Listen to Cal State Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy describe New Mexico State and you might think one of college football’s powerhouses was in town today for the Titans’ homecoming game in Santa Ana Stadium.
“They’re for real, they really are,” Murphy said. “They’re bigger and more aggressive up front. They have better skilled people. They’re much improved over last year. (Coach) Jim Hess has done a super job.”
Uh, Gene, have you checked the standings lately?
The Aggies are 0-7.
Of course, from Murphy’s vantage point, New Mexico State looks darn good. And compared to past Aggie teams, New Mexico State looks even better.
Granted, the Aggies appear to be on the same course they’ve steered for the past seven seasons, which have ended with 1-10, 0-11, 1-10, 2-9, 1-10, 1-10 and 2-9 marks.
But there has been progress.
New Mexico State lost to Texas El Paso, 22-21, in the season opener. The Aggies lost to New Mexico and the University of the Pacific by a touchdown. They were tied with Fresno State, 28-28, in the fourth quarter before losing, 42-28.
Last season, the average score in losses to Fresno State, San Jose State, Pacific, New Mexico and UTEP was 43-17. This season, the Aggies have lost to those same teams by an average score of 29-18.
New Mexico State’s defense has improved, in part because of the play of George Tuioti, a former Santa Ana High School and Rancho Santiago College standout who now starts at defensive end for the Aggies. He has made 50 tackles, including five for losses, and two sacks.
And the offense has made strides with former Sunny Hills High and Fullerton College quarterback David Chisum, who now shares time with option specialist Cody Ledbetter, a freshman.
The Aggies also boast one of the nation’s best tight ends in Todd Cutler, who has a team-leading 28 receptions for 520 yards. Among tight ends, only Texas Christian’s Kelly Blackwell (82.9 yards) averages more receiving yards per game than Cutler (74.3).
“It’s the best team we’ve had in the five years I’ve been here,” said Steve Shutt, New Mexico State’s sports information director.
This doesn’t bode well for the Titans, who lost to the Aggies, 43-9, in Las Cruces last season. The victory snapped a 27-game losing streak for New Mexico State, and fans reacted by snapping the goal posts into several pieces.
There is one encouraging sign for Fullerton. The Titans (1-6) are coming off a bye week, and Fullerton players have had time to rest and shake off nagging injuries. After a September bye week, the Titans appeared fresh in a 17-10 victory over Cal State Northridge.
“Our offensive line was really beat up, and the bye really helped them,” Murphy said. “We got our legs back. They really looked different in practice. They’re fresh and running around. Hopefully, that will work for us.”
Titan running back Reggie Yarbrough, who has rushed for 100 yards or more in 10 of 19 games, has had two consecutive subpar performances, rushing for only 46 yards against Utah State Oct. 19 and 49 against Nevada Las Vegas Oct. 12. But he still holds the team rushing lead over Arthur Davis, 769-545. . . . New Mexico State’s leading rusher, fullback Jimmie Mitchell (79 carries, 343 yards), is doubtful for today’s game because of a sprained shoulder. . . . Titan wide receivers Frank Davis (disciplinary reasons) and Steve Danzy (flu), who did not make the Utah State trip, will play today, Coach Gene Murphy said. . . . New Mexico State has won only two Big West Conference games in seven seasons, both at home over Fullerton. . . . The Aggies’ best defensive player is senior middle linebacker Steve Campbell, who leads the team with 75 tackles. . . . Former Brea-Olinda High School player Marc Shaw, a walk-on who earned his first start in the Aggie secondary last week and led the team with 13 tackles, probably won’t start today. He is expected to see action on passing downs, however.