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Aggies hope to avoid getting beat up vs. Rebels

New Mexico State’s football excursion to Oxford, Mississippi, on Saturday may serve as evidence that you can’t buy happiness.

Sure, the Aggies are set to earn a $1.5 million paycheck for taking on Ole Miss in its backyard. But the third “guarantee” game on NMSU’s schedule this season does not come at a good time for coach Doug Martin’s winless squad. The Rebels were 28½-point favorites as of Friday afternoon.

“This is not the time of year you want to play a Power Conference team,” Martin said. “You’d much rather do it early in the season but our schedule is what it is. We’ll make the most of it.”

The 0-8 Aggies, playing an FBS independent schedule, played at Washington State and Alabama earlier this season and have struggled to find consistency on either side of the ball in 2019. NMSU finishes the season with potentially winnable games against Incarnate Word, UTEP and at Liberty, but Martin is concerned that Saturday’s game against a deeper, more athletic foe like Ole Miss (3-6) could dampen the Aggies’ prospects.

“People tend to get hurt in these games,” Martin said. “Hopefully that won’t happen, but it’s always a concern.”

NMSU lost standout defensive lineman Roy Lopez to a leg injury in the season-opener at Washington State and he has played just one game since. Because of recent NCAA rules changes, Lopez can play in two more games this season and still qualify for a redshirt season, but he won’t play against Ole Miss, Martin said.

Lopez’s absence has impacted an NMSU run defense that figures to be sorely tested by Ole Miss, which struggles to pass but ranks among the national leaders in rushing yards. NMSU faced a similar run-first opponent two weeks ago in a 41-7 loss at Georgia Southern.

“We have been able to focus on stopping the run,” Martin said, “but scheme-wise these two teams are totally different. Talent-wise, they’re totally different, too.”

NMSU’s top concern will be Ole Miss freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, who has rushed for 600 yards and four touchdowns this season. Plumlee and fellow freshman Matt Corral alternate at QB for the Rebels and each has thrown four touchdown passes, but slowing the run game is a more pressing concern for the Aggies’ defense.

“I know Ole Miss hasn’t passed the ball as well as they’d like,” Martin said, “but they run it tremendously well.”

New Mexico State’s offense is a polar opposite, favoring the pass over the run by a significant margin. Regardless, quarterback Josh Adkins and his playmakers will face a tall order against the Rebels.

In fact, Martin said, it’s something of a familiar challenge.

“This defense is every bit as good as Alabama’s,” he said. “On that side of the ball you could switch jerseys between Ole Miss and Alabama and I doubt anyone would notice. This is a tremendous defensive team.”

At least the Aggies figure to have favorable weather conditions after torrential rains helped bog down their passing attack at Georgia Southern. Clear skies with a high of 56 degrees is expected in Oxford.

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