Here’s what head coach Doug Martin and select players had to say during the Aggies weekly press conference at the NMSU football facility:
On last week’s game against Rice and looking ahead to Abilene Christian this Saturday
“Our same Achilles heels are biting us. We’re not stopping the run on defense and that makes things really tough on you when teams can run the ball that effectively. Whether that’s a talent issue, scheme issue, whatever that is, that’s our worst problem on defense right now. And we’ve got to find a way to get that fixed if we’re going to win some games down the stretch. And especially this week.
“The other part offensively, our main problem is the consistency of the quarterback play. I’ve said all along, you can watch any mid-major program, especially, across the country, the ones that are winning have really good quarterback play. Those (players) make plays and make the guys around them better. We just haven’t been able to get that this year. We’re doing the best we (can) with what we have here right now. Obviously, we’ve got to recruit and get some guys in here that can compete for that job and make us better on that side of the ball. Until we get those things cleared up - run defense on the defensive side and the quarterback position - it’s going to be a struggle.
“I told our team, you better be ready to play some football. I know the impression about I-AA and all that stuff, these guys play winning football. They’re, like, plus-16 in the turnover margin, which is extrordinary. The quarterback’s thrown 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions. I think their defense has caused 23 turnovers for the season, which is remarkeable. They’ve got players. They’ve got guys that can play here. It will be a tough task for us to get this win. We better bring our big-boy pads.”
On winning first game of season and snapping 18-game losing streak
“I think that’s big for the players. I wasn’t here last year so I didn’t go through all of that. But it certainly would help the coaches sleep better, I’m sure. And would make the players feel a lot better. I think they carry that around probably more than I do right now. I’m just so involved in the process of putting the program together, that I just kind of stay right there. I don’t worry about what’s happened in the past and all that type of stuff. But I think it would be big for our team. And our guys are working hard, they’re competing, they’re doing all the right things. It’d be nice to see them get rewarded for that. They need to get a taste of winning so they can understand what that feels like and hopefully get a hunger for it to want it again.”
How does this game compare as a winnable game to your season so far?
“I think a lot of games have been winnable for us if we don’t beat ourselves. Like we did (against) UTEP and San Diego State and we had winnable games there. This one is right along those type of games. But, again, we’re going to have to play really well. We’ve got to win the turnover margin or we will not win this football game. I know that for a fact. And the rest of it’s about guys making plays. We’re playing a good football team.”
Does the confidence level change when the opponent is not Texas or UCLA?
“You’d probably ask the players that. I’m not sure. It doesn’t change with me as a coach. I understand, they’ve got scholarships too. And we do not have a full 85 scholarships right now. We’re at 76, and I think I-AA has 64 so there’s not a lot of difference in the amount of scholarships that both of us have going into this game. That’s one of our recruiting profiles that we’ve got to change. There’s not a lot of difference in my mind.”
What would a win do for confidence?
“Winning certainly helps your confidence. But I tell our players all the time, when you’re prepared you’re confident. It doesn’t just come from winning. I think it would certainly help us to learn how to win football games. We’ve got to learn that you’ve got to raise your level of play on game day. We do things in practice really well, and then all of a sudden we get to a game and we drop a punt, we drop a snap on an extra point. That stuff never happens in practice, it only happens in a game. Which means either guys can’t handle the pressure of playing in a game or they’re not prepared mentally, emotionally to play a game. Those are things that losing teams do that you have to transition it into winning. And you either do that by changing your roster or the guys that are here change their mentality.”
How do you feel about your offensive line’s performance?
“I think we’ve been pretty good in the offensive line. We had a couple of games where I didn’t think we played as well as we could. The Rice game, I didn’t think we played as well as we could. We didn’t protect the passer as well. We ran the ball pretty effectively. We did some good things there. And we have guys who are playing really well. Abe Holland had his first start and I really liked what I saw from him. He played physical, he took their best defensive lineman and put him on his back a couple times. He made some mistakes. It was the first game he started. But, you know, another New Mexico kid that’s stepped in here and played really well for us.”
Could you expand on some other guys you believe played well?
