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Aggies assess UTEP loss, UNM game

Coming off a season-opening loss to rival UTEP, one might have expected a little gloom from Tuesday’s weekly New Mexico State football media conference.

On that score, the Aggies exceeded expectations.

Not only did NMSU coach Doug Martin point out shortcomings from his team’s 38-22 defeat in El Paso on Saturday, he downgraded star running back Larry Rose III to doubtful for this week’s Rio Grande Rivalry matchup against New Mexico.

Rose and linebacker Derek Ibekwe are both recovering from August surgery to repair sports hernias. Ibekwe, the Aggies’ leading tackler in 2015, was initially expected to miss at least two games but Rose, it was hoped, would return to face UNM. Those hopes may have been unrealistic.

“He hasn’t been cleared to practice yet,” Martin said. “I’m waiting to hear how much he’ll be able to practice this week, if he can at all. I’d say he’s still doubtful for this week.”

The prospect of another week without Rose does nothing to lift the spirits of an Aggies squad that sputtered early and never fully recovered against UTEP. NMSU trailed 24-3 at halftime and never got closer than a 14-point deficit in the second half.

“I don’t know why we started so slow,” wideout O.J. Clark said. “We had a good week of practice, a good walk through, then we just struggled in the first half. Obviously, we can’t do that. I think it surprised everybody.”

Martin credited a few players for rising to the occasion at UTEP, but he also did some finger-pointing Tuesday. NMSU’s wide receivers as a group did not get good reviews.

“Our receivers have to play better and be a lot more physical if we’re going to win football games,” Martin said. “Those guys have to get open against one-on-one coverage, and they have to catch the ball. It’s as simple as that.”

Martin said Aggies receivers were guilty of nine drops against UTEP, helping to sink NMSU into its early hole. Quarterback Tyler Rogers finished just 17 of 41 for 206 yards, but the numbers could easily have been better, Martin said.

“Tyler really only missed two throws,” he said, pointing out a misfire on a deep ball in the first half and a poor pass on a two-point conversion try in the second half. “Overall, he played pretty well, but we had guys dropping balls and not getting open.”

Rogers also finished as NMSU’s leading rusher, picking up 63 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. Freshman running back Jason Huntley, who started last week and likely will again if Rose cannot play, carried 12 times for 53 yards and a TD.

Martin pointed out that New Mexico State averaged a respectable 4.6 yards per rush against the Miners. He wasn’t as satisfied with his team’s passing stats and knows they must improve against UNM.

“New Mexico puts a lot of points on the board, and they’ll come after you with pressure on defense,” Martin said. “We didn’t give up a sack or turn the ball over against UTEP, but the pressure’s really going to be on our receivers this week to get open and do it quickly. We have to make plays in the passing game if we’re going to have a chance to win. That’s the bottom line for us.”