1) Time of possession battle: Both teams are going to try and hammer home what they do best — run the football. With that being said, this will be a telling statistic when the final gun sounds. One thing NMSU has been able to hang its hat on this season has been its ability to keep the ball away from the opposition. If the Aggies want to have a shot Saturday, they will need to control the ball, and control the clock. In turn, the UtAg offense will be right where New Mexico State wants it — on the sideline.
2) The running game: This category and time of possession go hand-in-hand. Both teams would prefer to run the ball well, although the two teams do it differently. NMSU will give the ball to No. 1 running back Seth Smith, who is a north-south, hard-nosed ball carrier who takes on would-be tacklers for extra yardage, getting 2- and 3-yard gains at a time. Marquell Colston and Tonny Glynn should see more action this week in reserve roles. Utah State will come at the Aggies with two big-play threats on the ground in quarterback Diondre Borel and running back Robert Turbin. Both will look to get to the edge of the defense and pick up chunks of yardage. Whichever team contains the opposing ground game best will most likely come out on top.
3) Aggie offensive production: The Aggie offense has struggled to find consistency through five games this season. Will this week see the team have a breakout? Utah State has been dreadful on defense this season, ranking 110th in the nation in rushing defense (200 yards-per-game), 109th in pass defense (272 yards) and 116th in total defense (472.50 yards). Translation: the Aggies can move the ball in this one, particularly if their passing game gets on track. NMSU will turn to Trevor Walls at quarterback, who has been effective the past two weeks in moving the ball down the field and getting the Aggie wide receivers involved in the passing game. While NMSU will focus on the run, the team would be wise to let Walls air it out more often against the UtAgs. NMSU will need to score in the 20s to have a chance at victory.
4) Erasing the past: Utah State holds the trump card over NMSU, in the form of a 27-6 series advantage between the two teams. The past two seasons have seen the Aggies lose in depressing fashion, a 35-17 defeat in 2007 which snapped a USU 16-game losing streak and last year’s 47-2 season finale loss in Logan, Utah. NMSU is under a new coach now in DeWayne Walker, while USU hired Gary Anderson during the past offseason to lead the program. Now would be the perfect time for NMSU to start a new history, in the form of a winning streak of their own against the UtAgs.
5) Punters: We know, we know, this it’s a little strange seeing the punters as keys in a game between two teams expected to put up a fair number of points. But hear us out. Both of these guys — NMSU’s Kyle Hughes and USU’s Peter Caldwell — have real-deal legs, with Caldwell ranking first in the WAC in punt average (45.0 yards-per-kick) and Hughes coming in second (44.8 yards). Both also handle kickoff duties for their respective teams while Hughes acts as the Aggies’ top field goal kicker as well. Again, both teams can run the ball, making field position all the more critical. Take over at the opposition’s 45-yard line, and in a few plays the offense finds itself in field-goal range. Have a punter get off a boomer inside the 20, now we’re talking about an 80-plus yard drive to the endzone. A big key indeed.