 50 yards or 400 as long as we win, but with the re­ceivers and O-line we have it’s fun to throw it. I’ll be happy to pass 50 times if that’s work­ing for us.”

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