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September 13, 2008Forgive the New Mexico State football players if they sound outright giddy this week as they talk about the opportunity to finally play a game.
New Mexico State travels to Lincoln to take on Nebraska tonight in what now turns out to be the Aggies' season opener.
"I feel like I'm coaching an Ivy League school," New Mexico head coach Hal Mumme joked earlier this week. "It's a strange deal."
The "strange deal" for the Aggies is that they were supposed to open their season Sept. 4 against Nicholls State (La.), but the potential threat to the Gulf Coast region caused by Hurricane Gustav, forced Nicholls States to pull out of the game. The Aggies will now play Alcorn State on Oct. 4 as a replacement game for Nicholls State, but come into Lincoln as the only team in Division I that has yet to play a game. Most teams, like Nebraska, already have two games under their belt.
"Man, it's going to be like a dream come true. I can't wait. It's taken so long to play another team, it's just kind of getting frustrating," said NMSU strong safety Derrick Richardson. "It's going to be exciting to finally get out there and strap it up."
In all, the Aggies will have gone through approximately 40 practices in their extended fall camp by the time they take the field at Memorial Stadium Saturday evening.
"We'll see how we do," Mumme said. "The reps advantage is what I'm most worried about. You usually improve the most between the first and third games - our first couple - and Nebraska's had a chance to do that."
Mumme said the situation caused by the cancellation of the Nicholls State game is clearly an advantage for Nebraska.
"I don't see how it could be any advantage for us," Mumme said. "We're going to be the guys with the opening-game jitters and we're playing at their place. I think it's definitely an advantage for Nebraska."
Even Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini conceded that having played two games could work to the Huskers' advantage against the Aggies.
"I think the speed of the game (is the biggest advantage). They have some experience on their side too, but there is nothing like having the fastball look," Pelini said. "We've had two (games) and they haven't played a game yet. You hope that is somewhat of an advantage, but time will tell."
Without game film to study, Pelini said the Huskers will prepare for New Mexico State as if they were playing the Aggies in the first game of the season.
Aggie players are putting a positive spin on their extra preparation time for the Huskers. Senior quarterback Chase Holbrook is of the belief that there's no such thing as too much practice.
"It can't hurt us any. We've got some young guys," Holbrook said. "The more practice we get, the better."
Holbrook said the Aggies are looking forward to playing in a large venue like Memorial Stadium, comparing the game to a 2007 road trip New Mexico State took to Auburn. A large, noisy crowd won't intimidate the Aggies, he said.
"I think after going into Auburn last year, it kind of prepared a lot of guys on the team," Holbrook said. "It might be first-game jitters the first drive, but I think after that, everyone will settle down and play.
"We do a lot of hand signals. Our guys are good about communicating with one another. They kind of spread it down the line."
Richardson added that the Aggies are simply anxious to line up against a team wearing different color uniforms than their own.
"It's just (been) a long string of practices now. You can kind of see it in the team," he said. "We're getting scrappy and starting to get a little nit-picky. We're ready to play somebody else."