Utah State looking for three straight against NMSU

Utah State looking for three straight against NMSU

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LOGAN -- In 2008 Utah State won three games, and all three of those wins came in the Western Athletic Conference. One of those wins came against New Mexico State in the Aggies season finale.

Saturday, USU (1-3) travels to Las Cruces, New Mexico to take on the other set of Aggies, and see if they can win the battle of WAC Aggies for the third straight year.

"Our first game in the WAC we're definitely trying to go out there and prove a point and let people know that we aren't going to be pushovers, said USU senior wide receiver Omar Sawyer. "We're going to go out there and fight every play, every snap, so I definitely think it's a statement game."

With a new head coach, a new system and a new attitude in 2009, the Aggies first conference game may indeed be a statement game, but USU Head Coach Gary Andersen dismissed the idea that the game against NMSU is a must win.

"I don't think any game is a must win, it's not like if we win this game something is going to happen, we lose this game something is going to happen," Andersen said. "But for us, it is a very, very important game."

The keys for the Aggies this week will be two things: If USU's high-powered offense can get back on track after a tough game at BYU, and if USU's defense can slow down NMSU's power run game.

"It's no secret that we've struggled stopping the run, and we've challenged ourselves as coaches," Andersen said. "I'm highly involved with those defensive linemen, and we've challenged ourselves this week as players and coaches to be able to step up and stop the run."

On the season, New Mexico State (2-3) is averaging 148 yards rushing per game compared to an average of only 54 yards per game in 2008. Like USU, the Newmags have a new head coach this season, and DeWayne Walker's focus has been to establish a dominant running game.

That power running game has been a big part of what Walker called creating a brand and bringing respectability to New Mexico State - a program that hasn't been to a bowl game in 49 years.

"We're going to have to be very physical and we're going to have to be assignment sound up front," Andersen said. "This will be a big challenge for our defensive linemen, I think it will be a defining moment for how we can play defense the remainder of the season and we'll see exactly how physical we can be."

Another similarity the southern Aggies have in common with NMSU, is an improved product on the field. This season's New Mexico State squad is not the same team that the Aggies beat 47-2 at the end of last season.

After winning all of three games last year, the Newmags have already picked up two wins in 2009, including a thrilling 20-17 victory of MWC foe and in-state rival New Mexico. NMSU is, however, 0-1 in WAC play, opening the season with a home loss to Idaho.

"It's really important (to get a good start in the WAC), so teams have to catch us," said USU junior safety Rajric Coleman who had 13 tackles and an interception against BYU. "We'll be 1-0 in the WAC so the teams that lost have to come catch us now."

A win Saturday would definitely give the Aggies an upper hand in the conference with their next two conference games coming at home against Nevada and Louisiana Tech who are a combined 3-3.

"We've got the whole mentality of we're trying to go out there and win the WAC, so we're focused right now," said Sawyer.

With a win at New Mexico State Saturday, the Aggies would be off to a good start.

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. from New Mexico.

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