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Aggies about to learn if they belong in Sun Belt, just as they are leaving

Care to make a parting statement to the Sun Belt Conference? The New Mexico State Aggies’ best chance may come Saturday.

NMSU, which will depart the league as a football-only member after this season, hosts one of the Sun Belt’s big dogs in Arkansas State for a 6 p.m. kickoff at Aggie Memorial Stadium in Las Cruces. The Red Wolves (4-2, 3-0 Sun Belt) have won five conference championships in the past six seasons and have blown out each of their first three SBC opponents in 2018.

New Mexico State coach Doug Martin knows exactly what his Aggies (3-4, 1-2) are up against.

“We’re playing a great football team,” Martin said. “We haven’t been close to beating them the last couple years, and they’re playing really well again. Hopefully, we can get a little mojo from our home crowd. We need it.”

New Mexico State already has a bit of momentum on its side, coming off a 35-27 road win over Georgia Southern. The Aggies also are relatively healthy coming off a bye week and have played better defensively than the NMSU squads that were torched for 161 points in their last three meetings with Arkansas State.

“We need to play well early against this team,” Aggie linebacker Dalton Herrington said, “and give ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter. Arkansas State has been really dominant against Sun Belt teams, and they always seem to play from ahead. It’s important for us to stay right with them.”

Martin also hopes to slow the Red Wolves’ offense, but he conceded tonight’s game could be a shootout. Both teams rank among the national leaders in numerous passing categories, and quarterbacks Justice Hansen (ASU) and Tyler Rogers (NMSU) are putting up impressive numbers.

“We’re not going to shut Arkansas State out,” Martin said. “Their offense is too good. We’ve got to score points and answer scores if we’re going to beat them. We have to make it a four-quarter battle.”

NMSU’s offense was without four starters at Georgia Southern. But all of them, including senior tailback Larry Rose III, are expected to play tonight. Rose and sophomore running back Jason Huntley, in fact, could play together at times and will have key roles, Martin said.

Arkansas State’s defense gets considerable pressure from its four down linemen and rarely blitzes, preferring to keep extra players available in pass coverage. The scheme has been effective against the pass but leaves the Red Wolves vulnerable against the rush.

“Jason and Larry have to have good games for us,” Martin said. “We have to keep (ASU’s) defense honest.”

New Mexico State needs three wins in its remaining five games to become eligible for its first bowl-game appearance since 1960. NMSU’s schedule is favorable as Arkansas State, a 3-point favorite per Pregame.com, is the only remaining opponent that currently has a winning record.

The Aggies see tonight’s game as a big opportunity.

“(The Red Wolves) have a great program,” Rogers said. “They’ve proved themselves every year. To beat them would be great for us and that’s what we expect to do.”

SATURDAY

Arkansas State at NMSU

6 p.m., 99.5 FM, espn3.com

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