NM State finishes mini home stand in homecoming matchup vs. Liberty

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NM State finishes mini home stand in homecoming matchup vs. Liberty

Josh Adkins looks to shake off a three-interception showing against Fresno State in the Aggies' homecoming showdown with fellow independent Liberty.

Josh Adkins looks to shake off a three-interception showing against Fresno State in the Aggies' homecoming showdown with fellow independent Liberty.

Mitchell Allred

Josh Adkins looks to shake off a three-interception showing against Fresno State in the Aggies' homecoming showdown with fellow independent Liberty.

Mitchell Allred

Mitchell Allred

Josh Adkins looks to shake off a three-interception showing against Fresno State in the Aggies' homecoming showdown with fellow independent Liberty.

The New Mexico State football team is off to an 0-5 start on the season, but the Aggies will get a shot at Liberty (3-2) — the last FBS team NM State has beaten, dating back to last October — in Saturday night’s homecoming showdown.

After another underwhelming offensive performance in last week’s loss to Fresno State, the Aggies look to finally assemble a game where both sides of the ball play complementary football.

NM State has shown signs of progress in the ground game, but the offense can’t be productive if they keep turning it over at the rate they have this season, according to head coach Doug Martin.

“We’re running the ball really well right now, the only problem we’ve had, offensively, is the turnovers,” Martin said. “The one game we only turned the ball over once, we scored 52 points. We’re moving the ball in every other game, but were not able to finish drives and get it in the end zone because of the turnovers.”

NM State’s offense will have to prepare for a Liberty defense that’s proven to be dangerous this year, golding teams to just 22 points per contest.

The Flames feature a number of studs, with defensive end Jessie Lemonier pacing the team in sacks with 4.5 through five games and Ceneca Espinoza Jr. picking off two passes and returning one for a score against Hampton.

“Where [Liberty] has really excelled is defensively… They are physical, they are playing fast, only giving up 22 points per game,” Martin said. “New Mexico scored 55 on us and they only scored 10 on Liberty. It will be a real challenge for our offense to go play against these guys and get some points.”

With o-line health problems plaguing NM State’s offense all season — as evidenced by their 16 allowed sacks in five games — it’s been a difficult adjustment for the men upfront.

“I think we’ve had our best two weeks of practice,” offensive lineman Max Wilhite said. “Obviously it didn’t show in the games, but we’ve been running the ball more. We want to make it so the coach has to call run plays if we’re doing good run blocking… Hopefully we’ll be able to improve even more.”

On the other side of the ball, Liberty’s offense has quite the dynamic duo with quarterback Stephen Calvert and wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden. Calvert, who has thrown for the ninth most yards so far this season, has found Gandy-Golden for 30 receptions, five touchdowns and 688 yards — good for the second-most for any receiver in the country, trailing Arkansas State’s Omar Bayless by just one yard — in the Flames’ first five games of the year. 

“Liberty is dangerous because of the quarterback,” Martin said. “He really can make every throw you need to make, and he’s mobile… and the big wide receiver — both those guys are NFL players.”

Defensive tackle Jomaious Williams and the defensive front plan on making containing Calvert a priority.

“He’s most definitely slippery. He’s a slippery guy, he has a great feel for pocket presence, he knows when there’s pressure around — he’s a great quarterback. It’s always good to get pressure,” Williams said.

NM State has played well on both sides of the ball in spurts, but the lack of reciprocation on the other side has dragged the Aggies down to five straight losses to kick off the year. This Saturday will offer another opportunity to put together a full game against a realistic opponent in the first of the two teams’ home-and-home matchup.

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