Cottrell, Aggies Have Chip On Shoulder

FAYETTEVILLE -- New Mexico State linebacker Jimmy Cottrell said the Aggies have a bad attitude as they approach the beginning of their season this Saturday at Arkansas.

Not a poor attitude. More of a Michael Jackson "I'm bad" attitude.

The Aggies lost five games by a touchdown or less during last year's 3-9 campaign and were within four of Arkansas before a three-minute, three-touchdown spree by Matt Jones and punt returner Marvin Jackson in the third quarter of their 48-20 loss last Nov. 15.

"Last year, the ball didn't bounce our way," said Cottrell, a junior voted captain of a defense returning 10 starters. "Coming into camp, we have a chip on our shoulder, especially on defense. We've got to prove we've learned from our mistakes."

Cottrell, a 6-foot-1, 244-pounder from Castle Rock, Colo., is a three-year starter who led the Aggies with 83 tackles in 2003 and 102 in 2002.

He had seven tackles, including two for loss and a sack, against Arkansas last year.

So while the Razorbacks try to knock some dirt off their shoulders, as Arkansas tailback De'Arrius Howard put it while quoting a rap song by Jay-Z, the Aggies will be daring the Hogs to knock the chip off theirs.

Cottrell and the Aggies were infected with a brutal flu bug during game week before playing Arkansas last year and while no players or coaches used it as an excuse afterward, it still serves as a motivation.

"That (the flu) was a little bit of a factor, but you can't make excuses," Cottrell said. "But it does give us another reason to have a chip on our shoulder. That's not the real Aggies they played last year."

And then there's Jones.

He shredded the Aggies defense on the ground and through the air. He tossed a 25-yard touchdown to Richard Smith and had touchdown runs of 8, 21 and a season-long 62 yards.

He was 8 of 10 passing for 139 while rushing 7 times for 132. His single-game total of 271 yards was the second-best of his career in a non-overtime game behind his 356-yard day against Florida earlier in the season.

Needless to say, Jones's performance is another reason for the Aggies' attitude.

"He is a motivating factor," Cottrell said. "He's a great athlete and we used him all spring and summer for motivation to get better. We need all our players going to the ball. It's going to be fun to step on the field with him again."

Jones' highlight reel day against New Mexico State has been watched countless times in the Aggie film rooms.

Over and over, they've watched Jones break free on that option keeper for 62 yards to break open the four-point game in the third quarter.

"I think Matt Jones is still running," said Aggies linebacker coach Ross Els. "The problem with that son of a gun is that when things are covered down the field, he doesn't scramble around to the right and left. He just runs it right up the middle and we can't touch him."

"You get out any game tape and you'll see. He makes people miss every game. You can't simulate that in practice. You can't simulate 6-6 and 4.3.

"He's going to cause problems for us, no question."

Cottrell and the rest of the Aggies defense just hope to cause problems for Jones as well.

"They're pretty good," Jones said of the linebacking group of Cottrell, Butkus Award watch list member Richard Glover and Simon Ocampo. "They go to the ball real well, they have good speed and do get off their blocks. They have a good group of linebackers."

New Mexico State has only played one game, a 13-10 loss to Sun Belt champs North Texas, since its loss to Arkansas and that fact combined with all the experience returning for the Aggies could make for a tight game, at least early on.

"They're very good," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said of the Aggies defense. "They tackle extremely well. They have a couple linebackers everybody is watching. This is a tough opener. There's no way you can go into the game thinking anything else but that.

"We have to come to play."

The scenario is similar to when Arkansas played UNLV in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2000 and then opened its 2001 season against the Running Rebels in Little Rock.

The only difference is UNLV won the first matchup and it was Arkansas looking for redemption.

"I think it's going to be an advantage for both teams," Cottrell said. "We know who's coming and going for them. We played against a lot of the guys who are starters now. We have 10 starters coming back, so we can take another step with our game plan and get even deeper into our system."

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