Friday, September 30, 2011

Unpredictable: Saturday’s Aggies vs. Lobos football game

The New Mexico State vs. New Mexico football game on Saturday is a hard one to predict.

The reasons being....

Both teams appear fairly even.

The Aggies have been inconsistent — they have been more competitive this year in the early portion of their schedule — and could have another win on their season to this point.

The Lobos have been bad, outscored by an average of 43-17.

The Aggies are 1-point favorites going into the game, on the road at University Stadium in Albuquerque.

NMSU has won the past two meetings in the rivalry series.

UNM just fired its head coach Mike Locksley and could have newfound life under interim head man George Barlow. No telling how the Lobos will respond — we’ll only find out come kickoff.

Both teams haven’t had good play along the offensive lines.

The Lobo defense has been bad.

UNM should be ready for this game — their head coach was just fired, they’re home underdogs to their in-state rival and are facing the possibility of a winless season.

But there have been some rules of thumb for the Aggies this year:

As always, I think the team needs to get off to a good start and have their offense lead the way. I think the Aggies would greatly benefit by taking a 10-to-14 point lead right off the bat, which in turn would help a defense that has had problems versus the run.

The Aggies should have the better play at quarterback and their wide receivers should be able to beat the UNM secondary. Taveon Rogers and Todd Lee could both have big games and should be able to do things after the catch — UNM’s defensive backs have been poor in coverage and in tackling.

I also liked the fact that NMSU was able to find its running game last week out of the run-option — the team still couldn’t run the ball up the middle but had success on outside runs. If the Aggie offense plays like it did last week at San Jose State, I like their chances.

My prediction: New Mexico State 24, New Mexico 17

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Big key: Who will get out of the blocks first

A big key going into Saturday night’s Aggies vs. Lobos football game is which team will get off to a fast start.

For the Aggies, it’s about jumping out to a 10 to 14 point lead early. UNM is down and the Aggies can break their will by taking the early advantage.

On the flip side of the coin, if UNM gets off to a fast start it could breathe life into their team. If the Lobos don’t play hard this week they never will — their head coach was just fired, they’re playing at home as two-point underdogs to their in-state rival who’s beaten them the past two years, and UNM is facing the possibility of a winless season.

This has been a key for the Aggies all year — their offense has to lead the way. They did so against Minnesota, jumping out to a 14-point lead and controlling the tempo. This week is no different, perhaps even more important.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Aggies have been improved

So far, the New Mexico State Aggie football team has been improved this year.

The team has better personnel at some key positions, is better offensively and is more entertaining.

And the Aggies have been more competitive. The team won on the road at Big Ten Minnesota — the Gophers haven’t looked good this year — and beat itself against UTEP. But this brings up an interesting point: the Aggies were actually good enough to beat themselves. Usually the team just got beat. This year they lost a game they should have won.

At the beginning of the year many fans said they wanted to see the Aggies be in games and hopefully get some wins along the way. With that being said, it feels like the team is moving in the right direction.

NMSU still has to go to Hawaii, Georgia, BYU and Louisiana Tech. They still host Nevada, Fresno State and Utah State. The tough part of their schedule awaits.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rogers will likely play, LaVoy looks to be out vs. UNM

Wide receiver Taveon Rogers (tailbone) will likely play this weekend against the University of New Mexico while it seems like the Aggies will be without linebacker Alexander LaVoy (broken foot).

For the full story from today’s Sun-News, click here.

We all know what Rogers brings to the offense — he’s a big-time player and the Aggie passing attack would take a big hit if he wasn’t in the lineup. I think he can have a big game against the Lobos secondary, which has had trouble this season.

As for LaVoy, of course the Aggies could use him as well. He’s helped the linebacker corps from a personnel and depth standpoint as the team’s starting middle linebacker.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter who the Aggies have at linebacker if the defensive line struggles. Take last week against San Jose State — the Spartans offensive line beat the Aggie defensive line, got to the second level and the team was able to run the ball. That hurt more than LaVoy being out.

We knew the Aggie defensive line would be affected this year with the loss of Donte Savage, Augafa Vaaulu and Tommy Stuart. They play hard, they just doesn’t have personnel.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Food for thought: another wrinkle to the Aggie offense?

Aggie head football coach DeWayne Walker said on Monday that when Robert Clay returns — which could be this week at UNM — that Kenny Turner would remain at running back. Tough to disagree.

Turner had his best game of the season last week at San Jose State (17 carries, 129 yards, TD; receiving TD as well). Turner is a space player and did good things in the Aggie offense which implemented the run-option with quarterback Matt Christian in the game. Turner has good speed and is fully effective outside, one-on-one with a defender.

The offense also worked because it caught San Jose State off guard. The Spartans hadn't seen the run-option in any Aggie game film up to that point and focused mostly on Turner. They weren't aware that Christian had good-enough speed and could run the ball, which he did as well (13 carries, 58 yards).

This week the Lobos will not be surprised by it. Which means the Aggie offense has to add another wrinkle to the package. Perhaps the side/middle screen-passing game?

Again, it would catch UNM off guard — it hasn't been utilized much if at all — and would be an adjustment for the upcoming week.

And, as stated before, it would help the offensive line while curtailing the defensive pass rush.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Sunday, September 25, 2011

On Locksley firing

New Mexico Lobo football coach Mike Locksley getting fired on Sunday shouldn't come as a surprise.

He had a long list of off field issues, culminating in Saturday's episode with a minor — who claimed to be a UNM recruit — driving Locksley's SUV under the influence of alcohol before the Lobos played Sam Houston State in Albuquerque.

The fact the team lost to Sam Houston, an FCS school, seems almost irrelevant at this point.

Sure the Lobos have been bad the last three years — very bad actually.

Locksley took over for Rocky Long — who I thought did an excellent job at UNM. Locksley talked about adding another digit to the scoreboard — a way of touting his offensive philosophy — and there was talk of his recruiting prowess.

None of it happened — the team went 2-26 in his two-plus years at the school.

But the off field problems was a big elephant in the room — punching an assistant coach during a meeting, a sexual harassment lawsuit, and other brushfires along the way.

Administration can look past poor performance on the field if they believe in the coach — they can always cry for more time to build the program, more experience, more recruits, patience.

What they can't cry is ignorance, or look past repeated egregious behavior.

UNM put up with more than enough trouble.

Perhaps the only surprise was that it took them this long.

Thoughts following San Jose State game

It looked like the loss of Alexander LaVoy in the second half of the Aggies 34-24 loss at San Jose State on Saturday really hurt NMSU.

I think it hurt in both stopping the run and the pass — LaVoy is a better pass defender than run stopper but is a big body none-the-less. Frankly, it looks like he should be beastly against the run. He's been an upgrade in the middle of the Aggie D and has provided a nice one-two punch with Boyblue Aoelua at linebacker. The Aggie defense couldn't get stops in the second half and SJSU used running back Brandon Rutley and tight end Ryan Otten to do damage.

LaVoy had a boot on his left foot following the game although that can mean a lot. We'll have to see where his status is early this week.

Realistically, the Aggies gave up two big plays that really hurt them in this one.

Brandon Rutley started the game with a 66-yard touchdown run off a simple run up the middle. He went completely untouched on his way to the endzone.

Then Otten's 64-yard touchdown to start the second half.

