Sunday, September 28, 2008

Another frustrating loss

It was another frustrating loss for the New Mexico State Aggies, who fell to New Mexico 35-24 on Saturday night.

A few things stood out immediately when looking at the box score. The first one was obvious and that was the 63 rushing attempts by the Lobos. And then the fact that they piled up 297 yards on the ground. It's not like they posed a threat to throw the ball downfield at all. NMSU just had to concern itself with defending the run. And the Aggies simply couldn't stop it.Usually when an offense is one-dimensional, it becomes easy prey. Not the case Saturday and really, it wasn't the case two weeks ago against UTEP either. The Miner backs just weren't as good as the Lobos' were.

Then I looked at NMSU's rushing numbers. I know, the team likes to throw the ball. But UNM rushes it 63 times and NMSU just 18? Common. Usually, the Aggie backs are at least involved in the passing game too. That makes the stats deceptive, simply because they are catching quick screens and dump off that are just as good as carries but are counted as receptions. Again, not Saturday. No receptions for the NMSU runners. I don't know if this is a case of them being ignored or just not playing well but something needs to change. Your backs need to be involved in the offense in some capacity. Those lopsided totals on the ground led to a lopsided total in time of possession. UNM held the ball for more than 17 minutes longer than the Aggies. The defense must have been exhausted.

The Lobos outscored the Aggies 25-7 in the second half. Halftime adjustments, or a lack there of, are critical.

A winnable game? Yes. Is the season over? Absolutely not. The Aggies will rebound and beat Alcorn State. The team needs to avoid an Arkansas Pine Bluff-like performance and take it too Alcorn from start to finish. The WAC schedule starts out tough - at Nevada-Reno. But the team returns home for San Jose State - a team the Aggies can beat in Las Cruces - and then to Idaho - a team that ranks as one of the worst, if not the worst, in the country. Lots of football left to be played in a very young season. NMSU tends to live dangerously and plays in tight games, particularly in Las Cruces. Count on at least three more this season. The team needs to find a way to win them.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Look ahead

Alright folks. It's that time of week again. Lets get some predictions.

I go with the Aggies this week, 38-27. I just don't know about the Lobos, backup QB is in, second-straight game away from Albuquerque and coming off a thrashing at the hands of Tulsa. The reality is that UNM is 1-3 on the year and is desperate for a win. I just don't know if they get one in Las Cruces.

Holbrook is Holbrook. Lots of yards, somewhere around 400, four TDs and a pick or two. The receivers do damage. A.J. Harris scores here. I think Marcus Anderson continues to play well as does Wes Neiman. Williams goes for over 100 yards again. Not really going out on the limb there.

I think the Lobos are hurt as much over the loss of their standout receivers this year — Marcus Smith and Travis Brown — than anything else. Those guys torched the Aggies in the past and their absence is being felt throughout the UNM lineup. Brad Gruner is in at QB and it will be interesting to see how the NMSU D tries to shake him up. This will be a fun game to see Joe Lee Dunn's defense and if it will go to work against an inexperienced signal caller.

The one guarantee for the Lobos is that Rodney Ferguson has a strong game on the ground. Paul Baker also could play a factor. UNM will run often, but that won't be enough to combat an explosive Aggie attack. NMSU likes to get in track meets and this feels like a game where they can distance themselves from the Lobos. Hopefully NMSU can avoid turning the ball over and can capitalize in the redzone.

Lots to look forward too. Big game for the two NM teams.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Five things we learned about the Aggies

Here are five things we have learned about the NMSU Aggie football team after two games so far this year

1. Marcus Anderson can play: A very good JC acquisition here for NMSU. In his second game he scored three TDs and played well on special teams, returning punts and doing it effectively. Anderson will continue to get looks, as long as the receiving corps stays healthy. He not only benefits from his own personal skill set, but also from the constant attention opposing defenses pay to Chris Williams and A.J. Harris. Anderson will continue to play, and play well, in the Air-Raid attack.

2. Special teams, as a whole, seem better: Kyle Hughes and Jordan Davenport combined for six kickoffs against UTEP, while Hughes put two out of the endzone. This is huge, as last year it was painful watching the team consistently give the opposition outstanding field position. Hughes also banged home all of his XP's. He had his one field goal this year blocked against Nebraska but a better kicking game is a weapon the team has been sorely lacking since Hal took over the program. This is one of the most overlooked aspects in all of football and one of the most important in the grand scheme of things. Strong special teams play this year is a must if NMSU wants to get to the six/seven wins mark.

