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October 31, 2002 · JP Plant
The trek across the country enters week two for the Blue Raiders. After an injury-plagued loss to Idaho in Moscow, Middle Tennessee now travels to Las Cruces, New Mexico to face an Aggie team that has yet to lose inside the Sun Belt.

"We know we're going against one of the top teams in the conference right now," head coach Andy McCollum said. "Playing at their place, they do a great job out there. We're going to try to patch things up, go out there, and see what we can get done."

Although the Aggies have won four games in a row and are in first place in the conference, they aren't quick to forget last year's fourth quarter comeback by the Blue Raiders.

"That loss was worse than getting beat 64-0 by Kansas State," NMSU offensive lineman Shalimar Jackson said on the NMSU athletic web site. "We should have won that game and we were in position to win that game. We let it slip away."

"I'd been associated with a couple of national championship games that we lost," NMSU head coach Tony Samuel said, "but as a head coach, that was my toughest defeat."

The Blue Raiders are certainly a different team than last year's squad that overcame the large fourth quarter deficit, and no position right now is more different than at quarterback. Last year's team had the Sun Belt Player of the Year in Wes Counts, while this year's team has injuries to the top two QBs with two freshmen waiting in the wings. Red-shirt junior Andrico Hines is listed as day-to-day with a groin injury, and backup freshman Josh Harris is out for the year with a broken collarbone suffered in the loss to Idaho last week. So who will play in Las Cruces on Saturday?

"We'll bring Clint Marks up as a freshman, McCollum said. "We'll bring him up and start getting some snaps. Andre (Green -- red-shirt freshman) will get a lot of work and we'll see how Andrico is as the week goes. It's part of it. We've got to find a way to overcome it and get a game plan that Andre feels comfortable with and can run for us. Hopefully, Andrico comes on through and can do some things. We'll bring our freshman up and, hopefully, we won't have to play him."

With the QB situation in limbo, it's the running backs who have to pick up the slack -- so far Dwone Hicks and ReShard Lee have done their part. The two backs led the Blue Raider offense versus Idaho with 234 of the 341 total yards -- Hicks alone had 202.

"Last game we knew we were going to have to do that," Hicks said. "We knew we had to run the football. It might be the same thing this game."

Hicks and the rest of the Blue Raider offense will have a challenge this week, as the Aggie defense is ranked 38th nationally in total defense giving up only 342 yards-per-game.

"We're just going to have to figure out what we have," McCollum said. "The thing that we have to do is our offensive line is going to have to step up."

Defensively for Middle Tennessee they will face a quarterback in Paul Dombrowski that has a similar game to Hines. The red-shirt freshman leads the team in rushing with 546 yards -- the most ever by an Aggie QB. In conference play Dombrowski is accounting for 253 yards of total offense a game -- 98 of which are coming on the ground.

"Their quarterback's run pretty well," linebacker Randy Arnold said of Dombrowski. "He runs the option, quarterback counter, and draws -- they like to run the football, and they want to run the football. They are not a throwing team. It is going to be a real physical game."

After two losses now inside the Sun Belt, McCollum is challenging his players to a gut check.

"We're going through a lot of adversity right now," McCollum said. "Sometimes we're going through it and sometimes we're not. But we're not going to have anybody that's going to give in to this -- because if they do, you won't see them at practice...We know we've been written off and it's an opportunity to be as good as we can be. We've got a lot of fighters on this team. We've got a bunch of guys who are playing with a lot of courage and guys who are playing hurt. We're finding out a lot about some young guys."

One guy that stepped up Saturday at Idaho was the gimpy quarterback, Andrico Hines.

"I've been coaching a long time and haven't seen a more courageous effort than that," McCollum said of Hines' performance.

The next gut check for Middle Tennessee is Saturday at 5 p.m. CST at Aggie Memorial Stadium in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Coverage of the game can be heard on the Blue Raider Network and at GoBlueRaiders.com.

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