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Aggies’ pistol formation productive

LAS CRUCES — It seems only appropriate the New Mexico State Aggies would make good use of a pistol.

Such was indeed the case Saturday night when the Aggies — a team that frequently sports crossed pistols on its helmets — broke out a pistol formation on offense in their 41-14 victory over visiting UTEP.

NMSU (2-2) employed a shotgun formation, with quarterback Tyler Rogers lined up 5 to 7 yards behind center and a running back at his side, in its previous three games. But the pistol, with Rogers lined up two yards closer to center and a running back directly behind him, seemed to give the Aggies’ running game a spark.

Tailback Larry Rose III rushed for a season-best 144 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns on the ground and another on a short pass reception. Rose credited both the offensive line and the formation change for his performance.

“Really, our O-line just made up their mind we were going to run the ball,” Rose said. “Those guys just dominated. Being in the pistol helps, though, because I can see the whole field  and pick my hole. I like it.”

Aggies coach Doug Martin said lining Rose up to one side of Rogers in the shotgun had made NMSU’s running plays predictable.

“Defenses knew where he was going,” Martin said, “We felt like the pistol would let us get Larry more options. When we get him going, everything else works.”

New Mexico State’s passing game did not reach its previous season average (367.6 yards) against UTEP but was still effective. Rogers finished 26-for-43 passing for 283 yards, two scores and one interception.

UNHAPPY MEMORIES: When NMSU extended its lead to 41-7 over UTEP with 11:35 remaining in Saturday’s fourth quarter, it was reasonable to assume Rose and Rogers would watch the rest of the game from the bench. They didn’t.

Rose returned for the ensuing Aggies drive, carrying twice before sitting out his team’s final two series. Rogers played to the finish, though he did not attempt a pass on the final three possessions.

Martin said keeping his two offensive stars in the game was a product of past performances — two in particular. NMSU led New Mexico 30-5 in the fourth quarter earlier this season and narrowly held on for a 30-28 win. NMSU also led UTEP 44-30 with just 4 minutes left the last times the teams met in Las Cruces in 2015 — only to lose in overtime.

Saturday’s contest did not end up being close, but the Miners’ final touchdown came when lineman Trace Mascorro returned a fumble by NMSU reserve running back Christian Gibson 26 yards to the end zone.

“We did take Larry out and I probably could have put (backup quarterback) Nick Jeanty in,” Martin said. “Jeanty’s a good No. 2 quarterback. But with the way the UNM game finished, I didn’t want to take any chances. We needed to finish this one off.”

LOMAX HONORED: Sophomore defensive back Shamad Lomax was named Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week on Monday after a standout performance against UTEP. Lomax finished with nine tackles, two pass breakups and three interceptions. He returned one of those interceptions 19 yards for a touchdown.

Lomax capped his evening by recovering a Miners onside kick in the closing minutes.

“Shamad’s still a young guy and he’s still learning,” Martin said, “but he’s a guy who works hard every day in practice. It’s nice to see a guy like that get rewarded. He’s a guy who can be an absolute lockdown corner if he keeps going the way he is now.”

HITTING THE ROAD: The Aggies will not play another home game until they host Arkansas State on Oct. 28. They play the first of three straight road games Saturday at Arkansas, then visit Appalachian State and Georgia Southern before enjoying a bye week. Arkansas (1-2) is coming off a 50-43 overtime loss at Texas A&M. The Razorbacks also lost to No. 23 TCU this season and blew out Florida A&M.