Sunday, October 31, 2010

The San Jose State game

Saturday's Aggie game against San Jose State was a wild one.

There will be people who talk about how NMSU let SJSU back into the game and how it shouldn't have been that close to begin with. That is true, but who really cares? A win is a win for the Aggies at this point and I don't think the team needs to apologize about getting victories. They've been rare and everyone should just enjoy it, particularly how it came - a 29-27 final with NMSU winning on the last play of the contest.

While the Aggies have struggled to get W's, the team has won close games under head coach DeWayne Walker. The Aggies have won five games the last two years - and all have come by three points or less. They've lost just once in the same scenario.

If the Aggies could find a way to be in 8-to-10 games a year, this would bode well. Winning close games is a skill in football. Granted, NMSU hasn't beaten very good clubs during that period, but they are beating teams that are of similar skill. If Walker and the coaching staff continues to build the Aggies the way they see fit, and bring in more talent across the board, NMSU will begin to play with more teams as the years go on. And they have shown that they can win the close ones.

While Saturday's game saw NMSU lose a 17-3 lead and eventually fall behind 27-23 late in the fourth, the team didn't fold. Matt Christian's fumble with under 3 minutes remaining in the contest could have toppled the Aggies. But they scratched, clawed, got some luck - a missed field goal was a big helper - got the ball back and capitalized. Make no mistake - there was pressure on the Aggies to win this game, and the Spartans for that matter. Realistically, how many more wins are these teams going to have all year? This could be the final one for the Aggies, and every W counts at this point. They continued to fight and got the win. It does mean something.

I'm excited about the final four games of the season - at Utah State and Nevada, hosting Louisiana Tech and Hawaii. If the Aggies can swing an upset in one of them, it will be a nice way to close out the season. If they can win two, it will mean they are one win better than a season ago.

People can look at stats and figures all they want. One stat matters - wins. At this point, don't worry about how the Aggies get them, just hope they have one or two more left in the bag before the year closes out.

Friday, October 29, 2010

5 keys against San Jose State

Bottom feeders: This is a game between two of the nation’s worst teams. New Mexico State enters the contest with a 1-6 record, San Jose State with a 1-7 mark. The Spartans’ only win on the year came against Southern Utah, a member of the Football Championship Subdivision. The Aggies and Spartans rank last in the 120-team Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense (NMSU No. 119, SJSU No. 120) and near the bottom in total defense (NMSU No. 118, SJSU No. 107). While this is a scary thought for some, it should also result in a close football game — and a winnable one for the Aggies.

Rising defenses: Both head coaches in this contest — New Mexico State’s DeWayne Walker and San Jose State’s Mike MacIntyre — have defensive pedigrees. And, while both teams are giving up close to 40 points per game, the belief is that the best is yet to come on that side of the ball for both programs. The Aggies play hard whistle-to-whistle, led by a deep defensive line and secondary members Davon House (cornerback) and Donyae Coleman (safety). The Spartans are improving as well, headlined by freshmen linebackers Vince Buhagiar and Keith Smith.

Injury issues: The Aggies have been bit hard by the injury bug along the offensive line, where Sioeli Fakalata (right guard), Robert Rodriguez (right guard) and Dwayne Barton (left tackle) have been lost for prolonged periods of time. The Spartans, on the other hand, have lost nine starters to injury this year, including defensive stalwarts Duke Ihenacho (safety) and Mohamed Marah (linebacker), along with offensive mainstays Ryan Otten (tight end) and Lamon Muldrow (running back). Not surprisingly, the two clubs have a combined record of 2-13.

Wide receiver play: Both teams have inexperienced wide receiving corps, something that will play a factor today. The Aggies hope to incorporate kick return specialist Taveon Rogers more out wide in the offense, while hoping the dropped passes suffered by Darrius Preston and Marcus Williams last week are a thing of the past. Three of the top-four wide receivers on the Spartans depth chart are freshmen, highlighted by Chandler Jones and Noel Grigsby.

