With four games left in the Aggie season, we look ahead at what to keep an eye on during the final month of the team's schedule:
1) The passing game: The offense's struggles have been well documented. Really, it's been the passing game that has struggled the most. The team will go with Jeff Fleming the rest of the way. Fleming wasn't very good early and Trevor Walls was mostly ineffective as well. But will this area of the offense improve at all as the season winds down? Really, it has to.
The team is coming off a bye and one would hope the unit can move in the right direction down the stretch, not the other way around. And while the quarterback gets the majority of the headlines, the entire operation has to get better. From receivers getting open to soild protection up front to throwing the ball downfield more often. The passing game has taken steps back this year. It needs to reverse course as the schedule comes to a close.
2) Seth Smith's workload: Smith runs hard and looks for contact. And he's had a surprising season. The junior is averaging 4.2 yards-per carry despite the gameplan being pretty straight forward. That is, Smith getting the ball play-in and play-out.
But how much more pounding can he take? It's a physical position to be in to begin with, but there aren't many more difficult tasks than running the football on a team that can't throw. Opponents gear up to stop Smith. In other words, they stack the box and plan to hit him hard on every play. So far, he's been a blue-collar player who's grinded it out every week. That part of the offense isn't expected to change any time soon. Hopefully, Smith can hold up and stay out of harms way in the closing weeks. If he does that, he just might eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.
3) Defensive resolve: Some would disagree, but I believe the Aggie defense has been much better this year. It's not even so much in the numbers, as it is the attitude of the unit. The group plays with a swagger, even with a chip on its shoulder.
We will have many opportunities to continue to critique their performance the rest of the way. Hawaii this weekend will be a solid test for the Aggie D. The team hosts Nevada, a very difficult offense to gameplan for. They should be able to hold down San Jose State. And Boise State? That will be the toughest game of the season.
Still, under Walker, the Aggies will be a defensive team. That's for this year, and in the future. Good defenses give an entire team confidence. They can be the backbone of a team. The Aggie D has shown flashes this year, albeit with a makeshift lineup at certain areas of the field. I think this group will close the season strong.
4) Playing as a team: Sure, the record isn't great. But most knew this would be a tough year for the Aggies. And one thing the Aggies have delivered on has been their willingness to play together, as a team.
NMSU hasn't folded in games this year. Sure, some weeks they've just been outmatched, pure and simple. But there's been no quit. And in the games they have won, all three units — offense, defense and special teams — have contributed. I believe they'll get one more win this year. And they'll do it by playing the right way. It will be a team effort.
5) Coaching staff: This is the toughest time of year for a coaching staff. The team's on a three-game slide and has really struggled in all three contests. It's November, the end of the season's in sight. Easy to pack it in, right?
I don't believe the Aggies will. They've focused on the little things all season. Remember the first three games of the year when they were flagged on, what felt like, every third play? The penalty situation has improved. Special teams has been solid. The defense has gotten better. And the offense...Well, we know that story.
But lets see how things shake out in these final four games. I, for one, think the staff has done a nice job with this team. If the Aggies collapse down the stretch, my opinion could very well change. But if they battle it out, play to the final gun and can squeeze out another win or two? It further validates my belief.