3. The jury is still out on the defense: I know people are fired up over the performance of the defense and there certainly were some bright spots last week. Holding the Miners down on the final three possessions of the game was a positive for sure. But lets be honest here — UTEP was missing weapons and still moved the ball well against the Aggies on the ground. This week against the Lobos? Again, the backup QB is in place but the team will have to deal with Rodney Ferguson, who is a load. If UNM can pass the ball with any success, it will be interesting to see how the Aggies combat the attack. I will say this though — the defense did get after the quarterback last week. Pressure in the backfield can be a defense's best friend and, as expected, it looks like the unit will bring the heat more often than not. Still, one good game against the Miners doesn't have me convinced just yet that the defense is a force to be reckoned with. Frankly, I won't be ready to confidently make that call until early November. This week will be another test.

4. Derrick Richardson is impressive: 21 tackles? That's a lot of takedowns for the free safety. I spoke with Joe Lee Dunn this week about Derrick and he said that he was as good of a safety as he has coached in the college game. The truth is that 21 tackles by a safety is too many. You want that number down a bit, simply because it implies that the opponent broke too many plays into the secondary. Still, give D-Rich credit for making the stops when they came his way. He made over 100 tackles last year and is going to hit that mark again in 2008. He's already over 1/3 there in two games! And Nick Paden made 15 stops at middle linebacker. Last year, the Aggies were pretty strong up the middle as well, with Ray Manumaleuna at tackle, Dante Floyd at middle linebacker and Richardson at safety. Still, the results weren't there. In this defense though, Paden and Richardson are going to continue to pile up numbers as the season moves on.

5. Another huge game this week: Again, we have a monster game for NMSU in Week 3 of their season. UNM beat the Aggies in Albuquerque last season, although it was a close one under much different circumstances. For one, Donovan Porterie destroyed NMSU last season at QB. He ran and he threw. The throwing is where he made the difference. He got hot and the Aggies didn't cover UNM's talented receivers. They were running around downfield and getting chunks of yardage in the passing game. What about this weekend? Porterie is out for the year due to injury and those receivers are long gone. I think this game stacks up well for the Aggies, particularly in Las Cruces. There's pressure on the Lobos to perform well and it will not be an easy contest by an means. UNM needs this game badly. The Aggies do as well, but they are confident following their performance at UTEP and are looking to take the next step. Make no mistake, this is a huge game for both teams. I think the Aggies are primed to get the W.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Game recap

NMSU gutted out a 34-33 win over UTEP on Saturday night at the Sun Bowl. The defense held late in an exciting contest. I think we all knew that the game would go down to the wire and it didn't disappoint. Lets go over how things played out as well as compare and contrast my pre-game predictions written on my blog post yesterday.

I said that UTEP would win 42-35. I was wrong, as NMSU found a way to hold them under that number. The 34 points scored by the Aggies was just about on the mark.

I had Holbrook completing 35 passes for over 350 yards, three TDs and two picks. He ended 29-of-39, 329 yards and five TDs. He threw two picks and had a backward pass recovered by UTEP, which will be ruled as a fumble. He threw his two picks early and made big tosses when he had to. Good game for Chase. He needed it and he performed when called upon.

I thought Chris Williams would go for over 100 yards and two TDs. I had the running backs having a big evening, with Colston grabbing 80 and a score, Glynn going for 60 and Brandon Perez scoring from short range.

Chris ended up with seven grabs for 119 yards while the RBs didn't do much, although Marquell made a few big plays when he had to. He recorded three grabs for 39 yards to go along with his 21 yards rushing. He will be a contributor throughout the year.

UTEP's star players ended up being a wash, as quarterback Trevor Vittatoe left the game early and running back Terrell Jackson didn't play, as he was hurt as well. Those two leaving changes the entire complexion of the game. Would the Miners win if they both played? Hard to tell. The game would certainly have played out differently though, as UTEP was forced to run the ball throughout with QB James Thomas at the controls. In the end, does it matter? No. Football is a game of injuries and the Aggies have suffered their fair share the last couple of years. A win is a win, and no one on the NMSU sideline will apologize for it.

