Thursday, November 10, 2011

Five keys to Saturday’s Aggies vs. Fresno State game

Get stops: The Aggies should be able to score points on Fresno State — the question is, can they stop the Bulldogs when necessary? Last week the Aggie secondary struggled — Georgia appeared to go after Jeremy Harris and Ben Bradley in pass coverage — and this week will likely be without Donyae Coleman (shoulder). This unit could use a bounce-back performance against Fresno State sophomore quarterback Derek Carr, in what could very well be a shootout.

Contain Rouse: Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse is small in stature (5-foot-7, 185 pounds), yet big on production (1,080 rushing yards, 5.0 yards per carry and seven touchdowns). Rouse is a very good player and his 120 yards per game average leads the WAC. That could be a key number — if NMSU can keep him in that 120-yard ballpark, they’ve done a good job. The reality is that he’s capable of going off for more against a poor Aggies rush defense.

Aggie passing game: This is one area that can really flourish against the Bulldogs struggling secondary. Fresno State is primarily a zone team in pass coverage — they would prefer to not play man-to-man against opposing wide receivers — and rarely blitz multiple linebackers. There are holes in the Fresno secondary and the defensive backs have struggled to play the ball in the air. If the Aggie offensive line can hold up in protection — this unit has improved as the season’s moved along — it will allow quarterback Matt Christian time to get his playmaking wide receivers the ball. Then the ground game might get cooking. And then the Aggie offense will be in business.

Special teams: This appears every week in our keys and rightfully so. The Aggies continue to trot kicker Tyler Stampler out there and he continues to miss everything from field goals to extra points. And Fresno State has a good special teams unit — punt return man Devon Wylie is dangerous and the Bulldogs are notorious for blocking kicks. The Aggies can’t afford to give away any points in this one. Whoever wins this special teams battle might win the game all together.

Intangibles: Fresno State has owned the Aggies — a 17-0 lifetime record against NMSU. Both teams hold identical 3-6 records and Fresno State could come in tight — the Bulldogs have to win their final four games to remain bowl eligible. In the meantime, NMSU should be a loose bunch and could use a good victory in front of the home fans. Of the four remaining game on NMSU’s schedule — vs. Fresno State, at BYU, at Louisiana Tech and vs. Utah State — this one might be the most winnable.

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