Field position: Even if the Aggies’ offense doesn’t score every time out, gaining first downs and pinning the Spartans deep needs to be a top priority. Simply put, the Aggie defense would be better suited when the opposing offense has to drive 75-to-80 yards as opposed to 50-to-65. And, in turn, the unit can then swing the good field position back to the Aggie attack. DeWayne Walker consistently preaches playing as a team. Such an approach would act as a classic example.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sun-News sports video

Hey folks.

Myself along with business editor Brook Stockberger do weekly sports videos at the Sun-News. We could never do it without our multimedia guru Christine Rogel. Check it out.....

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The wide receiver position

One area the New Mexico State Aggies need to improve in is at the wide receiver position.

Where has Marcus Allen gone? He got off to a hot start, but has cooled in recent weeks and didn’t make a catch last weekend at Idaho.

What got me in the Vandals’ game though was dropped balls. Darrius Preston has a lot of talent, but he continues struggle. He dropped a critical pass on second-and-10 at midfield that would have set up a third-and-short yardage situation.

One thing I’ve noticed about the Aggies is that when it’s third-and-long, the team is going to punt. Opposing defenses seem content to drop back in zone coverage and dare quarterback Matt Christian to find the soft spots. They also aren’t worried about the Aggies taking a lot of shots downfield — Christian doesn’t have a huge arm and teams don’t seem to think the Aggies can beat them deep.

That’s what made the Preston drop maddening — the Aggies needed to sustain a drive at that point and that would have helped. Instead, it was deflating. Darrius has eight grabs on the year for 83 yards and zero touchdowns. I know he’s better than that.

The team will utilize Taveon Rogers more this week and Todd Lee should get a look as well. Allen has the talent to break out, but I think teams are paying extra attention to him in the passing game.

But the Aggies don’t have a ton of options at the position. This offseason the team will bring in Daniel English during the offseason, a player from New Westiminster, British Columbia. Redshirt freshman Adam Shapiro is also expected to possibly contribute. Joseph Matthews will come in as a true freshman from Tucson, Ariz.

The Aggies believe they can build their offense with young players at running back and wide receiver. And they will have a chance to do so at WR.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tougher to build on defense?

The last few weeks, I’ve had a theory about the Aggies and their quest to build on the defensive side of the ball under head coach DeWayne Walker.

I want to make it clear: I think you can build from the defensive side of the ball at NMSU. But I also think it’s harder to do so and takes longer to accomplish.

Here’s why....

Under Hal Mumme — the Aggies went 11-38 in Mumme’s four year at the school but were more competitive in his second year at the helm than they are now — the team ran an explosive offense and got rolled on defense.

There point production at least allowed them to put a scare in teams.

The Aggies used a lot of undersized players on both sides of the ball — it’s almost a necessity at a school like NMSU to recruit athletes who are on the smaller side of the Division-I scale.

And the point is that it’s easier to be undersized, yet still pose on threat, on offense. Think Chris Williams, Marcus Anderson, Derek Dubois, Tonny Glynn, Nick Cleaver and Wes Neiman. In Mumme’s unconventional, chuck-it-and-duck-it offense, these players were utilized to actually take advantage of their skill set — fast athletes who were effective with the ball in space and could make a bigger defender miss in the open field.

Even Chase Holbrook, who was a big quarterback, worked better in Mumme’s offense because it was unconventional. He wasn’t mobile, nor did he have to be, and made simpe, straight forward reads and throws to those receivers.

This was the team’s backbone and core.

Now, we move on to the defensive side of the ball, where the Aggies are trying to make their foundation under Walker.

It’s much harder on defense to be successful with undersized talent.

The Aggies starting defensive ends are Pierre Fils (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) and Donte Savage (6-3, 239). Both are considered small for their position and face opposing tackles that outweight them by 50-to-75 pounds on the weekly basis. That’s a tough way to play for both players.

Only two defensive tackles are listed over 300 pounds on the Aggie two-deep — John Finau (6-1, 302) and Tommy Stuart (6-3, 303).

