It was a disappointing opening night for the Aggie football team on Saturday against San Diego State.
Of course it was a disappointing. The team lost, which is always tough, and it was a game they could have won. They were in it late, and the 41-21 final does not accurately reflect the competitive nature of the contest that was.
As in most cases, there were positives and negatives. The team played hard and at times well. It also didn’t step up late, it faded down the stretch.
For me, the biggest disappointment, and surprise, was the Aggies play on defense.
I figured the team would be stronger in this area in 2010, barring injury.
Granted, the Aztecs have a lot of weapons on offense, but I felt NMSU could hold San Diego State under 30 points. I felt like the Aggies could do it, and I believed they would do it.
Early on, it looked like they were well on their way. They stuffed the Aztecs on fourth down during SDSU’s first offensive possession, which led to NMSU’s first score of the game. 7-0 Aggies, and things were looking up.
But, when it was all said and done, the Aztecs carved up the New Mexico State defense. 563 yards of total offense – 319 passing, 244 rushing; 9-of-19 on third downs – and it felt worse than that; 83 offensive plays total, compared to the Aggies’ 60.
NMSU generated zero pressure on the quarterback. Where were Fils and Savage, along with the improved and deeper defensive line? It was a no-show.
The fact of the matter is that I may have overrated NMSU’s defense \ going into the season. Here’s what I was thinking were positives as the new year approached:
*Year 2 in head coach DeWayne Walker’s system.
*A better defensive line and a nice secondary with two good corners. Neither Jonte Green or Davon House stood out on Saturday though. SDSU has some toys at wide receiver. The nicest play either made was House breaking up a ball in the back corner of the endzone on a third-down play in the second quarter.
*I knew the linebacking corps had some question marks but figured if the top-three stayed healthy, they would be fine. Alas, Frank Padilla went down with a leg injury in the second half on Saturday.
The defense has to turn it around, starting immediately. Next week, they have another opponent with weapons and a coach who can draw it up, when they travel to face UTEP. The defense has to – repeat has to - be the backbone of this team. I know the offense didn’t do the job at points in time on Saturday, namely during the second quarter, when NMSU couldn’t get a first down and the defense was forced to fend for itself for virtually the entire period – that’s tough to be on the field for that long. But I hold this unit to a higher standard. The Aggies only chance at approaching five wins this year is if this group plays like they said they would during fall camp – as the best defense in the WAC.
With all that being said, the Aggies are a better team in 2010 than they were in 2009. For starters, from an entertainment standpoint, they are far more appealing. Mike Dunbar was a fine hire at offensive coordinator and has the savvy and gameplanning skills to vastly improve the offense during one offseason.
Three receivers made nice plays on Saturday night – and all did nothing in 2009. Marcus Allen had over 100 yards, Todd Lee was impressive catching the football and Darrius Preston got loose on some screens.
Matt Christian displayed nice attributes at the quarterback position. He threw on the run, hung in and took the big hit and didn’t turn the ball over. He also showed ability as a rusher upfield.
Christian is a streaky thrower and I am concerned about his health. He took at least four big shots on Saturday night and the team needs him to stay on the field. He was limping around after the game.
The Aggies threw the ball downfield, with Christian averaging over 13 yards per completion – he went 17-of-34 on the evening for 223 yards.
The running game didn’t do much – Kenny Turner was the team’s best back on Saturday. The Aggies cannot forget about Seth Smith on offense, but he needs to ball 15-to-20 times to be effective. He got five carries for eight yards on Saturday, not enough on either end.
Defensively, the Aggies played well for a half, but broke down in the final two quarters. Still, I think this unit will improve and the offense will continue to show some spunk, making for more competitive games in 2010.
The Aggies are similar in this regard from last year to this year: they have zero margin for error.
These are things that happened on Saturday that simply can’t happen if the Aggies want to win:
*Nine penalties for 86 yards.
*A Kenny Turner muffed punt late that ultimately led to a SDSU touchdown as the Aztecs put the finishing touches on the win.
*A Tyler Stampler miss on a 37-yard field goal to open the game. The Aggies had a nice first drive and were aided by a poor pass interference penalty call on SDSU. NMSU also got a 20-yard completion from Christian to Lee down to the SDSU 26-yard line on 3rd-and-11. Stampler then comes out and misses what should be a make.
*Special teams in general just weren’t very good. Tanner Rust averaged 40.4 yards per punt with a long of 54, but was aided by some friendly bounces and did not get the hangtime that we were used to from Kyle Hughes a season ago.
I looked up in the third quarter and saw half the student section emptied out. It had a nice gathering in the first half, but I guess everyone went home after two quarters.
Too bad, because it totally takes away from homefield advantage. That could be the difference in the Aggies winning and losing that game, too. It was a close game going into the fourth quarter. A loud and enthused crowd could have only helped the Aggies. Having half the students leave at halftime can only hurt them.
Padilla and offensive guard Sioeli Fakalata both left the game with what appeared to be lower-left leg injuries.