Aggies struggle to find reasons behind bad start

With 14 starters returning from a team that won seven games for the first time since 1967, this was supposed to be Tony Samuel's payoff year at New Mexico State.

Instead, the Aggies' sixth-year coach faces the possibility of matching his worst start ever in Las Cruces at Louisiana Thursday night.

NMSU (1-5, 0-2), loser of four straight, still is seeking its first victory over a Division 1-A opponent this season. A loss to winless Louisiana0-7, 0-3) on ESPN regional television this week would drop the Aggies, picked to finish second in the Sun Belt Conference, to 1-6 for the first time since Samuel's initial season. NMSU is an eight-point favorite.

"We've been trying to get back out and erase this bad taste for about three weeks now," Samuel said Tuesday. "At this point, you've just got to believe in yourself and the people around you. That's what's going to get us over the hump."

What's NMSU's problem?

"It's a lot of little things," Aggie senior receiver Ronshay Jenkins said. "Things you can't see, that are behind the scenes."

Other than a minus-1.17 turnover margin, ranking NMSU 106th in the country, the Aggies have some impressive numbers, including the top-ranked Sun Belt Conference offense and defense.

Offensively, the Aggies are ninth in the nation in rushing offense (218.2 ypg) and 42nd in total offense (404.3 ypg). Defensively, NMSU is 54th in rush defense (139.2 ypg) and 50th in total defense (347.8), numbers Samuel is using to try and break his team out of its slump.

"I brought the stats out Sunday," Samuel said, reflecting on last weekend's 35-18 loss at Middle Tennessee. "I told the team that we had 525 yards of offense and held those guys to 293. And 70 percent of those 293 yards came on just five plays."

The numbers haven't added up for NMSU. But the Aggies know what they have to do to avoid their worst start since 1997.

"We still have six games left," NMSU junior quarterback Buck Pierce said. "It's time for us to start playing like we have in the past."

But is it too late to save a season that was expected to end in a run for the Aggies' first bowl game in 43 years?

"I think it's still possible," senior center Andy Dale said. "But it's got to start this week."

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