Here are my five keys to the game, as the Aggies prepare to meet Louisiana Tech
1) Health of Tech's playmakers: Two players — Daniel Porter (hamstring) and Phillip Livas (toe) — have been banged up with injuries. Porter has been the Bulldogs best running back the past two years while Livas, a wide reveiver/return man might only make one or two big plays a game, but they generally impact the outcome. If Porter can't go, the Bulldogs will go with a handful of running backs — Myke Compton, Tyrone Duplessis and D.J. Morrow. Expect both Porter and Livas to play, but keep an eye on both as well. Even at less than 100 percent, this could certainly effect the ballgame.
2) The passing attacks: Both teams have had sputtering passing games this season. While many on this board know about the Aggies' struggles, Louisiana Tech has also had their share of problems. Ross Jenkins is the starter and that doesn't appear to be in jeopardy simply because his backups aren't ready to assume fulltime responsibilities. While many focus on the quarterback when a team elects to go to the air, don't overlook the receivers either. Both units need to get separation down field and in a timely manner. Does one team have to deliver in the air? Not necessarily. But it would certainly aid either squad if a few big plays in the passing game come through.
3) Aggie rushing attack: This has been consistent all season long for the Aggies and it needs to continue this week. If NMSU is able to run the ball at a steady clip, they will be in the game. If La. Tech stops the Aggie ground game — which is sure to be a point of emphasis for the Bulldogs — trouble could ensue. The question is this: Who on the Aggies will lighten the load on Seth Smith, who has been getting the ball an awful lot this year and pounds into the defense every play? Primary backup Marquell Colston, who received 11 carries last weekend, is suspended. That leaves NMSU with a few other options in Tonny Glynn, Robert Clay and Donavan Roberts. Glynn is experienced and will likely get the first shot. The coaching staff was also impressed with Clay leading up to the season and eventually moved him to safety in hopes of getting him onto the field. Now, he returns to the backfield. Either way, the team will continue to try to bang for yardage on offense.
4) Special teams: The Aggies transformation has been radical. The last few years, they were high octane on offense and performed poorly on defense and in the kicking game. This year, it's the exact opposite. Kyle Hughes has shown tremendous ability as a punter, playing well into the team's gameplan of establishing field position. He will be back at it again against a La. Tech team that likes to do the same. Marcus Anderson remains a threat with the ball in his hands and his two big punt returns last week set up 10 critical points for the Aggies. This will be key once again, as NMSU tries to scrap together enough points against the Bulldogs.
5) Crunch time: I would be surprised if this game doesn't come down to the fourth quarter. Both teams are built for it, with run-first philosophies, tough defenses and opportunistic special teams units. So....Playing well down the stretch will be a a requirement. The Aggies have experience in this area. All three of their wins have come by three points, while their loss to San Diego State went into the fourth quarter before NMSU tailed off. They'll be on the road in what will be La. Tech's homecoming. Can't wait for this.