Did these two plays decide the game? There's no denying they were two huge plays in the contest and gave SJSU 14 of its 34 points.

It's worth mentioning that Otten dropped a ball on the exact same play later in the third quarter.

The Aggies were penalized eight times for 76 yards while San Jose State was penalized once for five yards.

I thought quarterback Matt Christian played pretty well.

He threw the ball pretty good and ran well.

There's no denying his third-quarter interception hurt. It came late in the quarter with each team going back-and-forth on the scoreboard — the score was tied at 24 at the time. San Jose State would take over at midfield and score the go-ahead touchdown — a Rutley 2-yard run.

The Aggies didn't do anything offensively after that, granted No. 1 receiver Taveon Rogers was out of the game after falling hard on his tailbone.

Also, Christian is going to get hurt too if he keeps taking hits. He took some shots on Saturday — he ran the ball a lot out of the run-option and was effective doing it but he's also at risk. He got down once before being hit and, frankly, didn't look comfortable doing it. And I thought he was lucky not to get dinged a few more times during the game. I don't know what the plan is if Matt goes down but he was cramping during the fourth quarter and the team didn't seem eager to bring in a backup at that point. He either has to stop running or needs to be more careful. The team ran the ball better on Saturday out of the run-option — 185 yards on the ground — and Christian had something to do with that. He also had a nice touchdown run in the third quarter to tie the score at 17.

Kenny Turner had a good game on Saturday — 129 yards rushing including a 78-yard scoring run in the third quarter to put the Aggies up 24-17. He also scored on an 18-yard TD reception in the second period. This helped take away from the sting after his performance last week against UTEP. Sort of.

Taveon Rogers is a big-time player — five receptions for 120 yards and really some fine receptions downfield. He still produced at a high level despite the quarterback change and was a go-to player once again. Hopefully his tailbone injury isn't serious.

Boyblue would have had another interception this season but the play was wiped out because of a Donyae Coleman defensive holding. Three plays later, NMSU recovered a San Jose State fumble.

I wrote in last night's blog entry that the Aggies had to hold San Jose State to under 21 points and they'd have a shot at the win. They weren't in the ballpark.

NMSU has to beat New Mexico this week.

The Lobos lost to Sam Houston State — an FCS school — 48-45 in overtime on Saturday night to move to 0-4 on the season.

Then, the Mike Locksley nightmare continued when four minors were found intoxicated while driving his SUV before Saturday's game.

Things keep getting worse for the Lobos, even when it seems impossible for things to get any worse. How is this even possible? And how does Locksley still have a job there?

Anyway, I think it's a scary game for the Aggies because there is going to be pressure on them to win. It can't get any worse for UNM — they just lost to Sam Houston and their head coach looks to be halfway out the door. And they've lost to the Aggies the last two years. NMSU is expected to win the game. Again, in an odd way, there is pressure on NMSU going into this weekend's contest.

Two weeks ago, we were talking about the Aggies possibly being 5-1. Now, they're 1-3 and desperate going into their rivalry game against the Lobos.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Aggies need defense to continue steady play

Going into Saturday's game against San Jose State, the Aggies need their defense to continue its steady play.

The Aggie defense has played better since the first three quarters of the Ohio game, when the team gave up 44 points.

NMSU played tough in its 28-21 win over Minnesota and gave up just 16 points to UTEP last weekend.

Granted these were good matchups for the Aggies — both teams didn't have good quarterback play and the Miners weren't able to run the ball going into last week's game.

But with that being said, the Aggies are playing the teams on their schedule and have improved.

NMSU has four sacks this year, which is better than last year when the team had just nine total. And the Aggies have forced six turnovers this season, which is halfway to last year's total of 12.

The team needs its defense to perform well again against San Jose State — particularly with NMSU minus starting quarterback Andrew Manley and running back Robert Clay.

On paper it seems like a good matchup once again for the Aggies. San Jose State doesn't have good offensive numbers this year, averaging just 11.3 points per game. I do think the team has some talent — I like the group of receivers and think quarterback Matt Faulkner throws a decent ball. He splits snaps with Dasmen Stewart, who's a running quarterback.

The Spartans are a tricky team to figure out — blown out Week 1 by Stanford, an elite program, before losing close games to UCLA and Nevada, two programs considered down, but still, in my eyes, are fair teams at least. SJSU enters Saturday's game against the Aggies as 10 1/2-point favorites, which I think is high.

I could see a low-scoring game between the Aggies and Spartans. The magic number is 21 — if the defense can hold SJSU to 21 points, the Aggies can win.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Robert Clay doubtful against San Jose State

Aggies starting running back Robert Clay will likely not play this Saturday against San Jose State after he injured his shoulder last week in NMSU’s loss to UTEP.

Does the loss of Clay hurt? It does — he’s the team’s starting running back and could have helped grind out yards on the ground against San Jose State this weekend.

But the Aggies haven’t had a rushing attack this year with or without Clay. No matter who’s running the ball for the Aggies, the team has to improve its scheme, and block better.

To me the loss of Clay doesn’t really affect Matt Christian — I’m still not worried about the veteran QB. It’s not like the team is throwing a rookie in there under center.

Kenny Turner has been getting snaps at running back this weekend — he played H-back in the Aggie offense up until last week when he had a bad game against UTEP. Turner’s a space player — good in the open field — and I don’t see him as a between-the-tackles pounder.

Victor Johnson is a big back who showed something against Minnesota two weeks ago. And freshman Brandon Betancourt could get his shot this weekend against SJSU.

The Aggies will also start Sioeli Fakalata at right guard this week and rotate Valerian Ume-Ezeoke and Andrew Kersten at the other guard spot.

Clay’s a good running back and will be missed, but the team has to get better in the running game as a whole with or without him.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Scouting San Jose State

The San Jose State Spartans have some talent on their football team, and I expect a dogfight this Saturday when the Aggies travel to SJSU.

Here’s what you can expect from the Spartans going into Saturday’s game:

Offensively, the team runs a two-quarterback system.

Matt Faulkner is listed as the starter and the team is more apt to throw with him in the game. The Spartans have some talent at wide receiver — Noel Grigsby (5-foot-11, 170), Chandler Jones (5-foot-11, 174) and Jabari Carr (6-foot-180) all look good. Faulkner originally signed with Fresno State before heading to Mount San Antonio College and then SJSU.

The Spartans other quarterback is Dasmen Stewart and they become a running team with him in the game.

SJSU runs plays out of a pistol formation — quarterback three yards behind center, running back directly behind him. The team will also line up in an I-formation when close to the goaline or when trying to work the ball out from deep in their own territory.

They have an athletic offensive line — not too big.

Defensively, the Spartans have a big-time defensive back in senior safety Duke Ihenacho. Keith Smith was a good, young linebacker for them last year — WAC Freshman of the Year — and he returns as a starter. SJSU returned 11 starters on their defense from a season ago.

Expect San Jose State to blitz the Aggies this week after what UTEP did to NMSU last week.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Team can win with Christian — if they protect him

I’m not surprised Andrew Manley got hurt against the UTEP Miners.

He’s been taking a pounding early on this season — very few quarterbacks are going to get hit like that and stay healthy for the duration of the schedule.

Can the offensive playcalling make an adjustment here? It has to. Matt Christian CANNOT get hurt. Lets say this — the team can still win with Matt. They’re going to San Jose State this week. Well, Matt beat San Jose State last year — on a last-minute drive no less. He’s a veteran and I believe he knows how to win. He should have something to prove. He can step in and run the offense.

