New Mexico State's Marcus Anderson catches the ball - but out of bounds - last week against Fresno State. The Aggies have struggled all season to make plays on offense.
Norm Dettlaff / AP Enlarge
COLUMBUS - It will be 10 o'clock Saturday morning in Las Cruces when the New Mexico State Aggies take the field here in Ohio's capital city to play the Buckeyes.
The locals back home will be gathered at outdoor cafes, gazing at the spell-binding Organ Mountains in the distance, and enjoying fall in the desert southwest as they sip lattes and coffee.
Before 10:30, they might ask for something stronger as the first score updates from the Midwest come in.
With No. 17 Ohio State facing a New Mexico State team that has struggled mightily to win just three games this season, a concoction for trouble is set.
The Aggies have the worst offense in the nation - not just the contiguous 48 states. There are 120 teams in the top class, formerly known as Division I and the Football Bowl Subdivision, and New Mexico State is the caboose in that long train - No. 120 with just 254 yards per game.
"It's going to be another big challenge," first-year New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker said about facing the Buckeyes and their extra stout defense.
On the other sideline, Ohio State's Jim Tressel will wonder if his team has the Aggies in mind, since the three Big Ten Conference games that follow this odd late October non-league match will decide the Buckeyes' fate on several different levels. A possible fifth straight Big Ten title, a potential Rose Bowl trip, and more will be on the table in November - but not now.
"We really have to focus in this coming week," Tressel said. "Sometimes when you leave your conference schedule, when that's really paramount in your mind, you can have the tendency to lose that focus a little bit."
The Aggies will test the Buckeyes' attention span, but likely little else. New Mexico State has just 13 touchdowns in eight games and ranks 119th in the country in scoring at 13.25 points per game. All three of its wins came by only three points.
After his team got whacked 34-3 at home last weekend by Fresno State, Walker gave the bottom line.
"We have to score points. We have to score touchdowns," Walker said.
New Mexico State has serious issues in the passing aspect of things, ranking fourth from the bottom in the nation at just 104 yards per game. Only the three "one-if-by-land" offenses of the military academies, who have no intention of passing, have fewer passing yards.
Ohio State senior defensive end Doug Worthington said after the Buckeyes hammered Minnesota 38-7 Saturday that with four games to go in the 2009 season, he wants Ohio State locked in on the big picture, regardless of the opponent. "As far as we're concerned, it's all about moving forward," Worthington said.
New Mexico State will face a Big Ten opponent for just the third time in its history. The Aggies got drilled 69-13 by Wisconsin in 1962, and pounded by Iowa 59-21 in the 1995 season.
Ohio State's Tressel is 24-2 against non-Big Ten teams at Ohio Stadium in his nine seasons directing the Buckeyes. The only non-conference losses in the Tressel era came to No. 3 USC earlier this season, and to No. 2 Texas in 2005.
GIBSON HONORED: Ohio State junior defensive end Thaddeus Gibson was named co-defensive player of the week by the Big Ten after his three-sack performance in the 38-7 win over Minnesota Saturday. Gibson had six tackles and a fumble recovery, and accounted for 13 yards in losses by the Gophers.
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