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Aggie Football Readies for Season Opener vs. Arizona State

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Derek E. Gonzales

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NMSU football begins the 2017 season Thursday against Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz.

NMSU football begins the 2017 season Thursday against Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz.

NMSU football begins the 2017 season Thursday against Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz.

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The New Mexico State football team heads towards the 2017 season with genuine optimism. The Aggies return 16 starters from last year’s 3-9 team and welcome back 2015 All-American Running Back Larry Rose III, who stands just 1,074 rushing yards away from being NMSU’s all-time leading rusher. NMSU opens the season on Thursday against the Arizona State Sun Devils, whom they beat 35-7 in their last meeting back in 1999.

 

“I like our football team, and I think we’ve made some progress in areas that have hurt us in the past, particularly on defense,” NMSU Head Coach Doug Martin said. “I think we are better in the front seven — the junior college cornerbacks we signed, I know those guys have made us better. How ever much better we get on defense is how much of a better season we will have. There’s a lot of unknowns going into this game, but they’ve (ASU) got talent.

 

Defensive Coordinator Frank Spaziani did improve a unit that gave up a school-record 45 points per game in 2015, but the team still surrendered 38.8 points per game last season — which was the fifth-worst mark in FBS. The defensive side of the ball returns six of their top seven tacklers from a season ago, and they will now look to try and slow down a Sun Devil offense that is under the leadership of new Offensive Coordinator Billy Napier. Redshirt-junior Manny Wilkins will start at quarterback against the Aggies on Thursday, beating out newcomer and former Alabama QB Blake Barnett for the starting job.

 

NMSU knows that they will need to score points to stay in the game against ASU, but Aggie quarterback Tyler Rogers (who hails from nearby Peoria, Ariz. and said at least 70 family members will be in attendance) and the offense believe they are up for the task.

 

“Offensively as a group, we have this mentality (that) we have to score every drive,” Rogers said. “We don’t pay attention to what the defense is doing. We hope they go out there and play how they’re capable of playing but if don’t, we have to pick up their slack.”

 

Even with the experience returning from 2016, the Aggies will be breaking in new starters on both sides of the ball, including three on the offensive line (left guard Brian Trujillo, center Jamin Smith, right tackle Issac McClain). This kind of influx up front will be a cause for concern for the Aggie coaching staff, which will be seeing a tough Pac-12 defense in their first game under new Defensive Coordinator Phil Bennett.

 

“I’m really worried about up front and being able to protect the passer,” Martin said. “Their front seven is really athletic so that will be a premium for us. They (ASU defense) got in shootouts and in games where they had to pressure more then they really wanted to, giving up big plays and things like that. I do not think that is any indication of what they will be this year.”

 

Fall camp provided the offensive side of the ball the opportunity to develop some cohesion, and Rogers is confident the offensive line will be able to protect him and provide running lanes for Rose III.

 

“Our starting o-line is pretty solid, and we are pretty athletic at the tackle positions. The interior has a lot of experience playing together so it is going good. Issac (McClain) is really athletic — it is almost like he is a tight end sometimes.”

 

 

Who: New Mexico State at Arizona State

What: College Football Week One

Where: Sun Devil Stadium; Tempe, Ariz.

When: 8:30 (MDT)/7:30 (MST)

Line: New Mexico State +22.5

How to Watch: Pac-12 Network (Comcast Channel 284)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Aggie Football Readies for Season Opener vs. Arizona State