Things will change for the Aggies and how opposing teams defend the offense. Andrew has a big arm and defenses had to account for that. Expect safeties — who were deep in the defensive backfield with Manley in the game — to line up closer to the line of scrimmage. Cornerbacks who played 10 yards off the line of scrimmage in zone coverage will now play tighter with the NMSU wide receivers.

The Aggie passing attack will likely operate more in the intermediate range — crossing patterns could be incorporated more as well as running backs in the passing game.

With that being said, there are some benefits to Christian being in the game. Again, he’s a vet and will run the offense, he knows what he’s doing. He’s mobile and can get away from the rush. And again, the Aggies have to make adjustments to curtail the rush.

Some things offensive coordinator Doug Martin must be considering. If the team did some of this last week against UTEP they either didn’t do enough of it or didn’t do it well enough. In my estimation, it was both.

• Stop doing five-step drops if its obvious the opposing team is blitzing. Use hot routes and three-step drops and get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands. That was brutal watching the other night. MAKE ADJUSTMENTS. Matt should help here because, again, he’s a veteran player and will know what’s coming his way if the opposition is bringing the blitz. Heck, everyone at Aggie Memorial Stadium on Saturday night could see it coming.

• If something’s working, stick with it. NMSU hit Jackson Kaka the first two passes of the game off play action vs. UTEP, then didn’t go back to it. The Aggies scored in the two-minute drill to end the second quarter against the Miners, then didn’t go back to it in the second half. Why not? IT WORKED. It clearly curtailed the Miners pass rush and it was ran well by Manley.

• Use variation in the running game. Use screens, draws, misdirections and run the ball outside. The Aggie offensive line isn’t overpowering enough to just line up and run over the opposition. It needs help. Plays such as this might get the running game going — it’s been bad this year. And it will take some of the pressure off the quarterback because pass rushers will have to consider such plays and can’t just pin their ears back and rush the backfield. It was too predictable against UTEP.

• If Matt goes down, then the team’s in trouble. His backup is true freshman Travaughn Colwell and then there’s former QB and current tight end Trevor Walls. Does the loss of Manley hurt? Of course it does. He was having a strong year and was improving every game. He improved a TON from last year to this year. He’s a player with potential and someone the program can build around — if healthy. Big loss. But the season is not over. If Christian goes down, it will be. He has an injury history — he missed four games last year and parts of two others because of injury. The team has to be careful how they use him as a runner because he will take the big hit. If he goes down, the Aggies will go down. Keep him upright, keep him healthy. No choice.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The day after: some more thoughts

Wrote a column on the Aggie running game for Monday's Sun-News. To read it, click here.

I wrote that variation in the Aggie running game would curb opposing team's pass rush on Aggie quarterback Andrew Manley — screen-passes to RBs, draw-run, misdirection and toss-sweeps would not only keep defenses off balance in the run game but would also have them think twice about just coming after the Aggies drop-back quarterback.

Saturday night saw UTEP blitz, blitz and blitz some more.

A few other things that could help….

More short drops. It seemed like the team was still doing long pass patterns downfield despite the fact that UTEP was bringing the heat. A quick passing game and some hot routes would seem help in this regard.

The team also went away from the no-huddle attack after it worked well in the two-minute drill just before halftime. NMSU head coach DeWayne Walker said following the game that he thought there were moments in the second half where the Aggies could have went back to that. UTEP looked uncomfortable defending it and it would surely have disrupted their blitz if ran effectively.

•••

Kenny Turner has taken some criticism for his goal line fumble in the first quarter and drops/route running during the game. No doubt that Kenny didn't have a good game and those plays were big. The goal line fumble could have changed the complexion of a low-scoring game.

A few things to consider….

It's possible the first-quarter fumble affected his game thereafter. Judging from the results I think we can say it's possible.

Also, Kenny, to me, is a space player, on the edge of the defense, one-on-one with a defensive end or a linebacker. Putting him in on goal line situations — in some cases without a true lead blocker — doesn't seem like his game. It's a different world running the ball between 300-pound defensive tackles on the goal line. Just saying. I think the team could have considered Robert Clay and/or Victor Johnson in those situations.

The variation in the running game I mentioned above, to me that's Kenny.

•••

I want to say that despite the loss on Saturday the Aggies are an improved team. I thought the team played hard. These are positive things I'm trying to point out here.

Entering the four-game stretch following the Minnesota game I said four wins would be great, three of four would be fine. The latter is still possible.

Is this a great team? After Saturday's loss the answer has to be no. They had their chances to win a very winnable game and didn't get it done. We talked about the botched goal line chances — not just the fumble but a missed 21-yard field goal. And they settled for three when inside the 10 as well. The Aggies really could have won that game and would have been 2-1. It would have been a giant win. Now they're 1-2 and the general feeling will be ‘here we go again,’ at least from the general fan base in the community.

I still believe this is an improved team.

•••

Some other scores of interest from Saturday….

Ohio — who beat the Aggies 44-24 in Las Cruces — beat Marshall 44-7 in Akron, Ohio. The Bobcats look like a very good team.

Hawaii lost big to UNLV 40-20 at UNLV. Hawaii was BIG favorite in this game and it was a huge upset. Hawaii can have the occasional letdown game when coming to the mainland and this smells like one of those.

San Jose State almost beat Nevada 17-14. Nevada could be down this year — tough to replace Colin Kaepernick. The Aggies play at San Jose State this Saturday.

Louisiana Tech, up on Houston 34-7 in third quarter, lost 35-34. Pretty unbelievable.

UNM lost 59-13 to Texas Tech in a game in Albuquerque. Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege completed 40-of-44 passes for 401 yards and five touchdowns. Sounds like a video game.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Manley's injury and rehashing the Aggie-UTEP game

Lets hope quarterback Andrew Manley's injury isn't as serious as it initially looked.

It looked like Manley was limping during the third quarter of the game and he was down for a moment in pain after being sacked on the Aggies last offensive play of the game. He was grabbing around his knee. It actually looked like Manley wasn't hurt on the hit but on planting to throw the ball before the hit came. Again, it looked bad.

It didn't look like he fumbled that ball on replays — it looked like the ball had come out after he was down. NMSU head coach DeWayne Walker alluded to that during the post-game press conference.

After the game Manley was seen on the field talking and walking and he looked fine. Here's to hoping it was just cramping and that he's going to be OK.

This game hurt because it was a winnable one for the Aggies. Neither team looked very impressive and the Aggies left points on the field. The first quarter saw Kenny Turner fumble the ball on the goal line, Turner looked like he slowed down on a deep pass where was open and the team going three-and-out after getting the ball at midfield.

UTEP wasn't very good but outperformed the Aggies on special teams and ran the ball just well enough.

The fake punt was the key call of the game. UTEP had the ball at their own 29 yard line late in the third quarter and snapped the ball directly to Joe Banyard who ran with it all the way down to the Aggie 6-yard line.

Yes, the Miners scored the go-ahead touchdown shortly thereafter, but the momentum of the game changed after that play too. It was the key play of the game.

UTEP had the edge on the Aggie offensive line.

