New Mexico State Engages In the Pursuit of Liberty and Happiness

It was nice to know that, as rough as things have gone, the Aggies could still find a way to pull out a road win against a discombobulated UTEP team.
Didn’t get swept in the rivalry games, check.
Another positive was getting to enter the bye week on a winning note – there were still many things to work on, but that teaching is easier to digest knowing that you’re not still chasing your first win.
NMSU gets the chance to get healthy from a bye week, and they get to follow that bye with a home game against an opponent who has yet to have any time off. As an added bonus, rival New Mexico now runs an offense more similar to their own now (compared to the prior years’ option attack) so the footage from last week’s Liberty/UNM tilt might be of some use in the Aggies’ extra time planning.
One downside is that this break was not enough time for Terrill Hanks to fully recover from the ankle injury that kept him out of the UTEP game; the defense will need to continue to pick up the slack in his absence.
The Aggie defense will be challenged this week by a pass-heavy attack from the Flames, one which has been a bit less impressive since the opener against Old Dominion. In the season-opener, quarterback Stephen Calvert completed 69% of his passes for an average of 9.6 yards per attempt along with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
In the three games since, he has only completed 50% of his passes, those passes have only gone for 8.1 yards per attempts, and his six touchdowns have been paired with three interceptions.
The run game has seen similar struggles. Against the Monarchs, Liberty ran for 238 yards on 38 carries, but their last two games combined have produced only 218 yards on 85 carries.
Against Army and North Texas, these struggles made sense. Army dominated time of possession with a ground game Liberty had no answers for, and got down so quickly so early that they had no choice but to try to pass their way out of it – to no avail due to the skilled defense on the other side. North Texas used the same blueprint, just with a passing offense.
Last week’s game between Liberty and New Mexico is an intriguing one. The Flames led 42-10 at halftime and wound up winning by only 9 points. New Mexico had a drive that started at the Liberty 18 and ended in a field goal, another where they went for it on 4th-and-one from well within field goal range, and still almost erased a 32-point deficit.
The key? Big plays. If we’re generous and include Tyrone Owens’ first touchdown run of 19 yards, the Lobos had six passes and four runs of 20+ yards. Generally speaking, when you produce that many big plays, you’ll win – as long as you don’t turn it over and your defense doesn’t dig you an early grave.
So there you have it. UNM has shown their rival the blueprint to a win on Saturday. Hit a handful of big plays, have more of them than your opponent, and win the turnover battle and everything is golden.
This is, of course, not easy, but when have things ever been easy in Las Cruces?
I really would like to pick the Aggies to win this one, but I’m concerned about the defense’s ability to shut down the Liberty passing attack without Hanks in the middle, and I’m even more concerned (until proven otherwise) about the offense’s ability to produce points – both in general and especially if the defense winds up needing the game to be a shootout.
Prediction: Liberty 41, New Mexico State 31

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