Gophers not taking New Mexico State for granted

MINNEAPOLIS — With the Gophers playing their season opener on a Thursday, Minnesota’s players were afforded the opportunity to watch a number of other college football games on Saturday. Among those was Texas versus New Mexico State, the latter of whom the Gophers will face this Saturday.

For two quarters, Minnesota cornerback Marcus Jones was stunned by what he saw. The underdog Aggies held tough with the 15th-ranked Longhorns and trailed by just seven at halftime — in Austin, no less. That threat of an upset was short-lived, however, as Texas rolled to 42 second-half points and a 56-7 drubbing of New Mexico State.

Still, it was a reminder to Jones and the rest of the Gophers that they can’t take this Aggies team lightly.

“As we saw this past weekend, there were a lot of upsets,” Jones said. “We’re just going to come to play with our best game like it’s a Big Ten team, try to come out with the win and move on to the next one.”

After all, it was just two years ago that the Gophers were on the wrong end of an upset by New Mexico State. In just the second game of the 2011 season, Minnesota lost by a touchdown to the visiting Aggies to drop to 0-2 on the season. That was also the game in which Gophers head coach Jerry Kill had a seizure on the sideline at TCF Bank Stadium in the game’s final minute.

Kill, a cancer survivor who has a seizure disorder, has since moved past that public seizure two years ago. Minnesota, however, hasn’t forgotten about its 28-21 loss at the hands of the Aggies.

“We obviously have to prepare mentally and physically so it won’t happen again,” said senior defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman. “That’s all you can really do is create a motor when you’re out there on Saturday, just learn from your mistakes and obviously make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The Gophers never led in that game as NMSU scored early in the first quarter to temporarily stun the home crowd. A third quarter score by the Aggies left Minnesota trailing by 14 heading into the final quarter.

Despite a touchdown in the first few minutes of the fourth quarter, Minnesota failed to rally and found itself on the wrong side of an early season upset. The Aggies went on to finish the year 4-9 while the Gophers limped to a 3-9 finish in Kill’s first season as head coach.

New Mexico State’s coach at that time, DeWayne Walker, has since taken a job in the NFL as the defensive backs coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. His replacement, Doug Martin, enters his first season at the helm, but he was the offensive coordinator of that 2011 team that beat Kill and the Gophers in Minneapolis.

Despite a 1-11 season for NMSU last year, Kill had high praise for the Aggies.

“I think they’re program’s better than it was at that time,” Kill said. “Their program’s progressed. Right now, what we have to worry about is what we can control. We’re going on the road for the first time with a very young football team.”

Minnesota will be facing a quick-tempo, quick-strike Aggies offense on Saturday, much like it faced Thursday in its opener against UNLV. In the loss to Texas, New Mexico State senior quarterback Andrew McDonald attempted 46 passes, completing 32 of them for 242 yards. The Gophers defense saw UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry attempt 50 passes but held the Rebels to just 226 passing yards as the majority of Sherry’s 35 completions went for a short gain.

Riding the high of a season-opening win, Minnesota believes it should beat New Mexico State. Las Vegas agrees, as the Gophers are 14 ½-point favorites for Saturday.

But as Jones and his teammates saw this past weekend around college football — and two years ago in Minneapolis — there could always be a few upsets in the making on any given Saturday.

“They had a pretty good first half against Texas, and Texas is a pretty good team, so you can’t take anything for granted,” Jones said of New Mexico State. “It did not feel good to lose to New Mexico State, along with North Dakota State and some other teams (in 2011), because those are teams we felt we could beat. We just didn’t come ready to play. This year, the older guys are trying to emphasize that we can’t overlook anybody. This team, this is the best team we have to play just because they’re next.”

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