This unit played much better last week in the team's win over Minnesota but didn't play as well on Saturday. The Miners blitzed the Aggies frequently and Manley was under pressure. NMSU never got a running game going — 16 yards on 29 carries. The team went with Turner on the goal line and I wouldn't have minded seeing Robert Clay or Victor Johnson on those chances — two hard runners.

The Miners only chance was to pressure Manley because the Aggies moved the ball well through the air when he had time. He overthrew some receivers but I thought he played pretty well when he had time. UTEP blitzed frequently but even got after him on three-man rushes too.

I thought Manley operated the two-minute drill very well at the end of the first half and I thought the Aggies could have gone to with the no-huddle more in the second half.

I thought Pierre Fils played a good game for the Aggies on the defensive line.

I thought UTEP defensive back Antwon Blake covered well in the secondary.

UTEP's top receiver Donovan Kemp wasn't a factor — one reception for five yards.

Friday, September 16, 2011

My prediction: Aggies over Miners

I feel like the Aggies are going to beat UTEP on Saturday and here’s why:

This is a tough one. NMSU is three-point favorites in the game and after last week’s win over Minnesota they deserve to be. The Miners also improved last week in a 28-17 loss at SMU. Unlike past years the Miners seem to be better defensively — perhaps its even the team’s strength going into Saturday’s contest.

The Miners haven’t played well along the offensive line and haven’t been able to run the ball. Conversely, the Aggies have had trouble stopping the run. I think the Miners will try and run the ball with a redshirt freshman quarterback under center — they have to — but again they haven’t had a running game so it could cancel out one of NMSU’s deficiencies. UTEP quarterback Jay Hall’s play will obviously be a big key in this one. A lot will be on his shoulders.

Conversely, I think the Aggies will be able to get a push on UTEP’s defensive line and will be able to run. This will put the Miners in a bind — NMSU can then be balanced and use the play-action passing game to its benefit.

The lower the score, the better for UTEP. So I think the Miners would prefer to run the football and grind it out, try to make special teams a factor. If the Aggies can get up early on UTEP — similar to last week against Minnesota — it will really play into NMSU’s hands. Try to get the Miners into catchup mode.

My final score prediction: 28-24 Aggies

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Still expecting a good crowd

I still expect a good crowd at this weekend’s Aggie vs. UTEP game.

There has been talk of the crowd being down this year — UTEP is down so less fans are traveling from El Paso; single-game ticket prices are too high and the economy is obviously down; the game’s on television and the Internet which will keep fans away; promotions have been ineffective; the advent of Facebook and Twitter don’t get fans out to the stadium....These are all possible reasons I have heard.

But here’s what I think: the game will draw well when it’s all said and done. Las Cruces and El Paso are known for it’s walk-up crowds and I still expect 25,000 to 30,000 strong.

I’m still not ruling out a sellout yet.

Oh, there’s one more key....

Taking an early lead.

If the Aggies can get an early advantage against UTEP it will force the Miners to be one dimensional — with a freshman quarterback throwing the ball to the Aggies strength, the defensive secondary.

The Aggies got up early last week against Minnesota – NMSU established a 21-7 lead on the Gophers — and led from start to finish.

UTEP has struggled to run the ball all year although one would expect them to still try and get a running game going this Saturday. The Aggies are susceptible in this area and, again, the Miners are starting freshman Jay Hall under center.

I believe it would be in UTEP’s best interest to keep the score down and grind it out — perhaps relying on kicker Dakota Warren to help get the win.

If the Aggies can get up early it will make UTEP one dimensional.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Keys to victory: What the Aggies have to do to beat UTEP

It's a toss-up game.

The New Mexico State Aggies face the UTEP Miners 6 p.m. Saturday at Aggie Memorial Stadium.

NMSU enters the contest as three-point favorites with momentum on its side, while both teams, holding identical 1-1 records, need the victory.

Expect a competitive affair Saturday night between these two heated rivals.

Here's where NMSU has to deliver.

1) Play a complete game: In other words, the team needs to play the same way it did in last week's 28-21 win at Minnesota. Offensively, get up early on UTEP, which is starting a freshman quarterback. Defensively, make big plays when they matter. Be sure both units complement each other. Four solid quarters of football will be required, with the Aggies being the aggressors. Last week's gameplan was well executed. A similar performance and the Aggies will be in the driver's seat this Saturday.

2) Aggie offensive line: Inserting Mike Grady at center and Valerian Ume-Ezeoke at guard paid dividends for the Aggies, who played much better on the offensive line last week. The team needs such a performance again this Saturday. Some simple math: If NMSU can push around the Miners up front, they will be able to run the football. If they can run the football, the play-calling can open up with play-action passing and rollouts. If the play-calling opens up, quarterback Andrew Manley can throw the ball downfield. Oh, and then the opposition is typically in trouble. It all starts up front.


3) Aggie defensive line:
It would be nice if the Aggie defensive line applied some pressure on UTEP this weekend. The Miners are starting a freshman quarterback in Jay Hall, haven't played well on the offensive line and haven't been able to run the ball. UTEP will throw the football under head coach Mike Price — they always do — but one would think the Miners will still try to establish the run — the Aggies are susceptible in this area and UTEP is young under center. Minnesota quarterback Marqueis Gray was a runner and the Aggie front-four played adequately against him. Still, NMSU has recorded just 10 sacks in its last 14 games. More pressure is needed. UTEP could look to spread the Aggies out — a space game. If that's the case, the Aggie defense will have to tackle well.

4) Special teams: The Aggie kicking game can be better. Tyler Stampler was accurate last year on field goals, but is 1-for-3 on attempts this season — sooner or later they're going to need him. Punter Jake Capraro can improve his game too. And can the Aggies boot a kickoff into the endzone? A touchback would be nice, as kickoff coverage will be an important factor this week against a good Miners return team.

5) The little things: The Aggies have forced four turnovers through two games and hold a plus-one turnover ratio on the season. So far this marks an improvement — the team was minus-six on the turnover front last year and forced just 12 overall. The Aggies also can't make silly mistakes — two personal-foul calls on late hits during Minnesota scoring drives last week are good examples. Simply put, NMSU can't beat itself.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Aggie middle linebackers

Alexander LaVoy has been an upgrade for the Aggie defense.

The middle linebacker has made some plays in pass coverage this year — a pass breakup that stands out against Ohio and a tipped ball in the endzone that led to an interception by Boyblue Aoelua last week against Minnesota.

LaVoy’s forte is in coverage but the middle of the Aggie defense played well last week against the run — which reflects well on him and Aoelua.

Both middle linebackers stood out with strong games in the team’s win over the Gophers.

