Pressure to perform: With the bad start both teams have endured to the 2010 season, you can bet they have pressure to win the game.
Is it a must-win situation? One could certainly make the argument.
Both will take the field with a sense of urgency, but it’s also important both play under control and don’t fold at the first sign of trouble.
Confidence is a tough thing to gain and an easy thing to lose and neither team has a whole lot right now. That, along with the pressure to win give both programs a shaky psyche, and an interesting subplot heading into the contest.
The quarterbacks: Will he play, or won’t he play.
It’s a good question for both of the team’s starting quarterbacks — Matt Christian for New Mexico State and B.R. Holbrook of New Mexico.
Christian got rocked last week by Boise State and suffered a sprained shoulder, while Holbrook has been nursing a knee injury since Week 2 of the season.
If they can’t go, redshirt freshman Tanner Rust will take over under center for NMSU while true freshman Tarean Austin will get the nod for the Lobos.
Mark it down — the team that throws the ball better downfield will get the win tonight. Can Rust deliver it deep, or will Austin connect long? Will either start, or play the entire game, could be the better question. The quarterbacks hold the keys.
Aggie ground game: Where have you gone Seth Smith?
After rushing for over 1,000 yards last year, the senior is on pace for not even half that in 2010, as he’s rumbled for just 134 yards thus far.
Smith’s declined production can be attributed to one thing — a lack of opportunities, as the Aggies have given him the ball just 40 times this year.
That should change tonight, as NMSU can pound the Lobos on the ground and Smith remains the same straight-line battering ram that hammered defenses last season.
NMSU needs to get Smith involved early and often. Throw in a little Kenny Turner out of the backfield on pitches and quick passes, and the Aggies could cut up the Lobos on the ground.
Aggie defense: The New Mexico State defense ranks last — No. 120 — in the nation.
Are the Aggies a top-50 defense in the nation? No. But they’re not 120 either — they’re better than that.
The unit needs to get on track and couldn’t pick a better time to do so than now.
The team still hasn’t recorded a sack and, in turn, hasn’t forced a turnover.
A new linebacking corps has taken longer than expected to get adapted to the Division I level.
They won’t get it totally turned around tonight. But a solid performance would go a long way toward getting a much-needed win.
Last year’s contest: Last year saw the Aggies go to Albuquerque as big underdogs and come out with a 20-17 win in the final minute.
At the very least, NMSU can draw from that game. Now, they have the Lobos in Las Cruces and know they match up well with them.
This should be a close one as well. When in doubt, NMSU should reflect on 2009.