Keys to the game? Marcus Anderson caught three TDs. Good player! What about NMSU scoring on that 4th-and-21? Big play, the Miner defense should be ashamed of itself for giving that up.

With UTEP driving late, the Aggies forced a fumble and fell on the ball. Huge play, the Miners were in FG range and could have taken the lead right there....Miner kicker Jose Martinez missed a FG on the team's opening drive of the third quarter. He's a good kicker but in a game where every point counts, that's a big miss. Usually the Aggies are the one's missing that field goal and it was nice to be on the other end of it. This team deserves some breaks down the stretch.

With so many Miners banged up, it's hard to gouge the defense's performance. We will say this though, they played well when they had to. One thing the team did was get to the QB. NMSU generated a good deal of sacks and pressure, which caused some problems for UTEP. Derrick Richardson had 21 tackles. That's huge! Derrick has 38 on the year in two games! If he keeps this up, he is going to lead the WAC in that category. I think he likes the new defense, no? Nick Paden added 15. Overall, the D was more active than in the past. We can say that.

I said at the beginning of the year that NMSU would split with their rivals, with the team losing to the Miners and beating the Lobos at home. Now what? Time to get greedy. I really do think NMSU can beat UNM at home. The Aggies had the Lobos on the ropes last year in Albuquerque and lost. UNM will be mad after getting torched by Tulsa on Saturday. It's going to be a hard fought game next weekend at Aggie Memorial. Get your tickets while they're hot.....

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pregame predictions

Alright folks. Prediction time. Lets do it.

I think the Aggies lose to the Miners 42-35 in a shootout. I actually think NMSU will outplay UTEP — they'll hold onto the ball longer and outgain the Miners in total yardage. In the end though, I think the El Paso team finds a way to win.

Expect a big game, numbers wise, for Holbrook. I'm thinking at least 50 attempts and at least 35 completions. Over 350 yards and three touchdowns. I also expect a couple picks, particularly if UTEP brings the heat. I think that will be the key to the game, the Miners' ability to get after the quarterback and knock him around.

Chris Williams will have a big game too. Double digit catches, well over 100 yards and two TDs. Chris is a money player and comes out when it's time to shine. He'll put on a show under the lights of the Sun Bowl.

NMSU's runners will do well but will be under-utilized. Marquell Colston goes for 80 yards and a TD and Tonny Glynn goes for 60. Brandon Perez scores from short range in this one. Marquell will catch some balls in the passing game as well.

Another key to the game is going to be UTEP QB Trevor Vittatoe. I think he'll pass for over 275 yards and two TDs. He could also create something with his legs.

He'll find receiver Jeff Moturi for over 100 yards and at least one score. Tight end Jamar Hunt will also be in the mix and could be active in the redzone. Running back Terrell Jackson will be involved running and catching the football. NMSU will need to put the clamps down on him, but it could be tough if he gets the ball in space.

Turnover battle will be key. Whoever wins that should win the game. Lots of points and no shortage of excitement in this one. I think the Aggies fall, but bounce back next week to beat UNM at home. Signing off....


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A look back at last year

Lets take a look back at last season's game between the Miners and Aggies.

It was a wild one. The final score was 29-24 but it might as well have been 45-41. It sure felt that way. I think the thing that stood out to me was the performance by receiver Chris Williams. He caught nine passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns on the evening, with most of his production coming in the second half. Both of his scores came on big plays. He really made the difference.

I also remember NMSU being fairly mistake prone throughout. Former Miner safety Quinten Demps returned an interception 104 yards for a score and Aggie kicker Paul Young missed two chip shot field goals from 34 and 22-yards out. Williams also dropped a few balls, including a sure touchdown. Still, the team persevered and got a gutsy win, culminated by a defensive stand with under three minutes remaining. It really was refreshing.

I seem to recall UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe being up-and-down throughout the game. He missed some open guys downfield. That could be the biggest difference this year — besides the game being in the Sun Bowl. How will Vittatoe play and will he capitalize when there are windows open in the secondary? He's a pretty good player. That game was literally one of his first starts — it may have been his first actually. He was a freshman last year. He should be more comfortable this time around, no doubt about it.

