Indians and Aggies trying to dodge losing seasons

Updated: October 30, 2003, 4:35 PM ET

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- The goal for Arkansas State and New Mexico State in the final month of the regular season is simple.

Out of the race for the Sun Belt Conference title, both teams are trying to avoid a losing season, while also playing the spoiler's role in the league race.

"We can ruin it for everyone else," says New Mexico State linebacker Tim Patrick. "We shot ourselves in the foot and we have to take responsibility for that."

New Mexico State (2-6, 1-3) plays Arkansas State (3-5, 1-2) Saturday night here. With just four games left, New Mexico State has to win out to finish at .500, while the Indians have to win three of their last four to break even.

It has been a difficult season for both clubs, but especially for the Aggies. NMSU was 7-5 in 2002 -- the most wins for the school since 1967 -- and expected to challenge two-time league champion North Texas for this year's title.

A five-game losing streak gutted the Aggies' season and lowered the bar of expectation.

"One of the problems with this year is there has been so much talk about the overall season and I think sometimes it affects performance," NMSU coach Tony Samuel said this week. "We have gone back to the basics."

It has been a similar scenario for Arkansas State, which has struggled to put together wins while giving up an average of 34 points a game.

"We are in a situation that we hoped not to be in," said ASU coach Steve Roberts. "How we attack it is going to be crucial to the outcome of the remaining four games."

Both teams have been plagued by turnovers and the inability of their defenses to stop opponents from pulling off big plays. Arkansas State had seven turnovers last week and a punt blocked in a 49-0 loss to Utah State, while the defense gave up 226 yards on seven plays -- an average of 32.3 yards.

"Obviously, when you give up big plays ... couple that with the turnovers and the blocked punt, you're not going to have an opportunity to win the ball game," Roberts said.

New Mexico State leads the Sun Belt in total offense (413.5 ypg) and rushing offense (234 ypg). Halfback Eric Higgins ran for 218 yards last week in the Aggies' 21-14 win over Louisiana-Monroe. That was the ninth best rushing effort ever by an Aggie back.

"He's very powerful and very elusive," said Roberts. "He sees a hole and gets in it. They run the option as well as anybody out there."

Arkansas State has never beaten NMSU in Las Cruces and the Aggies lead the short series 6-1.

This story is from's automated news wire. Wire index