We preview tonight's NMSU vs. Abilene Christian football game with our five keys:
Aggie defense: We've been saying it all year and this week is certainly no different. The Aggies need to be able to stop the run first and foremost - they haven't done so throughout the season - if they want to avoid this upset. NMSU should be able to score some points on ACU, although if the Wildcats can score the ball at a frequent rate, it will make this contest a competitive one.
Turnovers: Abilene Christian has been astounding this season in the turnover margin (the team's forced 25 takeaways and have given up the ball just seven times total). Aggie head coach Doug Martin has been harping on turnover margin throughout the 2013 season, and it's never rung more true than entering tonight's contest. For the record, NMSU sits at minus-six in turnover margin (eight interceptions, nine lost fumbles) on the season.
Offensive production: Martin said running back Germi Morrison will return to the lineup after suffering a concussion Oct. 4 against New Mexico. Then again, the head coach told multiple media outlets this week that freshman quarterback King Davis III did in fact suffer a concussion last weekend against Rice, and his status for tonight's game is in question. Either way, scoring four-to-five touchdowns could very well be a realistic goal for an Aggie offense searching to top the 21-point mark for the first time this season.
Fast start, quick finish: The one thing that can't be quantified entering this game is the mental state of both clubs. For the Aggies, the question revolves around the team's confidence following an 0-7 start that saw the program overmatched most weeks at the outset of its independent schedule. Abilene Christian, on the other hand, will be ready to play - a game the Wildcats likely feel they can win, and their first contest against an FBS opponent since 1980 (a 41-0 defeat at Hawaii). In NMSU's case, jumping on the Wildcats early and putting the game away before the fourth quarter would be the ideal scenario. If for no other reason, it wouldn't allow thoughts of an upset to set in, and possibly linger.
The lines of scrimmage: You can say this just about any game, although it might have extra emphasis going into tonight. In truth, we don't know how these teams match up, simply because there's nothing close to a common opponent on the respective schedules. NMSU has to control Abilene Christian's offensive and defensive lines - pressuring the quarterback and containing the run, while protecting their signal caller and establishing a ground of of their own - to assure itself of victory.