“I think Ume’s played pretty well for most of the year. Again, I think Abe Holland’s played well, Cunningham’s played pretty well for us. Dada was playing well till he got the ankle rolled and didn’t play this past week. Overall, we’ve been pretty good there.”
With Laudermill and Cazares, how did they heal up? And, of course, King. How are they all?
“It’s a little bit of a mash unit right now. Cazares, we got a good report back. His X-Rays were nagative so he doesn’t have anything broken or anything like that. He probably has a pretty good bone bruise in his ankle. Those are painful. He’s one of the toughest kids I’ve been around in 28 years of coaching. If he can play, he’ll play. But that’s going to be kind of a day-to-day deal, see how he can do. Of course, at his position, you’ve got to be able to move and change direction and all those types of things. If anybody can do it, it’d be him. I wish I had about 40 of him. We’d be winning a lot of football games. And that’s what we’re out after, to get guys like him.
“King is a day-to-day issue. He won’t practice today. We’ll see how he does as the week goes on. Laudermill had a neck stinger type of thing. His MRI’s came back positive, it didn’t have any permanent damage any of those types of things. Again, he’ll probably be a day-to-day decision.”
Did King suffer a concussion or having concussion symptoms?
“We’re not giving out those information, specifics of that. He’ll be evaluated day-to-day.”
With their scholarships, can they split those up?
“Some I-AA programs do that. They can give you just tuition, or just books, or whatever it is, and split the scholarship up. You can’t do that at the I-A level...I coached at that level and I know how all that works and everything. The thing I would say is this: Any time you play a team from Texas, you better load it up. Because they’ve got players. They are all from the state of Texas. And their is outstanding high school football, and there’s a lot more scholarship football players in Texas than there are schools. A lot of these guys that are playing for them could play anywhere in the Sun Belt or the Mountain West or any other conference. I watched the film. There’s a couple of those guys I’d love to recruit. They’ve got a good football team.”
Valerian Ume-Ezeoke, offensive lineman
Your performance last week against Rice?
“I played pretty well. When you’re not winning in the win column, then I didn’t do enough. I would say I didn’t do enough. Because, if I did enough, if everybody did enough, we’d have a win in the win column.”
How do they look defensively, in relation to the teams the Aggies have played. Primarily the people you’d be working against, the defensive line?
“I’m not going to downgrade them. They’re a smaller group of defensive linemen and defensive front. But they’re very gap-sound, disciplined and they know how to get to the ball. They’re players and they’re on scholarship too. They’re going to come out and try to play their hearts out.”
What do you think a win would mean for the program?
“It would be huge. We’ve been having a drought ever since last year. Just getting that win would be a great thing to the players, the coaching staff who’s really deserving....Just getting that win would be really, really nice.”
Is the team lacking confidence right now at all?
“No, you can come out and watch practice every week, we come out and practice our heart out. We just know that it only takes one. Once that win comes, it’s going to start rolling. We just come out and try to play our heart out, practice our heart out every time. We know it’s going to come.”
How much better has the offensive line played this year compared to last year?
“Last year we totaled about 42 sacks. And this year, the O-line has only given up nine. Which is a huge difference since last year. We averaged about 120 yards last game, rushing. I feel like we’re a better offensive line this year. We’re better disciplined, we’re more disciplined. We’re more physical....I feel like the O-line play this year’s a lot better.”
How much has the scheme helped improve the unit’s performance?
“You’re not as predictable, you don’t know if the quarterback’s going to have the ball or the running back’s going to have the ball. Just being unpredictable. The spread offense, also, we can throw the ball and we can run the ball. (It) definitely helps the O-line because, nobody knows what we’re going to do. That’s a big difference.”
When you look at the schedule, how would you characterize this as a winnable game compared to what you’ve had on your schedule?
“You could obviously say that some of the teams that we’ve played this year are on a difference caliber than Abilene. At the same time, they’re still a good team and we’ve played a lot of good teams this year. Just got to go out there and take it like as one of the other games that we’ve had and keep playing.”
Does the streak that you’ve gone through mean anything in a negative way, where the team gets down? Or is it truly one game at a time?
“I think everyone’s just trying to take it one game at a time. I don’t know if anybody’s thinking about the loss streak or anything like that.”