Superlatives were a defining characteristic of Doug Martin’s media conference Tuesday.
New Mexico State University’s football coach had plenty of praise to offer concerning this week’s opponent, No. 2 Alabama. The prospect of facing the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa on Saturday — one week after a 58-7 blowout loss at No. 23 Washington State — effectively forced Martin to acknowledge some stark realities.
Alabama (1-0) was listed Tuesday as a 54½-point favorite over the Aggies (0-1).
“This is about as close as you can get to playing an NFL team,” Martin said. “They have no real weaknesses, great coaching and tradition. Other than maybe LSU a few years ago, this is probably the best team New Mexico State has played.”
The Aggies also will receive one of their biggest paydays for taking on the Tide, a $1.7 million guarantee. But Martin insisted that money is not the only positive that can come from Saturday’s meeting.
“It’s an opportunity for our team to get better,” he said. “This game’s not so much about the score and it’s not so much about Alabama as it is about us. We need to go out and compete, play hard and play as well as we can.”
Martin did not give his team top marks for its play at Washington State, though he did note several individual bright spots. Defensive linemen Roy Lopez and Xander Yarberough had strong performances at WSU, Martin said, as did quarterback Josh Adkins (28 of 42 passing for 221 yards) and the Aggies’ wide receivers.
Turnovers and NMSU’s defensive secondary, on the other hand, were lowlights.
“On offense, my only real complaint was turnovers,” he said. “We lost a fumble going into the end zone and stopped two other drives with (interceptions). You can’t do those things and be a good football team.”
New Mexico State picked up 18 first downs and 317 total yards in its opener, respectable numbers against a Top-25 opponent on the road. But NMSU’s defense was scorched for 618 yards, 507 of them passing, and did not force a punt or cause a turnover.
“We didn’t tackle well,” Martin said, “and our defensive backs played very poorly. They didn’t compete for balls and just played tentatively. They didn’t look anything like the group we’ve seen in practice, and that’s got to change. It’s what you do on Saturdays that matters.”
Sophomore linebacker Trevor Brohard, who made seven tackles in his first collegiate start, agreed.
“I think guys were anxious and thinking way too much,” he said of New Mexico State’s defense. “We’ve got to just go play. I think we were very tentative in the secondary, and as linebackers we’ve got to help put pressure on receivers.”
It’s worth noting that Washington State’s offense led the nation in passing yards and completion percentage last season, but the Aggies should not expect a break against Alabama and standout junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The Crimson Tide completed 30 of 36 passes for 367 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s 42-3 romp over Duke.
Alabama may instead choose to work on a rushing attack that averaged a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry against the Blue Devils, but Martin said the Aggies won’t lose sleep trying to anticipate Tide coach Nick Saban’s game plan.
“Like I said, our focus this week is on our football team,” Martin said. “We need to play well. If you play well against Alabama, you can do it against anybody.”
New Mexico State
at No. 2 Alabama, 2 p.m.,
SEC Network, 1150 AM (ABQ), 99.5 (Las Cruces)