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Keys to the game: New Mexico State vs Liberty

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After+spending+an+entire+game+week+in+New+Mexico%2C+Liberty+comes+to+Aggie+Memorial+to+take+on+NM+State+in+their+first+homecoming+game+since+leaving+the+Sun+Belt.
After spending an entire game week in New Mexico, Liberty comes to Aggie Memorial to take on NM State in their first homecoming game since leaving the Sun Belt.

After spending an entire game week in New Mexico, Liberty comes to Aggie Memorial to take on NM State in their first homecoming game since leaving the Sun Belt.

Cassidy Kuester

Cassidy Kuester

After spending an entire game week in New Mexico, Liberty comes to Aggie Memorial to take on NM State in their first homecoming game since leaving the Sun Belt.

Aggie football makes its return to Las Cruces tonight when New Mexico State tries to pick up their second straight win of the season against the visiting Liberty Flames. Here are a few keys to tonight’s matchup for Doug Martin’s squad with kickoff only a couple of hours away.

Control the game on offense

NM State has lost the possession battle in each of their first five outings, with the defense being on the field for over 40 minutes in two separate games — one of those being their lone win of the season.

It’s unreasonable to expect the Aggies to completely flip the script and hold onto the ball for over 40 minutes themselves, but they can do a much better job putting together lengthy drives that gives the defense a time to catch their breath, closing the possession gap that has plagued them through the first half of the season.

Two weeks ago, the Aggies broke through with their best performance on the ground, amassing 150 yards running the ball for the first time this year against UTEP, but a lot of that production came in chunk plays, with Christian Gibson picking up 78 of those yards on two carries. New Mexico State should definitely continue to lean on their rushing attack — especially against a Liberty side that gives up 283 yards per game — but they need to be more consistent.

Picking up four yards a carry here and five yards a carry there, as well as Adkins coming through with some timely throws like he did to close out their win against the Miners, will stretch a drive out and allow NM State to dictate the game on offense — something they’ve failed to do so far in 2018.

Don’t let Calvert get comfortable

Liberty’s offense is predicated on its passing game, and that all starts with quarterback Stephen Calvert and his offensive line.

Last week against UNM, Calvert was brought down just once in the Flames’ 52 point offensive performance, where the QB threw for 417 yards and three touchdowns in the first of back-to-back road games in New Mexico for the FBS newcomer. The Aggies will need to continue their recent improvement rushing the passer (11 sacks in their last two games) tonight if they want to disrupt Calvert’s rhythm that’s proven to be so dangerous in Liberty’s two wins this season.

Linebacker Terrill Hanks’ status is still up in the air going into tonight’s matchup after he missed NM State’s last game with a last minute ankle injury, posing another challenge for the Aggie defense, but they were able to get to the quarterback eight times in his absence at UTEP, so Frank Spaziani’s side knows what they’re capable of despite potentially missing their best player.

Shut down Gandy-Golden, wherever he is

Another component of limiting Calvert’s throwing chances will be to take out his No. 1 target in wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden.

With good quickness and hands at 6’4, the junior wideout is everything you’d want in a pass catcher, giving Liberty offensive coordinator Joe Dailey the ability to move him all around the field.

Gandy-Golden had a similarly dominant game to Calvert’s against the Lobos last week, torching UNM’s man-to-man coverage from both out wide and the slot for 11 catches, 245 yards and a touchdown. Martin spoke about switching up coverages and defensive looks to keep the Flames top-10 passing offense off balance, but anytime the Aggies do decide to man up on the outside, sending an extra defensive back Gandy-Golden’s way would be a smart move.

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About the Writer
James Martin, Sports Editor
James Martin is a second-year sportswriter and a sophomore majoring in journalism. He was born and raised in Las Cruces, New Mexico and graduated from Oñate High School in May 2017, having played both football and basketball but is an avid fan of all sports. James hopes to one day be the real life version of Superman — newspaper journalist by day and superhero when the time comes — or a late night television talk show host and is a great listener and real cutie. While having no professional experience in the field, the freshman is a passionate writer and eager to begin working for the historic Round Up.
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Keys to the game: New Mexico State vs Liberty