NM State seeking its third win in succession
New Aggies QB Adkins has won both of his starts
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.”