The lasting memory from the game was one of relief and the feeling that this was the “signature win” that the team had coveted under Hal. The atmosphere was great, the press conference afterwards was euphoric. I know it sounds cheesy, but there really was a lot of optimism after that game. Everyone was hugging each other. Frankly, it was a little weird. But the fans, players, coaches and, yes, the beat writers, really thought it was the “hump” game the team needed to win. Then, the season went, well you know, downhill. It was strange and disappointing. But here we are again. Fresh season again. And yes, I really think Saturday night will tell us a lot about this ballclub. A win will go a long way. Didn't we say that last year too?.....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Must win?

I stated on my last post that NMSU's game this weekend was a borderline must win. Is the term "must win" thrown around too much? It's a good question.

Some could look at a team's schedule — particularly in football — and say that every game is a must win. I agree, to an extent. And I don't like throwing around the phrase "must win" at every turn of the page. But I do believe this week's game against UTEP is bigger than last week's at Nebraska. Why? Because the Miners are a team that NMSU can legitimately beat. Some asked on my last post if I really thought the Aggies could beat Nebraska. No! Of course I didn't. But I didn't think they would lay an egg either. I thought they would be pretty competitive and put up some points in the process. They did neither. With that being said, when looking at the team's road record the last four years, when understanding the gravity of this season compared to others in recent memory, I think this game against UTEP is huge. A "must win?" It's hard to quantify. I do think the team must play well, and lets face it, playing well but losing in the last five minutes of a game does nothing for this program anymore. A win on the road, against your biggest rival, who play right down the road? Now that does something.

Either way, I think their game against UNM is going to be big next week to, no matter how the Aggies do in El Paso. And I said at the beginning of the year that I thought the Aggies would split with their rivals. But 2-1 with a tough road win sounds a lot better than 1-2 with many questions still unanswered, does it not? The writing is on the wall. Time to step it up and get the signature win that the program has been searching for.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Nebraska game

Just wanted to make a few comments about the Nebraska-NMSU football game played last night.

First off, I would like to say that I listened to the game on the radio. OK, now that we got that out of the way, here were my interpretations.

I was not impressed by what I heard from the game and how I interpreted it from afar. Seven points? Folks, we know that the defense is not going to be good. We have said it before: Hold the opposition under 30, and we like this team's chances at winning. So I repeat: Seven points? This is a group that hangs its hat on scoring. To be so unimpressive on offense hurts. The team's best drive was its first one. And it ended with the Aggies unable to run inside the 5-yard line and having a chip-shot field goal blocked. Chase was 15-of-30 with two interceptions, none of the receivers got going. Seven points, to me, was pretty surprising considering what we have become accustom to. Whatever the case has been in the past with the Aggies under Mumme, the team has always, for the most part, been able to score. Not Saturday.

I know it was just one small sequence, but another disturbing tid-bit from the contest was the Aggies' first drive. Again, unable or unwilling - take your pick - to run it close to the Nebraska goal line, the team settles for a field goal. 'Alright,' I thought. 'Seven would be nice but we'll take three.' Wrong. Kick blocked. Lets see. They don't run it and then the kick is stuffed. We've seen this movie before.

Didn't understand the logic of using J.J. McDermott down 14-0 and the Aggies in desperate need of a score early. You're trying to wither Nebraska's momentum at that point. Using your backup sophomore quarterback seemed to do the exact opposite.

Some bright spots? I thought Marquell Colston played well...I liked when the team stopped Nebraska on the Cornhuskers first drive of the game. Nebraska brought on the field goal unit which went on to miss...Julius Fleming caught a long pass, but it was at a completely meaningless juncture of the game. Still, I like Julius' ability and I still like the receiving corps.

Some will say it was the first game against Nebraska. I would agree. Another way to look at it is that it's all the more reason to come out fired up. Defense may have been a smidge better. Maybe. Hard to tell. And the offense did nothing. I know it's early, but I think this week's game at UTEP is bordering on a must-win for Mumme and the Aggies.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

House's quote

This came over the AP wire early this morning and I thought it should be addressed.

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nate Swift is biting his tongue in response to a New Mexico State player’s comment about Nebraska’s receivers.
New Mexico State cornerback Davon House said this week that the Aggies’ secondary is well-prepared to face the Cornhuskers because “we believe our receivers are 10 times better than their receivers.”
Told of House’s comment, Swift let out a chuckle Tuesday and said he wouldn’t engage House in a war or words.
The Huskers are listed as four-touchdown favorites for Saturday’s game.