Depth charts for Aggies/Miners

NMSU Aggies
Aggie offense
WR 1 Taveon Rogers, Jr. 6-0, 188
13 Kemonte Bateman, Jr. 6-1, 185
LT 74 Davonte Wallace, So. 6-4, 272
62 Mike Grady, Sr. 6-3, 306
LG 55 Valerian Ume-Ezeoke, Fr. 6-2, 267
71 Maveu Heimuli, Jr. 6-4, 338
C 62 Mike Grady, Sr. 6-3, 306
72 Sioeli Fakalata, Sr. 6-3, 340
RG 78 Andrew Kersten, Jr. 6-6, 305
77 Houston Clemente, Fr. 6-1, 285
RT 76 Aundre McGaskey, Sr. 6-6, 290
73 Faison McKinnis, Fr. 6-7, 300
WR 7 Todd Lee, Jr. 5-9, 160
4 Austin Franklin, Fr. 6-2, 175
TE 85 Jackson Kaka, Fr. 6-4, 210
15 Trevor Walls, Jr. 6-5, 232
HB 3 Kenny Turner, Jr. 5-10, 192
80 Joseph Matthews, Fr. 6-1, 175
RB 28 Robert Clay, Jr. 5-10, 192
29 Victor Johnson, Jr. 5-11, 223
QB 8 Andrew Manley, So. 6-3, 223
2 Matt Christian, Sr. 6-3, 223
K 18 Tyler Stampler, Jr. 5-10, 173
46 Jordan Davenport, Sr. 6-1, 205
P 42 Jake Caparo, So. 6-1, 214

Aggie defense
DE 90 David Nuimatalolo, Sr. 6-2, 247
93 Sean Brown, Jr. 6-5, 253
NT 58 Dejuan Yates, Sr. 6-2, 272
95 Mark Brown, Fr. 6-0, 292
DT 98 David Mahoney, Sr. 6-3, 280
92 Walton Taumoepeau, Jr. 6-3, 300
DE 48 Pierre Fils, Sr. 6-3, 240
99 Stephen Meredith, Fr. 6-4, 240
LB 53 Bryan Bonilla, Fr. 6-1, 217
68 Anthony Joyner, So. 6-2, 232
LB 9 Alexander LaVoy, Jr. 6-2, 230
47 Boyblue Aoelua, Sr. 5-10, 234
LB 36 B.J. Adolpho, Jr. 5-11, 224
32 Dylan Davis, So. 6-0, 230
LC 7 Courtney Viney, Sr. 5-9, 167
10 Jeremy Harris, Jr. 6-2, 180
FS 2 Ben Bradley, Sr. 5-10, 184
5 George Callendar, So. 6-1, 196
SS 3 Donyae Coleman, So. 5-10, 187
8 Justin Smith, So. 6-2, 197
RC 1 Jonte Green, Sr. 6-0, 184
4 Darien Johnson, So. 5-9, 177
KR 1 Taveon Rogers, Jr. 6-0, 188
PR 4 Austin Franklin, Fr. 6-2, 175

UTEP Miners
Miner offense
WR 17 Russell Carr, Sr. 6-2, 205
80 Julio Lopez, Sr. 5-11, 180
LT 75 James Martin, Jr. 6-6, 290
72 Nick Martin, Fr. 6-5, 280
LG 69 Jerel Watkins, Fr. 6-2, 275
77 Paul Santillan, Jr. 6-5, 305
C 63 Eloy Atkinson, Jr. 6-3, 300
62 Kyle Brown, Fr. 6-2, 280
RG 60 Nathan McCage, Sr. 6-4, 290
55 James Robinson, Jr. 6-4, 330
RT 58 Brander Craighead, So. 6-6, 290
65 Mike Amdall, Fr. 6-4, 295
TE 87 Eric Tomlinson, Fr. 6-6, 255
82 Kevin Perry, So. 6-5, 255
WR 84 Donavan Kemp, Sr. 6-1, 195
9 Jordan Leslie, Fr. 6-2, 205
WR 6 Mike Edwards, Jr. 5-10, 190
Lavorick Williams, Jr. 6-1, 185
TB 21 Joe Banyard, Sr. 5-11, 210
2 Vernon Frazier, Sr. 5-6, 175
RB 28 Robert Clay, Jr. 5-10, 192
29 Victor Johnson, Jr. 5-11, 223
QB 1 Jay Hall, Fr. 6-1, 190
13 Carson Meger, So. 5-11, 200
K 8 Dakota Warren, Jr. 5-10, 190
37 Steven Valadez, Fr. 5-11, 175
P 7 Ian Campbell, Jr. 5-11, 170
37 Steven Valadez, Fr. 5-11, 175

Miner defense
LE 46 Bernard Obi, Sr. 6-2, 255
92 Adam Ayala, So. 6-5, 275
LT 61 Germard Reed, So. 6-0, 280
99 Marcus Bagler, So. 6-1, 330
NT 98 Jamie Fejoko, Sr. 6-2, 300
76 Ruben Munoz, Jr. 6-0, 285
DE 44 Greg Watkins, Jr. 6-5, 225
33 Horace Miller, So. 6-1, 235
LB 56 Josh Fely, Jr. 5-11, 225
1 Isaiah Carter, Sr. 6-2, 230
LB 8 Jeremy Springer, Sr. 6-3, 230
53 DeAndre Little, Fr. 6-1, 235
LB 6 Royzell Smith, Sr. 6-1, 240
48 Aubrey Alexius, Jr. 5-11, 220
LC 9 Antwon Blake, Sr. 5-10, 205
13 Adrian James, So. 5-11, 180
FS 2 DeShawn Grayson, Jr. 6-0, 205
26 Derrick Morgan, Jr. 6-1, 205
SS 5 Travaun Nixon, Sr. 6-0, 200
24 Richard Spencer, Jr. 6-2, 210
RC 10 Drew Thomas, Jr. 5-10, 185
16 Darren Woodard, Jr. 5-11, 175
KR 2 Vernon Frazier, Sr. 5-6, 175
PR 5 Travaun Nixon, Sr. 6-0, 200

Monday, September 12, 2011

UTEP is beatable for Aggies

The UTEP Miners are a beatable football team this weekend for the Aggies — NMSU is 2 1/2-point favorites going into the game.

Here's some reasons why UTEP is beatable.

• The team is dealing with injury issues. Freshman quarterback Jay Hall is starting in place of Nick Lamaison who separated his shoulder last weekend at SMU. Starting defensive lineman Germard Reed will also miss the game with a neck injury as will long snapper Matt Camille who also has a hurt shoulder.

• The Miners offensive line hasn't played very well this year.

• UTEP hasn't had a running game so far this year. The Miners ran the ball 26 times for 30 yards last week in a close game against SMU — a 28-17 loss. UTEP couldn't establish the run despite being down just 21-17 in the second half.

••••

The Miners defense played good in the second half against SMU. The Miners didn't give up a defensive touchdown in the second half — SMU recovered a fumble in the endzone late in the fourth quarter.

••••

I wrote on column on this weekend's game that appeared in Tuesday's Sun-News. Click here to read it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Looking forward: Aggies face UTEP in another big game

OK, we know how big the Aggie win was over Minnesota on Saturday. Over a Big Ten team, on the road, 20-point underdogs. A Big Ten team that lost 19-17 to USC the week before. It was absolutely, positively, huge for the NMSU program.

And the Aggies face another huge game this Saturday against UTEP. NMSU needs to maintain momentum and build the local excitement following the Minnesota win. A loss against the Miners will take much of that away.

And this is a big game for UTEP as well.

The Miners haven't had a running game this year and will be turning to freshman quarterback Jay Hall after starter Nick Lamaison went down against SMU with a separated shoulder. Hall is a thrower with some athletic ability. He will be a key factor in the contest.

UTEP is 1-1 — they barely got by Stony Brook Week 1 and looked better last week in a 28-17 road loss to SMU, a top-tier Conference USA West Division team.

After NMSU, the Miners face South Florida and Houston, so getting a win against the Aggies is big — either that or the team is staring at a 1-4 start to the season.

Yes, this is a critical game for both teams.

