ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Today’s opponent on the New Mexico State University football schedule has taken on something akin to taboo status.
When it comes to Abilene Christian, the Aggies are being exceptionally careful what they say.
Must-win game? Should-win game?
Such descriptions never were uttered during NMSU’s weekly media conference.
Still, there can be little doubt the Aggies are feeling some pressure to win at home against the Wildcats, who are transitioning to the FBS level and haven’t played such a program since 1980.
Today’s game clearly qualifies as the Aggies’ best opportunity to pick up a win in 2013. Coach Doug Martin’s team is 0-7 this season and riding an 18-game losing streak overall, tied for longest in the nation. But it’s not playing the likes of previous foes Texas, UCLA, San Diego State or Rice today.
“You could obviously say that some of the teams that we’ve played this year are on a different caliber than Abilene,” conceded NMSU wide receiver Adam Shapiro. “At the same time, they’re still a good team.”
At 5-3 the Wildcats are a winning team that has posted some impressive statistics. Most notably, Abilene Christian is averaging 47 points per game, and quarterback John David Baker has passed for 25 touchdowns and rushed for four.
Even more eye-catching is the Wildcats’ plus-18 turnover margin, which ranks among the nation’s best at any level.
“That’s remarkable,” Martin said. “If you’re plus 18 in turnovers, you’re playing good football. (The Wildcats) certainly won’t be intimidated by us.”
Martin went on to point out that Abilene Christian has a number of athletes who could easily play at NMSU. Texas remains one of the most fertile states for high school recruiting, and the Wildcats have filled their roster with primarily in-state talent.
“Anytime you play a team from Texas, you better load it up,” Martin said.
To some extent, heaping praise on the opponent is understandable. The struggling Aggies are in no position to look past anyone.
Still, Abilene Christian has not faced a schedule anywhere near as challenging as has NMSU. Its wins are over Concordia, McMurry, New Mexico Highlands, Houston Baptist and Incarnate Word.
Asked to compare the Wildcats’ defensive line to other he’s faced this season, Aggies offensive lineman Valerian Ume-Ezeoke was diplomatic.
“They’re a smaller group of defensive linemen,” he said, “but they’re very gap-sound and do a good job.”
Abilene Christian is allowing just 21 points per game, which matches the most NMSU has scored in a game this season. Even so, the Aggies don’t figure to be physically overmatched as they frequently have been this season.
If they won’t go so far as to call it a must- or should-win game, Martin and his players know today’s is a winnable game. They also know how badly NMSU’s program needs a victory.
“It certainly would help the coaches sleep better, I’m sure,” Martin said, “and would make the players feel a lot better.”
To end their unpleasant streak the Aggies must accomplish three things, Martin said.
- NMSU’s defense must at least slow Abilene Christian’s rushing game. (The Aggies rank last nationally in rushing yards allowed at 350.6.)
- Quarterback play must improve. (Senior Andrew McDonald is expected to start after freshman King Davis III took a shot to the head and left last week’s game.)
- The Aggies must win the turnover battle.
“Those are things we’ve got to get fixed if we’re going to win football games,” Martin said. “Hopefully, we can do it (today) because this is not going to be an easy game. We better bring our big-boy pads.”