New Mexico New Mexico St Football

New Mexico State quarterback Josh Adkins (14) avoids the sack by New Mexico linebacker Jordan Flack (29) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Las Cruces, N.M., Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

NEW MEXICO STATE AGGIES

COACH: Doug Martin, 20-53, seventh season at New Mexico State

2018 RECORD: 3-9

POSTSEASON: None

» A LOOK BACK

New Mexico State’s first season as an independent did not go as scripted. The Aggies, bowl winners in 2017, lost their first four games and finished with a disappointing three victories. Two of those victories came in back-to-back weeks over UTEP and Liberty, and those were the first two starts for redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Adkins. But only one victory followed — over FCS’ Alcorn State — and the defense surrendered points in bunches, a step back for a unit that was proficient at getting to the passer in 2017.

NMSU had a solid defense in 2017 thanks to 43 sacks, but the unit only produced 28 sacks last season. The lack of pressure up front resulted in opponents rushing for more than 268 yards per game and scoring more than 40 points per outing.

NMSU’s offense, ranked 28th in total offense in 2017, fell to 97th in 2018. However, with Adkins calling the plays out of the shotgun, the Aggies ranked 30th in the nation in passing at 265 yards per game. (The Aggies ranked sixth in the nation in passing in 2017.) The passing proficiency allowed running backs Jason Huntley and Christian Gibson to average 4.6 and 6.1 yards per carry, respectively, in the air raid offense.

» LOOKING AHEAD

The Aggies’ success this season will depend on the maturation and development of Adkins. Thanks to an entire spring and summer as the unquestioned leader of the offense, Adkins has full control of the unit and the trust of his teammates. His key will be limiting the turnovers after he threw 13 interceptions last season, one of which was returned for a touchdown in the late-season loss at Liberty.

“I think he’s just gotten more comfortable with reading defenses, knowing defenses. He’s a really bright young man. He’s a natural leader, which is what you really look at from the quarterback position,” Martin said. “Our team, from the time he started up to now, it’s become his team. Everybody knows it, he knows it, he’s just been a tremendous leader for us. That’s one of the things that gives me a lot of comfort going into this season. We’re going to be playing one of the toughest schedules in the country. We’re going to need a lot of great leadership.”

The schedule includes trips to Washington State and Alabama in the first two weeks, plus a trip to Ole Miss at the beginning of November. The slate also includes tricky road games at Central Michigan and Georgia Southern in October, two teams expected to contend in the MAC and Sun Belt, respectively.

“The first six games are really demanding. It’s not just those power conference schools,” Martin said. “When you look at San Diego State and Fresno, they were nine- and 10-win teams last year that were in bowl games, it’s definitely going to be a challenge. I don’t know if any Group of 5 team is going to play a tougher schedule than what we’re going to play.”

One element that will help NMSU this season is transfers making an immediate impact. Tony Nicholson, from Baylor, is expected to start at wide receiver; Jomaious Williams, who had an offer from Virginia Tech in junior college, adds depth on the interior of the defensive line; and safety Chance Cook has two years of eligibility remaining after being a graduate transfer from Oklahoma State.

But those players don’t play linebacker, a position of need for the team this upcoming season. Javahn Ferguson returns, but there are question marks all around him.

“Linebacker was an area we just weren’t productive enough last year and losing Terrell Hanks who is now with the Miami Dolphins, we lost a good player there,” Martin said. “We really focused in on that in recruiting. I think right now we’ve got 20 linebackers on the team. We’re a four-linebacker, even five-linebacker defense at times, so hopefully we’ll find some guys to step up.”

» WHO’S BACK?

• SKILL PLAYERS

QB Josh Adkins (222-393 passing, 2,563 yards, 13 TD, 9 INT; 86 rushes, 117 yards, 1.4 average)

RB/KR Jason Huntley (109 carries, 505 yards, 4.6 average, 7 TD; 47 catches, 529 yards, 11.3 average, 3 TD; 22 kick returns, 598 yards, 27.2 average, 3 TD, 99 long)

RB Christian Gibson (96 carries, 590 yards, 6.1 average, 6 TD; 8 catches, 73 yards, 9.1 average)

WR/PR OJ Clark (52 catches, 512 yards, 9.8 average, 1 TD; 13 punt returns, 81 yards, 6.2 average, 17 long)

WR Drew Dan (37 catches, 491 yards, 13.3 average, 3 TD)

WR Anthony Muse (23 catches, 210 yards, 9.1 average, 1 TD)

• OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

LT Sage Doxater

LG Brian Trujillo

RG Tony Bello

• DEFENSIVE LEADERS

LB Javahn Ferguson (132 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 5 QBH, 2 FR, 1 FF)

CB Shamad Lomax (65 tackles, 1 INT, 10 PBU, 1 FF)

DT Roy Lopez (63 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FR, 1 FF)

DE Cedric Wilcots II (39 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 1 PBU, 5 QBH, 1 FF, 1 blocked kick)

DE Shane Jackson (33 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 PBU, 3 QBH, 2 FR, 2 FF)

• SPECIAL TEAMS

K Dylan Brown (10-15 FG, 49 long, 0 blocked; 35-35 PAT)

P Payton Theisler (74 punts, 40.7 average, 69 long, 7 TB, 17 FC, 18 I20, 14 50+, 1 blocked)

» WHO’S GONE?

• SKILL PLAYERS

WR Johnathan Boone (59 catches, 715 yards, 12.1 average, 3 TD)

RB Royce Caldwell (20 carries, 112 yards, 5.6 average; 29 catches, 303 yards, 10.4 average, 1 TD)

• OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

C Jamin Smith

RT Isaac McClain

• DEFENSIVE LEADERS

LB Terrill Hanks (101 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)

FS Ron LaForce (122 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 QBH)

CB DeMarcus Owens (57 tackles, 2 INT, 9 PBU, 1 QBH)

LB Leon McQuaker (120 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 0.5 sack, 2 PBU)

• SPECIAL TEAMS

None

» WHOM TO FOLLOW

Jason Groves, Las Cruces Sun-News: @JPGroves

Ken Sickenger, Albuquerque Journal: @KenSickenger

New Mexico State Football: @NMStateFootball

» SCHEDULE

Aug. 31: at Washington State, 10 p.m.

Sept. 7: at Alabama, 4 p.m.

Sept. 14: San Diego State, 8 p.m.

Sept. 21: at New Mexico, 4:30 p.m.

Sept. 28: Fresno State, 8 p.m.

Oct. 5: Liberty, 8 p.m.

Oct. 12: at Central Michigan, 3 p.m.

Oct. 26: at Georgia Southern, TBD

Nov. 9: at Mississippi, TBD

Nov. 16: Incarnate Word, 4 p.m.

Nov. 23: UTEP, 4 p.m.

Nov. 30: at Liberty, 2 p.m.

» THE SERIES (home team in CAPS)

Tied 1-1

Oct. 6, 2018: NEW MEXICO STATE 49, Liberty 41

Nov. 24, 2018: LIBERTY 28, New Mexico State 21

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Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550. Follow him on Twitter: @DamienSordelett

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