Football: New Mexico State a big underdog vs. Utah State

Aggies gameday

The Utah State Aggies have gone out of their way to avoid talking about revenge this week.

That doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about it.

After pushing then-No. 11 Michigan State to the brink last week, Utah State hosts New Mexico State today in a rematch of December’s Arizona Bowl. NMSU won that game 26-20 in overtime.

Payback time, right? After all, New Mexico State limps into Logan, Utah, at 0-2, with a banged-up defense and more questions than answers. It’s a chance for Utah State (0-1) to get the lingering bad taste of a bowl loss out of its collective mouth.

Or perhaps not.

“Not really,” USU senior center Quin Ficklin said during this week’s media conference. “It is the same programs, New Mexico State and Utah State. We are the same football programs, but we are very different teams. We’re a different team than we were last year. They’re a different team than they were last year.”

True enough, and thus far the evolutions have favored Utah State. The Utags were listed as slight favorites for the Arizona Bowl but they were on the plus side of a 23-point spread for today’s rematch as of late.

Offense is the biggest source of that separation. Utah State moved the ball impressively at Michigan State behind sophomore quarterback Jordan Love, who passed for 319 yards and appears to have made strides in his second year as a starter.

“He makes everything go,” NMSU coach Doug Martin said of Love. “He is so much better now than when we faced him. He actually intimidated some of Michigan State’s players when they tried to break him down. We obviously have to find ways to get pressure on him.”

New Mexico State linebacker Terrill Hanks agreed.

“(Love) definitely had a chip on his shoulder (against Michigan State),” Hanks said. “He gets the offense on the ball quick and just makes plays.”

Hanks played a key role in NMSU’s bowl victory. His strip and fumble recovery with Utah State’s offense inside the NMSU 10-yard line in the third quarter was arguably the key play of the game. Ancient history, Hanks insisted.

“We’re trying to take Utah State like we’ve never seen them before,” he said, “focus on what they have now. We’ll definitely have some new things to throw at them, too.”

New Mexico State’s primary issues this season have come on the other side of the ball. NMSU has managed just 17 points in two games, has not generated a running game and dropped 15 dropped passes in last week’s 48-10 loss at Minnesota.

Junior quarterback Matt Romero struggled in his first start, a 29-7 loss to Wyoming, but Martin liked what he saw from the junior college transfer last week.

“The biggest improvement I saw in week two was from Matt Romero,” Martin said. “He got the ball out on time and played well. Unfortunately, he can’t throw it and catch it, but it would have been easy for him to get frustrated and start forcing things. He didn’t.”

Martin intends to stay aggressive on offense today, which suits Romero just fine.

“Utah State’s really physical,” Romero said, “so we need to match that. We have to be more physical to establish a running game, but we’re a passing offense. I just told our receivers I’m going to keep coming to them, so let’s go out and make plays. At some point we’re going to start clicking.”