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Aztecs to give Aggies a more realistic litmus test

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) battles New Mexico State defensive back Shamad Lomax (22) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Doug Martin is not ready to say his New Mexico State Aggies have weathered the storm of 2019. He will say the worst is behind them.

Coming off back-to-back road thumpings by nationally ranked, Power Five conference opponents, NMSU (0-2) opens its home schedule Saturday against San Diego State (2-0). The Aztecs are coming off a 23-14 victory over UCLA and figure to be among the top contenders for a Mountain West Conference title.

Martin, the Aggies’ seventh-year coach, was not about to sell SDSU short in Tuesday’s media conference. But playing the Aztecs, Martin conceded, is not like playing Washington State or Alabama.

“It’s hard to judge where we are right now, even for me, because of the level of competition we’ve faced,” Martin said. “I think we’ll start to get a grip on that over the next couple of weeks. We’re playing some very good midmajors, but I think most people get what it’s like playing Alabama. They’re on a different level.”

With that reality in mind, Martin and his players were able to come away from last week’s 62-10 loss in Tuscaloosa reasonably upbeat. Not only did NMSU collect a $1.7 million dollar check for making the trip, they avoided any significant injuries and even managed a few minor on-field victories.

“In some areas I think our first two games did build confidence,” defensive back Shamad Lomax said. “Our defense had four three-and-outs, which is something we can build on. I think we’re playing more physical up front this year, too, which is something I like.”

New Mexico State’s offense also has managed to move the ball reasonably well against top-flight opponents, generating 32 first downs and 579 total yards. Scoring has been another matter, however, as the Aggies have just 17 points to show for two games.

“We’ve made some plays and we’re getting first downs,” center Max Wilhite said. “Now we’ve got to learn to finish drives so we can help our defense out.”

Martin agreed but pointed out that racking up points against San Diego State won’t be easy. Coach Rocky Long’s Aztecs have allowed a total of just 14 points in their first two games.

“Their trademark is defense and coach Long does an outstanding job with that,” Martin said. “They’re fast, they’re physical and they’re really sound defensively. We’re facing another tremendous challenge on that side of the ball.”

Even so, the Aggies are excited to play at home against a program much closer to their level than were Washington State or Alabama. The Aztecs won the last meeting, 26-16, in 2013 in Las Cruces.

“I think it’ll be a great game,” Wilhite said. “I’m excited to finally play in front of our fans. We’ve all been looking forward to this game.”

SOLID DEBUT: Rio Rancho High alum Josh Foley got his first career carries against Alabama and made them count. The redshirt freshman gained 51 yards on seven carries and was NMSU’s leading rusher in the game.

“Josh Foley played well when he came in,” Martin said. “We’ve got good depth at running back but he’ll get some opportunities both there and on special teams.”

INJURY REPORT: Defensive tackle Roy Lopez missed the Alabama game with a leg injury and is unlikely to play this week, Martin said. NMSU also is considering a medical redshirt for offensive tackle Sage Doxtater (shoulder), who has not played in 2019.

“Other than that, we should have everybody available,” Martin said. “That’s really good news at this point.”