Frank Padilla has legit size at strongside linebacker (6-2, 243 pounds) but middle linebacker Boyblue Aoelua (5-10, 227) and weakside linebacker B.J. Adolpho (5-11, 207) aren’t considered big for their positions.

The point isn’t the criticize these players. The point is that in football, you need to have talent to play, and in most cases, you need the physical attributes as well. And, defensively, you really need that. You need flat-out athletic freaks at defensive end and linebackers that are big, tough, physical and can fly around to the football. They have to get to the quarterback and cover backs and receivers in the passing game.

It will take Walker a little longer to bring in players with that types of physical qualities. I’m not saying he won’t I’m just saying it will take time.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Thoughts following the Fresno game

Here’s what I thought following the Aggies vs. Fresno State game on Saturday night.

• The Aggies got off the a horrible start offensively and it led to a 16-0 hole.

Really, you take away that start, and the Aggies played Fresno State tough — Fresno State won 17-10 the rest of the way.

That start was fueled by the Fresno State defensive line having their way with the NMSU offensive front and freshman quarterback Andrew Manley running for his life during the opening possessions of the game.

• The Aggie offensive line got off to a very bad start, but improved as the game went along and blocked for Seth Smith and Kenny Turner, who both had strong games.

The line began blocking better once quarterback Matt Christian was inserted into the game for Manley. Don’t know if that was a coincidence or not, although it seems like Christian has a quick release and that internal clock all quarterbacks need in terms of getting rid of the ball. Manley’s still very young and is growing. And I thought he could have gotten another series or two once the bullets stopped flying.

Back to the O-line though.

When you see a unit work hard and improve like that during the course of a game, it’s a sign of good coaching.

The bottom line is that offensive line coach Jason Lenzemeier continues getting the max out of the minimum. Last year the group was solid enough and this year it has been the most consistent overall unit on the team despite being ravaged by injuries and really having no dominant player, particularly along the interior of the line. But they play hard, block hard and held their own from the second quarter on against a very good Fresno State defensive front.

• Taveon Rogers needs the ball more often.

He has speed and can rip off the big play. He caught one ball last night — a screen pass that went for 50 yards.

The Aggies also got nice games from running backs Seth Smith and Kenny Turner. Seth had 11 carries and Kenny had 15. I’m fine with Turner’s workload, although I think Smith could stand to get 10 more carries. He’s still a very good player for NMSU.

• The Aggies had some good field position, particularly early on in the game, but did nothing with it. If you’re going to spring an upset, particularly on the road, you gotta take advantage of those opportunities. Very simple.

• We can talk about how the Aggie defense played better in the second half, but here’s the thing:

It’s impossible to accurately tell how good you are when you’re either up or down by 30. Sure, Fresno State was trying to score in the second half, but it’s human nature to let up when you know you have the game in hand. I would be more impressed with the Aggie defense if they held Fresno State to three points in the second half during a 20-17 win, not a 33-10 loss.

• At Idaho next week.

My gut tells me the Aggies are going to be competitive.

NMSU will get one more win this year if they keep playing the way they are.

Still, two more is not out of the question.

Three more would be a great way to end the season — going .500 down the stretch and surpassing last year’s three-win total.

That would be pretty awesome.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Manley factor

I want to come out and say I think the Aggies should start Andrew Manley the remainder of the season.

Why not?

The team got a win, so they got that taken care of. Will they be able to win a few more games this year? I think they can win one or two more. Will it matter if it’s Manley or Matt Christian starting under center? Judging from how Manley threw the ball last Saturday — I know it was a small sample size, two passes — but I still don’t think so.

I think it will be a valuable experience for him to start. Manley is the future of the Aggie program.

Here’s the thing with Andrew, though. He’s going to throw interceptions. And he’s going to be up and down.

And lets not mistake last Saturday’s game. The Lobos are a terrible team. The only program comparable to UNM the rest of the way on NMSU’s schedule is San Jose State. So it will be tough sledding for Manley if he does start from here on out.

