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Aggies football: NMSU going for three in a row

New Mexico State University football coach Doug Martin will gladly accept any excitement generated by his 2-0 team.

“No one deserves it more than our fans,” Martin said during his weekly media conference Tuesday. “They’ve been through a lot.”

Martin and his players are enjoying the program’s first 2-0 start since 1999, as well. They enjoyed a brief locker-room celebration after coming from 17 points down to edge Georgia State 34-31 at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on Saturday.

But excitement, Martin realizes, is one thing. Hype is another.

The second-year Aggies coach is not buying into any hype about overnight turnarounds or bowl eligibility. NMSU visits I-10 rival UTEP on Saturday night, which Martin sees as challenge enough.

“UTEP is a very, very physical, tough football team,” Martin said. “It’s going to be a man’s game Saturday night. We better strap it on or (the Miners are) liable to wear us out.”

Such was the case last season in Las Cruces, where UTEP led 28-21 midway through the third quarter. The Miners then turned to their rushing game for two lengthy touchdown drives and won going away 42-21.

UTEP (1-1), listed as an 11-point favorite over the Aggies Tuesday, prefers a smash-mouth style once again and figures to be a handful for NMSU’s young defense.

“That’s really the key to the game for us,” Martin said, “being able to slow down their running game. We have to get a lot of guys to the ball and we have to tackle.”

The Aggie defense has been relatively solid in wins over Cal Poly and Georgia State – especially after halftime. NMSU shut out Cal Poly in the second half of a 28-10 win in Las Cruces, then limited Georgia State to 14 second-half points. Statistically, NMSU’s defense has improved greatly over 2013, when it ranked last nationally in points and rushing yards allowed.

Still, Martin does not want to see his defense constantly pressured. Against Georgia State, the Aggies offense accounted for just three points and turned the ball over twice in the first half.

“We’re not going to win many games playing a first half like that,” Martin said.

New Mexico State’s offense was sluggish until midway through the third quarter Saturday. The Aggies’ first eight possessions produced one field goal – along with three turnovers, three punts and one failed fourth-down run.

NMSU’s only first-half touchdown was scored on linebacker Rodney Butler’s 40-yard interception return.

“I’ve been telling everyone we’ve got a long way to go,” Martin said, “but I don’t want to put a damper on the progress we’ve made either. We would not have won (Saturday’s) game in the past, and I give our guys a lot of credit for the way they fought back.

“But we have to realize the competition only gets better, starting this week. We have to get better, too.”