I just wanted to say that I was at this press conference and did not report the quote. The reason being, that Davon said something stupid that was taken out of context. He went on to compliment the Cornhusker WRs, saying that they were big, had good size and would be tough to match up against. Right when Davon made the statement, I thought to myself ‘what a stupid thing to say, someone could nail him for that.’ But it was not his intention. His tone wasn't condescending. He's a sophomore cornerback who has little experience in talking in front of the media. He got nailed but I feel for him. He wasn't trying to call anybody out.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Football makeup

Alright folks, people have been asking me so I am simply trying to provide information for the lovely fanbase here at New Mexico State University.

Things are far from definite and Felix spoke with Dr. Boston today and the Athletics Director said that the program continues to work on finding a replacement game, preferably for the team's Oct. 4 bye week.

I have heard that the school is considering North Dakota as a possible filler game. I've also heard New Hampshire floating around as a possible filler. I stress that these are not definite. But they are two teams to possibly keep an eye on as things get sorted out.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Football game

People are wondering what's up with the rescheduling of the Nicholls game.

I addressed this in my story yesterday. Coach Mumme told me on Tuesday that NMSU is looking to possibly fill their bye week on Oct. 4 with a game. To me, this seems unlikely, but you don't know. He also said that the team ends this season the last week of November — they go to Utah State on the 29. NMSU could play a game the first week of December, something they did last year. Will the makeup game be with Nicholls or another school, that is still to be determined. Hal also said that it was possible that the team will just have to play 11 games and live with it, although added that the program would prefer to play a makeup game if possible. We'll keep you posted on the topic, you have my word.

As far as my article yesterday, the main topic was on the team's woeful road record the last three seasons. NMSU had won just one game in the span, at dreadful Utah State none-the-less. I think the Aggies will have to pocket at least two games away from Las Cruces this year. Lets face it, they lost Nicholls State here, Boise State will be a real challenge at home as will La Tech and I think San Jose State will be a thorn in the side as well.

Winning away is possible the way the schedule stacks up. The Aggies are better than Idaho and Utah State. They go to Moscow and Logan this season. I don't think they'll beat Nevada away and Fresno seems unlikely. What about UTEP. It will definitely be a hard-fought game but I think the Aggies can win there. It's more than possible. I'm actually really looking forward to that game. If you aren't, I'll just assume you just don't care about Aggie football.

Anyway, I think most will agree NMSU will need to steal some games away. Good teams win on the road, period. Here's the article for those interested...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Pope going to Seton Hall

Herb Pope called Sun-News reporter Jason Groves last night.

Herb has been elusive, to say the least, throughout the year. Somehow, he got Jason's number and gave him a buzz, much to the delight of the Sun-News staff.

He spoke about going to Seton Hall, his time in Las Cruces and was genuine when thanking the Aggie faithful. I don't know if this changes your viewpoint on him at all, but here's the story...

Star quality

Say what you will about Herb Pope and everyone seems to be piling on. One thing about basketball is that it's about X's and O's and in-game adjustments. And it's also about managing and handling egos. Especially with stars. Does Herb have an ego? Sure. Find me one great player who doesn't. Herb wasn't great last year by any stretch. But he has proven to have significant talent and had arguably the deepest skill set on the roster heading into the new year.

Look back at last year and you'll find the whole team underachieved. Don't give me this and that about Menzies and a new roster. It flat-out didn't get it done. The WAC was weak and it was the Aggies' conference for the taking. All of you that are cheering Herb's departure, will you be cheering after another sub-par season in a year when the conference is - you guessed it - weak again? I don't think so. And that's what you're going to get.

There are still questions at point guard, I don't care who they brought in to play the position, until they get it done in an Aggie uniform, they remain question marks to me. That was a problem area all of last year and it better be corrected or else the trouble will persist on the court. Also, who is this team's star/leader? Last year, it was lucky to have good seniors who played major roles on and off the court. I'm talking about Justin Hawkins, Fred Peete and Passos. Those three were a luxury that won't be around in '08. Who's team is this anyway? Jonathon Gibson's? Jahmar Young's? Wendell McKines? Your guess is as good as mine. All those guys are unproven in the leadership role.

You need star power and - hate to say it - you need some egos too. People can hate all day on the situation but it doesn't change the facts that the Aggies have lost a talented player. One they could have used in 2008.