Well, Saturday’s 28-21 win over Minnesota was amazing and much-needed.
This was easily the best-played game for the Aggies during the DeWayne Walker era. The Aggies played four quarters of football, not perfect, but well-executed nonetheless. The Aggies led from start to finish! Amazing.
On top of that, this was the win the program was thirsting for. Yeah, Minnesota is down, but it doesn’t matter. Any time the Aggies can beat a Big Ten team on the road, it’s a great accomplishment — something that hasn’t been done before. It’s a signature win for Walker and the team.
The team played very well in the first half. They scored on the first possession — the Gophers squib kicked it to the 40 yard line to avoid Taveon Rogers, which is to be expected. NMSU took a 7-0 lead on an Andrew Manley to Taveon Rogers TD pass and the team would go up 14-7, 21-7 and eventually 21-14 going into halftime.
This was big. We knew The Aggies could throw the ball on Minnesota and the Gophers aren’t built to play catchup — a run-first, predictable offensive team.
Manley was red-hot early on — 11-for-11, 176 yards, three TDs — and the team flashed its weapons — Rogers deep, Todd Lee short and Robert Clay chugging hard on the ground.
The offensive line made adjustments, moving Mike Grady to starting center and moving freshman Valerian Ume-Ezeoke to guard. The team churned out 133 yards on the ground with Clay running for 97 on 20 carries.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing for me was that the Aggies gambled. They went for it on fourth down and tried an onside kick in the second quarter. The offensive playcalling was solid and they set up the run off the pass. This team has to take chances and they did so on Saturday.
The Aggie defense was huge in the game, and this is a unit that has been maligned for not making progress. The team had two goal line stands, stopped Minnesota on two fourth down attempts and recorded two turnovers. Last year the Aggies couldn’t force a turnover. This year, they have four.
I thought Minnesota lost some momentum when they went to Max Shortell at quarterback. He played the third quarter — starter Marqueis Gray was out with cramps. NMSU was able to get a touchdown and took a 28-14 lead into the fourth.
One other key....Trimming over five minutes off the clock and moving the ball past midfield late in the fourth quarter on a drive that started on the NMSU 1. The Aggies got the ball at their own 1-yard line and moved it out to the Minnesota 46, taking 5:25 off the clock. The ensuing punt put the Gophers at their own 11.
Where does NMSU go from here?
I do believe the next four games on NMSU’s schedule are winnable games and the Aggies have a real chance at establishing momentum going forward.
First off, they cannot lay an egg against UTEP this Saturday. They have to play well in front of a sellout crowd — the Minnesota outcome could sell an extra 10,000 seats at the UTEP game.
We know they can beat UNM, San Jose State and Idaho. This is the underbelly of the Aggies schedule and they have a real chance to build confidence and respect going into the second half of the year — when the slate gets tougher.
Can the Aggies be 5-1? Just thinking about it feels weird. I can confidently say if they are, Las Cruces would go nuts.
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