For the Aggies, it's about building and establishing momentum after an upset win that could jumpstart the program. The players and the community need to know this team is on the move. NMSU faces the underbelly of their schedule now — four straight winnable games vs. UTEP, at UNM, at San Jose State and vs Idaho — before it gets tougher.

For UTEP, it's about proving itself in a big game on their schedule — against a rival and in a winnable game.

Should be a sellout too. Get there early.

Can't wait for this.

Some more positives from Saturday

• I thought middle linebacker Alexander LaVoy played well. He continued to show he can make plays in pass coverage — tipped ball that was intercepted by Boyblue Aeolua in Aggie endzone stands out. Aggies played well in the interior Saturday — two fourth down run stops continue to stand out.

• The Aggies held Minnesota to 2-of-12 on third downs and 1-of-4 on fourth downs. They'll take those numbers every time.

• The moves on the offensive line helped — no issues from Mike Grady who started at center this week. Team was able to run the ball and didn't give up a sack. The Aggies had nine sacks last year, Minnesota eight so it was a good matchup for them.

• The Aggies were able to run the ball which opens up the entire playbook. Play-action passing becomes a factor as do rollouts and bootlegs. When a team runs the ball well, it provides flexibility in play calling. When they don't, it limits them.

• Aggies played mentally and physically tough.

Areas of work

• I thought the team did some things to bother the Minnesota quarterbacks, but overall the Aggies need to get to the quarterback more. This has been a theme the past two years. NMSU had one sack on Saturday and there were times they got a push up front but there were also other times when the quarterback could have baked a batch of cookies and checked his mail back there. Certainly facing a running quarterback — which Minnesota's MarQueis Gray is — will hold back the rush slightly. But this is more than just a one-week issue.

• Thought the Aggie secondary continued to play well — still believe this is the strength of the defense. There is talent and numbers back there. But Minnesota also was looking Jonte Green's way and he got beat a few times. Again, Jonte can be a terrific cornerback for the Aggies — from a physical standpoint he's there and pro scouts see his potential. But I think he can play better.

• The Aggie kicking game concerns me. When was the last time NMSU had a kickoff that went into the endzone? I want a touchback. Punter Jake Capraro needs to get better. Kicker Tyler Stampler was accurate last year but missed a 27-yarder Week 1 and wasn't close on a 49-yarder vs. Minnesota. Aggies have to get better in the kicking game.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Aggies get huge win over Minnesota

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.

Going forward

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.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Friday, September 9, 2011

Why the Aggies will play better this week at Minnesota

Reasons why the Aggies will play better this week at Minnesota:

General rule of thumb: Football teams get better from Week 1 to Week 2, in some cases making significant improvements. We don’t know exactly where NMSU stands here but certainly we can assume they will be better in certain areas after the coaching staff and team digest the film and work on their weaknesses — O-line, running game, pass rush and run defense.

Offensive line will play better: This is a unit that was expected to at least be adequate for the Aggies and got flat-out beat last week. Last week’s play against Ohio should have been an embarrassment for this group and one would figure they will be motivated to turn things around. Mike Grady could start at center and the team will bring subs off the bench this week — something it didn’t do last Saturday. Last week’s starting center Sioeli Fakalata is expected to come in as a backup at center and guard and true freshman Valerian Ume-Ezeoke will also fill in inside. A better Aggie offensive line will mean the team should be better running the ball — can’t be worse than six yards on 23 carries. Note: college football counts quarterback sacks against rushing yards, so Manley’s three sacks last week affected those numbers. Either way the running game was horrible because the line didn’t block. I thought the backs ran hard, just tough to run over people all game. This area HAS to be better — it can’t be worse.

How is Minnesota?: This team lost by just two to USC last week, but that 19-17 final score could be deceiving. Minnesota has an unimaginative offense with quarterback MarQuese Gray in the game — the team is run-heavy with the starting signal caller — although that should work in the Gophers favor against an Aggie defense that cannot stop the run. Perhaps a better scenario for the Aggies would be if true freshman quarterback Max Shortell enters the game, more of a classic throwing quarterback, as NMSU matches up better against a more balanced team as opposed to a run-heavy outfit. Offensively, the Aggies should move the ball on an average Gophers pass defense. Minnesota has been bad pressuring the quarterback the past two years — sound familiar Aggie fans? — and play zone defense and zone-blitz. This is a sign of a team that doesn’t have confidence to play man-to-man in the secondary. Sounds like a scenario that could work play to NMSU’s strength — throwing the ball downfield.

The 20-point spread is fair: The Aggies will lose this game, but should play better than last week. Somewhere in the 14 to 21-point range is on target.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Thursday, September 8, 2011

High school football notes heading into Week 3

Some quick notes going into Week 3 of high school football season.

• Las Cruces High has its home opener Friday against Volcano Vista at 7 p.m. at the Field of Dreams.

The Bulldawgs can run the football but need quarterback Devin Perez to continue his development as a passer. If Perez can throw the ball, the Bulldawgs are going to be a force to be reckoned with. So far he's proven to be a running QB. Perez has struggled throwing out of the pocket — he's small and could have trouble seeing over the line — but has proven to be better on rollouts.

LCHS has a talented team — weapons on offense and a good offensive line. Regardless, this is a top team in the state — a sure top-four team. To be a championship team, being multi-dimensional would help.

• Mayfield has had trouble on defense — in particular the secondary has struggled defending the pass.

Axten Franzoy and Ricky Milks have proven to be good at quarterback and running back, respectively.

We expected this — two returning players with state title experience.

Is there any doubt Mayfield won't be there in the end? This is a championship program, and it's early in the season.

Both Mayfield and Cruces will be in the thick of things.

• At OƱate, this is a team with less than 35 varsity players in its program.

We've talked about the Knights schedule at length — the first three games are a question of not winning or losing, but of survival. The Knights have been outscored by their first two opponents — Franklin and Americas — 116-28. Friday night they travel to Cleveland, the No. 1 team in New Mexico. Uggghhh….

The Knights have some games on their schedule one would think they could be competitive in this year — hosting Rio Rancho and West Mesa and district games against Gadsden and Alamogordo could be winnable games. They gotta get something there. A win isn't coming Friday, nor is it coming against Cruces or Mayfield later in the year.

Quarterbacks at Minnesota

Two will likely get playing time this week — senior starter MarQueis Gray and freshman backup Max Shortell.

Gray is a runner and can struggle throwing the ball while Shortell is more your thrower.

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill would prefer to run the ball with a featured back, although Gray currently acts that way for the Golden Gophers. He was ineffective throwing last weekend at USC while Shortell stepped in and played well.

Ironically, the Aggies would most likely be better served if Shortell plays more often, just because the Aggies match up better with a more balanced team than a run-heavy team, which Minnesota expects to be with Gray in.

Even with a lack of a pass rush, the Aggie secondary can cover OK. The Aggie run defense, however, is a concern.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Another former Aggie QB....

...JJ McDermott will start for SMU against UTEP this week. Click here.

Expect teams to kick away from Rogers

Expect teams to kick away from Taveon Rogers as the Aggie season moves along, and it could happen this weekend when the team travels to Minnesota.

Rogers is a very good return man and opposing teams won't want him to beat them. They will begin squibing or directional kicking away from him.

Just a thought.

