Get to The Next Level on UL-Lafayette’s game with New Mexico State: What is the biggest challenge facing the Ragin’ Cajuns? _lowres

Associated Press photo by ANDRES LEIGHTON -- New Mexico State running back Larry Rose III avoids the tackle of Idaho linebacker Kaden Elliss during the second half on Oct. 31 in Las Cruces, N.M.

The Next Level: Why stoppying NMSU’s Larry Rose III is the top priority for the Cajuns

Last week, the Cajuns went into their matchup against South Alabama looking to force the turnover issue by going for strips instead of focusing on the tackle.

The result: South Alabama rushed for 207 yards, 54 more yards than the Cajuns had allowed in the previous two weeks combined.

That plan can’t be scrapped fast enough, especially considering who is coming to town this week.

New Mexico State running back Larry Rose III is arguably the Sun Belt Conference’s top running back, and he’s been playing like it lately.

He rushed for 200 yards in each of the Aggies’ past two games, both wins, and he ran for 180 yards the week before in a blowout loss to Troy.

Heading into this week, he has accumulated 1,290 yards on the ground to rank among the national leaders in rushing yards.

At 5-foot-11, 184 pounds, Rose isn’t a physically imposing specimen. Then again, neither was South Alabama’s 175-pound jitterbug Xavier Johnson, and all he did was rush for 118 yards and a pair of scores while shedding Cajuns tacklers left and right last week.

Like Johnson and the man in the Cajuns backfield, Elijah McGuire, Rose is an elusive runner who uses his vision to find a crease before hitting it hard.

And that has led to explosive plays.

Rose leads the Sun Belt in runs of 20 or more yards with 18. He’s also busted three gains of 60 or more yards, with a long of 82.

For the most part, the Cajuns haven’t been bad against the run this season. They’ve allowed their fair share of explosive plays, and they’ve had games where missed tackles inflated the rushing totals. But they rank fourth in the SBC in rush defense and are among the league leaders in tackles for loss.

They’ll need to rediscover that form this weekend against a guy not many have contained this year.

Simply put, the Cajuns can’t have another game where they frequently whiff on tackles, because if they do, they’re going to see a lot of the backside of Rose’s No. 3 New Mexico State jersey as it’s speeding downfield.

Four Downs

1. About that record

New Mexico State got off to an awful start, losing its first seven games, but it has been playing much better as of late. The Aggies have won two games in a row, snapping a 17-game losing skid. It would still be considered a major upset if they beat the Cajuns, but they’re probably better than 2-7.

2. Two for one

Coach Mark Hudspeth said Jalen Nixon will play, but it appears Brooks Haack has taken a stranglehold on the QB job. He’s taken the vast majority of the snaps in the past two games and threw for a career-high 270 yards at South Alabama last week. Haack will start for the third straight week.

3. Behind the line

New Mexico State has been one of the worst teams in the country when it comes to protecting the passer. On the flip side, the pass rush has been very solid for the Cajuns since they started conference play. If the Cajuns can limit RB Larry Rose, they could shut down the Aggies offense with their pass rush.

4. Seeking: points

The Cajuns offense hasn’t put together a solid 60-minute effort against an FBS foe all season, and it’s reflected on the scoreboard. If the Aggies have been able to do one thing this season, it’s score points. The Cajuns can’t afford another low-scoring output, because it’ll likely result in a loss.