How do you stop a college football steamroller like No. 2 Alabama?
The New Mexico State Aggies have been pondering that question this week. NMSU faces the unenviable task of lining up opposite the Crimson Tide in its home opener Saturday in Tuscaloosa. On Friday the Aggies were listed as 55½-point underdogs.
Coach Doug Martin and his players have tried to take a reasonable approach to the contest, realizing that NMSU’s athletic department will receive a $1.7 million payday for its trouble. There are other perks involved in playing on one of college football’s biggest stages, Bryant-Denny Stadium, against one of its most storied programs, too.
“They’re a great team,” Aggies sophomore linebacker Trevor Brohard said of the Tide. “They execute on both sides of the ball, have plenty of great players. They’re just a really good team.
“For us it’s a great opportunity to see how we compare with guys of that caliber. Alabama’s a big name but it still comes down to go play football.”
New Mexico State (0-1) is coming off a 58-7 loss to then-No. 23 Washington State and Martin realizes his team can’t match the stable of blue-chip talent Alabama will bring to the field. The Crimson Tide (1-0) opened last week by overwhelming a Duke program that Martin respects. The score was 42-3.
“Duke is an excellent football team with a phenomenal offensive coach,” Martin said. “They scored three points. That tells you all you need to know.”
Still, Martin and his coaching staff adjusted this week’s game plan in hopes of countering some of Alabama’s size, speed and depth advantages. Aggie quarterback Josh Adkins played reasonably well under a strong pass rush at Washington State, and Martin expects the Crimson Tide’s pass rush to be at least as potent.
“We’ve thrown in some things we think will give us a chance to be successful,” he said. “Alabama has advantages at pretty much every position, but you still have to approach this like any other game. You go out and compete and try to give yourself a chance.”
Alabama, under veteran coach Nick Saban, has made a habit of dominating non-Southeastern Conference home games. Part of that success owes to preparation, and Saban made a point not to underplay the Aggies in his media conference this week.
“We have a lot of respect for New Mexico State’s players and coaches,” Saban said. “They use a lot of (offensive) formations and adjustments, and everything’s about creating space. It’s a completely different style of play than what we saw (against Duke). It’s going to be a challenge for our secondary.”
New Mexico State’s defense faces an even bigger challenge. Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is a top candidate for this season’s Heisman Trophy, and he has all the tools necessary to make an opponent’s day miserable. Tagovailoa completed 26 of 31 passes for 336 yards and four touchdowns against Duke and was named SEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week.
Tagovailoa and the Tide demonstrated their ability to dominate through the air in week one, but Saban’s teams typically can break down opposing defenses with a power running game. The Aggies may get a heavy dose of running backs Jerome Ford and Najee Harris rushing behind Alabama’s steamroller offensive line.
“Slowing them down is a big challenge,” Martin conceded, “but our guys are looking forward to this game. It’s a great atmosphere and guys want to play great college football teams and compete at the highest level. Alabama is pretty much as good as it gets.”