Teddy Feinberg can be reached at @TeddyFeinberg

Former Aggie quarterback Jeff Fleming showing up at Sacramento State

Former New Mexico State Aggie quarterback Jeff Fleming is playing well at Sacramento State.

Fleming led the Hornets to a 29-28 overtime win over Pac 12 school Oregon State last weekend. He completed 22-of-35 pass attempts for 257 yards and three touchdowns. He hit Brandyn Reed with a touchdown pass in overtime, then went back to Reed for the game-winning two-point conversion as Sacramento State pulled off the upset.

Fleming played one season at NMSU as the team’s starting quarterback in 2009. The Aggie offense was conservative and predictable that season and Fleming was ineffective. Just about everyone on that offense was with the exception of Seth Smith (1,000-yard rusher).

Fleming transferred from NMSU last year, after the team named Matt Christian the starting QB going into the season.

It is noteworthy that he’s playing better at Sacramento State.

Follow me on Twitter @TedddyFeinberg

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Aggies will look at alternatives on offensive line going into Minnesota game

The Aggies will look at possibly starting Mike Grady at center this week when the team travels to take on Minnesota.

Head coach DeWayne Walker said the Aggies will also look into getting playing time for true freshman Valerian Ume-Ezeoke this week.

Last week the Aggie offensive line struggled against Ohio and the truth is that no one played particularly well. Fakalata didn’t look comfortable at center, having a hard time with shotgun snaps and getting beat inside.

I believe the right move is starting Fakalata at guard and Grady at center. That’s Fakalata’s natural position and he should be the Aggies best offensive lineman there.

Grady is a smart player and experienced. He has started at center the past three seasons at NMSU.

Both are proven players at those respective positions.

I still think the offensive line can be good if these moves work out.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Looking ahead for Aggies following Week 1 of college football season

I wasn't surprised the Aggies lost to the Ohio on Saturday night. I was expecting a 34-21 score, they gave up 10 more points than that and scored 24 on the evening.

I was not surprised by anything, other than the play of the offensive line. And the Aggies special teams weren't good — a missed short field goal and a punt return for a touchdown. If you want to read my gamer from Saturday night, click here. My column that appeared in today's Sun-News, click here. And my blog entry following Saturday's game, click here.

The Aggies will win two or three games this season, in my estimation. Four is possible, but it will take some major improvements on the team, most importantly the play of the defensive line. And this is going to be difficult because the Aggies don't have the bodies here to really do anything about it. This is why the loss of Donte Savage and Augafa Vaaulu were so critical prior to August camp, then the injury to Tommy Stuart piled on. It took a weak area and made it weaker and now the Aggies can't even sub on the defensive front. It will haunt them throughout the year and during the second half of games. Tough spot to be in and it affects he entire defense.

The team was beat on special teams. Taveon Rogers' kick return was a bright spot. Tyler Stampler missed a 27-yard field goal and the team gave up a 65-yard punt return TD. Jake Capraro had one glaring punt — a 31 yarder following the Aggies first possession that gave Ohio the ball at the NMSU 45. For a team outmanned like the Aggies, they have to win the special team's battle. They have to capitalize on makeable field goal attempts and win field position. I will say that Ohio has an excellent punter, kickoff man and return man and are notoriously strong on special teams under Frank Solich. The punter and kickoff man were a remarkable tandem on one team.

I do believe if the Aggie offensive line remains healthy it will make the necessary adjustments and be OK. And with that being said, the Aggies will have to outscore teams this year to get some wins. In my estimation, this team will have to average four offensive touchdowns per game. And I think they can do that.

Andrew Manley delivered the ball well downfield the other night and the receivers are good. This came on a night where the offensive line couldn't block — specifically in the first half — and in turn the team couldn't run the ball. So I think the offense can be solid this season.

••••

Lets look at some other games from Week 1 and what it means for the Aggies.

• They can beat New Mexico — they have the past two years — which lost 14-10 in a hard-fought game against Colorado State. The Lobos don't know how to win, plain and simple, although I do like their running back James Wright. They're going to be hungry after NMSU beat them the past two seasons. And I do think the Lobos have more talent this year.

• UTEP had to come back to beat Stony Brook 31-24 in overtime. This was nothing short of a shocker.

The Miners were missing three offensive linemen — tackle James Nelson and guards Jerel Watkins and James Robinson — and couldn't run the ball.

They picked it up in the second half to beat Stony Brook and are a work in progress.

The last two years the Aggies have been beaten badly by the Miners so this year's game is a big one in Las Cruces. I think the Aggies have to beat UTEP.

• San Jose State lost 57-3 to Stanford and are beatable this year when the Aggies open conference at SJSU in Week 4.

• Idaho didn't look good in its loss to Bowling Green on Thursday night.

They're a young team and have lost key players — quarterback Nathan Enderle, who's currently on the Chicago Bears roster; pass catchers Brian Greenwood (wide receiver) and Daniel Hardy (tight end); defensive end Aaron Lavarias; linebacker JoJo Dickson; and safety Shiloh Keo, who was a great player.

Again, after Week 1 the Vandals appear beatable in Las Cruces.

• Utah State played a great game against Auburn, only to lose 42-38 in the closing seconds. It was a heartbreaker and USU gave the game away, leading by 10 with under four minutes remaining.

Still, after the opening week they look to be a real threat in the WAC. Their offensive line was strong against the Tigers and true freshman quarterback Chuckie Keeton looks like a legitimate player — he threw the ball well and can run with it. WAC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Bobby Wagner is a star on defense.

It's just Week 1 and we'll see where Auburn goes from here, but it was impressive to see a WAC team play like that against the defending national champions from the SEC.

NMSU hosts Utah State the last week of the season — Dec. 3.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thoughts following season opener

I thought — and I don't think I'm in the minority — that the offensive line was the biggest disappointment from Saturday night's 44-24 season opening football loss for the Aggies.

Yeah, the D-line wasn't great but we knew that was going to be an area of weakness.

It was believed the offensive line was going to be a strength of the team — it was believed if healthy it could be a solid offensive line for a mid-major program.

It wasn't on Saturday.

The Aggies ran for six yards on 23 carries. That's awful.

Center Sioeli Fakalata looked uncomfortable in his first career start at that position. He couldn't get the shotgun snaps down — he snapped one out of the endzone for a safety — and got beat on the interior. Fakalata is regarded as one of the Aggies best offensive lineman, if not the best, but he's playing a new position and has to lose weight — he's listed at 340 pounds.

Andrew Manley was pressured too much, sacked three times and trying to escape the rush. He isn't mobile but when he had time to throw the ball he looked good.

He threw for 362 yards and two touchdowns on a night the team didn't block well for him and ran for six yards total.

You saw the potential in the passing game Saturday night.

Manley has weapons to throw to — Todd Lee (5, 140, TD); Taveon Rogers (5, 92, 2 TDs); Kenny Turner (7, 93); Kemonte Bateman (3, 41). They all played well and the team can get the ball downfield.

I thought the Aggies played hard. This does mean something.

The team was down 44-10 but rallied.

Lee's 54-yard catch and touchdown run made the score 44-24 at the start of the fourth quarter and the team had life. The crowd was into it.

Ohio had the luxury of rotating players in on the defensive line — something the Aggies don't have — and a portion of NMSU's comeback came with that second unit on the field.

I thought the defensive secondary played well. They covered and the unit tackled well.

