ALBUQUERQUE — It wasn't a win, but it may have been a start.
New Mexico State football coach Doug Martin and his players were not at all satisfied by their performance in last week's 42-25 home loss to rival New Mexico. Too many mistakes, including five turnovers and key penalties, took potential points off the scoreboard.
But after watching video of the contest, Martin believes there is cause for encouragement heading into this week's I-10 Rivalry contest at UTEP.
"I told the team this was the first time this season I felt good about how we played," Martin said. "We played physical against UNM and had a lot of energy and enthusiasm. I didn't see that in our first three games."
New Mexico State (0-4) also took some positives away from Saturday's second half, when redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Adkins seemed to jump-start a struggling offense. The Aggies generated 224 of their 368 yards after halftime.
"Josh has such passion for the game, such intensity," senior offensive lineman Jamin Smith said. "I think that's contagious, and I do feel like we made progress as an offense in the second half."
Martin announced after Saturday's loss that Adkins will make his first collegiate start at UTEP. Junior Matt Romero, who started NMSU's first four games, will serve as backup.
"Josh made throws we've been trying to get our other quarterbacks to make," Martin said. "I think we found something on offense that's better. I'm encouraged."
New Mexico State also came out of the UNM game with no significant injuries. Martin expects to get defensive lineman Jassavia Reese (knee) and linebacker Malik Demby (stinger) back against UTEP as well.
"This will be the healthiest we've been," Martin said, "especially on defense."
The Aggies figure to face a run-heavy attack against UTEP (0-3), with quarterback Kai Locksley (the son of former UNM coach Mike Locksley) as the No. 1 threat. NMSU surrendered 198 rushing yards in its loss to UNM, but the Lobos averaged just 3.2 yards per rush.
"Compared to 5.9 yards a carry, which is what we gave up the first three games, 3.2 is a huge improvement," Martin said.
Inside linebacker Javahn Fergurson, who returned from injury against UNM, is looking forward to facing the Miners' rushing game. Fergurson had a monster game against the Lobos with 22 tackles and a pair of sacks.
"I feel like the 22 tackles came because (the Lobos) came right at me," Fergurson said.
"That was a big opportunity, and this week will be another one because (UTEP) likes to run the ball. We need to focus on stopping that. If we can, I feel like it sets us up well for the rest of the season."
New Mexico State at UTEP
5:30 p.m., 1150 AM, ESPN3.com