Winning is hard, and having to teach players to win makes it more difficult.
That’s the challenge facing New Mexico State University football coach Doug Martin who believes he has a good team, one that is capable of competing in the Sun Belt Conference.
“I know we have a winning team here,” Martin said. “I know that because I’m around these guys every day. I don’t know if they know that yet.
“I’ve got to get them to understand this is a winning team. It’s a hard process. They’re a close group that’s got some mental hurdles to overcome.”
The Aggies (2-4, 1-2 SBC) will be out to run their record at home to 3-0 when they meet Georgia Southern (3-3, 2-1) at 8 p.m. Saturday in Las Cruces, N.M.
Martin is in his fourth season at NMSU and it’s been a hard road for a team that has not had a winning record since 1992. Martin is currently 9-33 which is comparable to two coaches who preceded him.
DeWayne Walker, currently a defensive backs coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars, was 10-40, and before Walker there was former Valdosta State and Kentucky coach Hal Mumme’s whose Air Raid offense was 10-40.
Martin’s program appeared to be making strides last year when it won its final three games to finish 3-9. It was the Aggies’ longest winning streak since 2004.
However, the season did not get off to a good start as star running back Larry Rose III, who led the conference in rushing last year with a school record 1,651 yards, missed the first three games of the season due to sports hernia surgery in August.
Rose currently has 200 yards in three games as NMSU has relied more on the pass in his absence.
New Mexico State’s passing game could create issues for the Eagles as quarterback Tyler Rogers is 133-249-9 passing for 1,758 yards and nine touchdowns. He has six receivers with 13 or more receptions led by O.J. Clark with 26 catches for 207 yards. Gregory Hogan has 20 receptions for 273 yards.
“Tyler has really improved,” Martin said. “He’s not turning the ball over as much, and against Idaho he threw for 366 yards and two touchdowns. What he hasn’t learned is how to play field position football meaning he has to learn when to throw the ball away instead of taking a sack.”
Despite not having Rose the Aggies pulled off one of their biggest wins in several years when they knocked off in-state and arch-rival New Mexico, 32-31. Their lone conference win was a 37-31 double overtime win over Louisiana Lafayette.
The Aggies, though, could not follow up with wins as they lost to Kentucky and Troy after beating the Lobos and Martin saw his team lost to Idaho, 55-23, last week after the win over the Cajuns.
“No one expected us to beat New Mexico and we did,” Martin said. “Then we went out the next week and flopped. No one expected us to beat Lafayette and we did and then we went out the next week and flopped against Idaho.
“That was a disappointing loss,” Martin said of the game with the Vandals. “In the first half we played really well offensively. We had a beautiful drive at the end of the half and got a field goal. It should have been a momentum builder.
“I was disappointed that offensively we didn’t continue to keep pace in the second half. That first (Idaho) touchdown of the second half our offensive kids took the attitude of ‘here we go again’ and didn’t play as well as they should have.
“I thought we didn’t have the pride to play better than that. They’ve got to learn how to step up and play in meaningful games. We haven’t been in many meaningful games this time of year, and we didn’t handle it well.”