Donyae Coleman had two turnovers — first quarter interception, second quarter fumble recovery.

Cornerback Jeremy Harris is a newcomer that can cover and has size — 6-foot-2, 180 pounds.

Ohio is a good football team from the MAC conference. They have a run-first team that can get yards and their defensive line looked good.

They had good special teams units — they returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown and their punter Paul Hershey was sensational.

Rogers was a bright spot — a 42-yard touchdown reception to tie the game at seven. NMSU came out on first down following a Kenny Turner run and set up the play fake with Manley going up to to the speedster who beat the secondary deep. Those two plays alone were essentially the only two plays NMSU made on offense the entire first half. Team's have to double team Rogers in the passing game and if they don't he'll make them pay with his speed.

Rogers returned a kickoff 97 yards for a TD in the the third quarter to make the score 44-17.

NFL scouts like Rogers — he's fast and is an athlete. If he has a good senior year at wide receiver, he'll help his cause.

What we know following game

We know much of the same before the game began.

We know the defensive line has little depth and that should haunt the team all season.

We know the secondary has talent, has some numbers and is sound.

We know the passing game — young-gun quarterback with talent at wide receiver —will be much improved.

What we didn't know was that the offensive line would struggle the way it did in the opener. It has to get better, period.

Last month I wrote that four wins would be a “very successful year” for this particular team, but a goal that is necessary. In my estimation that analysis still holds true.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Five keys for Aggies going into game vs. Ohio

These five factors will determine Saturday's game:

1) NMSU Front 7: Hands down the most important factor of tonight’s game will be how the Aggies front seven — defensive line and linebackers — play against a physical Ohio offensive line and running game. It starts at defensive tackle and the NMSU line as a whole — the Aggies need to create some penetration, tie up the Ohio linemen and allow the linebackers freedom to make plays on the ballcarrier.

2) A good start: The Aggies want to play competitive football in 2011 and getting off to a good start in their game against Ohio is important. NMSU has to be the aggressors out of the gate and not fall in an early hole. The faster they do that, the better of they'll be.

3) Matching Ohio's physicality: We can say this much about the Bobcats — they're going to be a physical football team under head coach Frank Solich. It starts on offense, where Ohio will look to run the football behind its skilled line. The Aggies will need to match that physicality and do some of the pushing if they expect to defeat the Bobcats.

4) The young quarterbacks: Sophomore quarterbacks will take center stage in tonight's game, when NMSU's Andrew Manley squares off against Ohio's Tyler Tettleton. The Bobcats offense could look slightly different this year — Tettleton is more your classic drop-back passer, meaning the run-option could be less utilized by the team in 2011. As for Manley, his potential is undeniable — a big player with a strong arm. If he plays at a high level on a consistent basis, the Aggie offense should be the best its been during the three-year DeWayne Walker era.

5) 21: This is the magic number for the Aggie defense. Hold Ohio to 21 points, and NMSU has enough offensive firepower — particularly against a questionable Ohio defense — to come out on top. But keeping the Bobcats to such a threshold won't be easy — Ohio has plenty of offensive weapons as well, and it's not as if the Aggie defense doesn't have holes of its own.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Scouting the Ohio Bobcats

We take a look at the Aggies' Saturday opponent....

Who: Ohio University

From: Athens, Ohio and the Mid-American Conference

Recent history: The Bobcats have gone to bowl games the past two seasons — the New Orleans Bowl last year and the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2009. After not going to a bowl game since 1968, the team has been to three since 2006. Head coach Frank Solich enters his seventh season with the team and holds a 58-19 record at Ohio.

What should Aggie fans expect from Ohio?: A gritty football team. Solich followed in the footsteps of legendary coach Tom Osborne at Nebraska before joining Ohio in 2005. The Bobcats will spread the field and have been known to run the option — although that philosophy could change with the emergence of redshirt sophomore Tyler Tettleton at quarterback.

The team is led by a strong offensive line and talent at the receivers and running backs positions.

Defensively, Ohio has questions with just four returning starters from last year back in the fold. The Aggie offense looks to be improved, with more talent and a new coordinator in Doug Martin. Expect points to be scored on both sides of the field in this one.

Familiar faces: Martin was the head coach at Kent State — another Mid-American team — for seven years before joining NMSU this past March. Last year Kent upset Ohio 28-6 in the season finale and Martin's team's notoriously had success against the Bobcats, going 4-3 vs. Ohio during his tenure with the Golden Flashes. Don't be surprised if NMSU attacks Ohio in the downfield passing game, as the Bobcats aren't afraid to go man-to-man on opposing receivers outside.

Ohio has some former Aggie assistants on its coaching staff — co-offensive coordinator Gerry Gdowski and offensive line coach Kevin Lightner. Both worked at NMSU under Tony Samuel — Gdowski from 1997-2004 and Lightner from 2002-03.

No. 1 key vs. Ohio

What is it? Stopping the Bobcats rushing attack, of course. That means the NMSU front-seven will need to be on top of its game.

Ohio is going to come out on Saturday and look to take it right at the Aggies with a physical offensive line and a physical rushing attack.

NMSU is going to need their defensive linemen to play well — starting with their interior tackles. The starting defensive tackles will be David Mahoney and DeJuan Yates, and they’re backed up by Walton Taumoepeau and Mark Brown. The line will need to generate penetration and tie up Ohio’s offensive linemen, which will free up the NMSU linebackers to make plays on the ball carrier.

There are a handful of important factors to this game: NMSU getting off to a good start; the play of the sophomore quarterbacks; the Aggies holding Ohio somewhere in the neighborhood of 21 to 24 points; the overall physical nature of the contest.

But the No. 1 key will be the play of the NMSU defensive front seven.

Follow me on Twitter at @TeddyFeinberg

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Position-by-position breakdown: secondary

We continue previewing the Aggie football team with a look at the NMSU secondary. Other position links below...

Quaterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Offensive line; Defensive line; linebackers

Secondary

The Aggies lose their best player from a season ago, as cornerback Davon House was selected in the fourth round by the Green Bay Packers in the NFL Draft.

Jonte Green, the other starting corner from 2010, needs to bounce back from a down junior season. Green has the physical ability to be an elite cornerback in the conference — standing at 6-foot, 184 pounds and a running with a short stride. If he reaches his potential he will be the team’s No. 1 cornerback.

Junior college transfer Jeremy Harris has the ability to cover an opposing receiver and could well start on the other side.

Sophomore Darien Johnson, junior college transfer Jeremy Harris and UCLA transfer Courtney Viney are all expected to push for playing time at corner.

Viney is listed as the Week 1 starter against Ohio University.

The starting safeties are Donyae Coleman — last season’s leading tackler — and Ben Bradley, who missed all of last season with an injured knee.

George Callendar is also expected to get snaps in the defensive backfield.

Morrison could be out for year

New Mexico State Aggies head football coach DeWayne Walker said running back Germi Morrison could miss the 2011 season with a right ankle injury.

Morrison, who came to NMSU from Los Angeles Valley College, was expected to help the NMSU offense this season, although has not practiced with the team at all during fall camp.

The Aggie depth chart has Robert Clay as the starter, with Victor Johnson — a 5-foot-11, 223 pound back — listed at No. 2.

Despite Morrison not practicing with the team, the possible loss of him would hurt considering teams spend scholarships on junior college running backs expecting them to contribute right off the bat.