But he showed exactly what you want in a pressure situation — poise, confidence and no fear. And he’s got a nice arm — he zipped that pass down to Marcus Allen inside the 10-yard line to set up the winning field goal.

I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Manley since fall practice. My opinions didn’t change the other night.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thoughts following UNM game

Well, the Aggies needed to beat the Lobos and they did.

Was it pretty? No. Was it a must win? That's a relative term, but you didn't want to be the loser in this one. It meant you might be the worst team in Division I.

The Aggies had some young players step up and when you look at the field, there are some DeWayne Walker recruits who are getting the job done.

Obviously Andrew Manley looks to be a player. We've been talking about it since fall camp and he didn't disappoint in leading the team to the winning field goal yesterday.

Manley should have been brought into the game sooner. The Aggie offense looked like last year's attack - a quarterback draw on 3rd-and-13 in the fourth quarter stood out. Manley enters the game and zips two passes right in there, particularly the 21-yarder down to Marcus Allen inside the 10-yard line. That was a real-deal throw.

But there were other players that stood out to me too.

No. 1 was true freshman defensive tackle Augafa Vaaulu. Vaaulu has the size - 6-foot-3, 295 pounds - to be an impact Division I lineman and he made some plays last night. It looked like he forced a fumble, although it was awarded to Davon House. He recovered a fumble, made three tackles, with one going for a loss. The Aggies do have depth along the line, and I think Vaaulu could be a keeper. He's No. 91, take a look at him next game you're at.

I also think Branden Warner has had a decent year backing up at defensive end. Warner was highly touted coming here last season and didn't do anything. But he made four stops last night and held his own at the point of attack.

Donyae Coleman has been the most consistent defensive player on the team this season at safety.

Tyler Stampler's performance last night was strong - three field goals including the game winner.

And true freshman Davonte Wallace has been starting for most of the season at left offensive tackle.

It's nice to see young players stepping in and making an impact, particularly at the quarterback position. It gives fans hope for the future.


The Lobos are terrible and it showed on Saturday.

Five turnovers? And they were all critical - a muffed punt for the touchdown and how do you fumble late and give NMSU a crack at taking the lead, which the Aggies did?

At some point, players have to stop putting the ball on the ground. The Lobos had three fumbles in the second half and all were critical and gave NMSU great field position. Somehow, the Aggies only got three points out of them.

It's tough, because Mike Locksley really needs his own quarterback running the show. He hasn't gotten that yet.

But you couldn't get off to a worse start to a head coaching career than he has. It just looks like - judging by his team's performance is all you really need to see - that he wasn't prepared for such a big task of being a head coach. And it is a big task, a huge task. It's not even a comparison to being an assistant.


The fan reaction after the game was awesome with everyone piling onto the field.

The place was loud last night in the fourth quarter.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Las Cruces would support a winner. And it would be awesome to see.


Despite both teams bungling around in the second half - the Aggies couldn't complete a forward pass and both clubs seemed to move backwards on offense in the third quarter - Walker said the attitude was still upbeat on the NMSU sidelines.

The third quarter saw the Aggies face a 4th-and-34 and a 4th-and-36; UNM faced a 4th-and-39 and a fourth-and-27.

At one point in the fourth quarter, the Lobos fumbled away the ball at the UNM 28, only to have the Aggies fumble it back to the Lobos at the 25. UNM was up 14-13 at the time.

"We just never lost faith," NMSU head coach DeWayne Walker said. "Our sidelines, they were alive the whole night. The coaches, they were alive the whole night…Our kids fought till the end and we knew it would go to the end. It was a four-quarter game and I was happy to see our guys finish it up with the W."


The defensive line finally got pressure on the quarterback. Donte Savage had a monster game - nine tackles, two sacks, four tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles.

NMSU forced five turnovers and recorded two sacks after having none in either category through the first four games of the season.

Sacks and turnovers - those two statistics go hand-in-hand.


Robert Clay was the unsung hero from Saturday's game.

He recovered the muffed punt in the endzone for a touchdown.

He made another nice tackle on special teams on punt coverage.

And he ran hard - 11 carries for 44 yards.

Robert is proving his worth. Without his efforts, the Aggies don't win the game.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

5 keys vs. UNM

Pressure to perform: With the bad start both teams have endured to the 2010 season, you can bet they have pressure to win the game.
Is it a must-win situation? One could certainly make the argument.
Both will take the field with a sense of urgency, but it’s also important both play under control and don’t fold at the first sign of trouble.
Confidence is a tough thing to gain and an easy thing to lose and neither team has a whole lot right now. That, along with the pressure to win give both programs a shaky psyche, and an interesting subplot heading into the contest.

The quarterbacks: Will he play, or won’t he play.
It’s a good question for both of the team’s starting quarterbacks — Matt Christian for New Mexico State and B.R. Holbrook of New Mexico.
Christian got rocked last week by Boise State and suffered a sprained shoulder, while Holbrook has been nursing a knee injury since Week 2 of the season.
If they can’t go, redshirt freshman Tanner Rust will take over under center for NMSU while true freshman Tarean Austin will get the nod for the Lobos.
Mark it down — the team that throws the ball better downfield will get the win tonight. Can Rust deliver it deep, or will Austin connect long? Will either start, or play the entire game, could be the better question. The quarterbacks hold the keys.

Aggie ground game: Where have you gone Seth Smith?
After rushing for over 1,000 yards last year, the senior is on pace for not even half that in 2010, as he’s rumbled for just 134 yards thus far.
Smith’s declined production can be attributed to one thing — a lack of opportunities, as the Aggies have given him the ball just 40 times this year.
That should change tonight, as NMSU can pound the Lobos on the ground and Smith remains the same straight-line battering ram that hammered defenses last season.
NMSU needs to get Smith involved early and often. Throw in a little Kenny Turner out of the backfield on pitches and quick passes, and the Aggies could cut up the Lobos on the ground.

Aggie defense: The New Mexico State defense ranks last — No. 120 — in the nation.
Are the Aggies a top-50 defense in the nation? No. But they’re not 120 either — they’re better than that.
The unit needs to get on track and couldn’t pick a better time to do so than now.
The team still hasn’t recorded a sack and, in turn, hasn’t forced a turnover.
A new linebacking corps has taken longer than expected to get adapted to the Division I level.
They won’t get it totally turned around tonight. But a solid performance would go a long way toward getting a much-needed win.

Last year’s contest: Last year saw the Aggies go to Albuquerque as big underdogs and come out with a 20-17 win in the final minute.
At the very least, NMSU can draw from that game. Now, they have the Lobos in Las Cruces and know they match up well with them.
This should be a close one as well. When in doubt, NMSU should reflect on 2009.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Boise State game

I know it was the No. 3-ranked team in the country.

But the New Mexico State Aggies looked flat-out bad on Saturday night at home, losing to Boise State 59-0.

I thought the best thing the Aggies did all night was the first play of the game - a play action pass that saw them take a shot deep downfield to wide receiver Marcus Allen. Allen beat the BSU cornerback by a step, but quarterback Matt Christian overthrew him.

After that, it was downhill.

The Aggies next snap went over Christian's head and he threw the ball away, getting flagged for intentional grounding.

The team turned the ball over on the next three possessions and Boise State did exactly what everyone expected - rolled NMSU up and down the field.

Right now, the Aggies don't look like a Division I team. And it's going to get worse if Christian's out for an extended period of time with an injured shoulder he suffered on Saturday.

Backup QB Tanner Rust does not look ready to play at this level.

And it's going to be hard to get up for this weekend's game against New Mexico. Both of these teams are arguably the worst college football has to offer. Outside of the San Jose State game at home later in the year, it will be the Aggies best chance for a win.

If Christian starts, they should win. If he doesn't, I don't think they will.

If the Aggies are serious about getting a win this year, they have to show up this Saturday and play like there's no tomorrow. It might be their best shot to get one. I'm not being sarcastic or trying to be funny. It's just the truth.