Five keys to Thursday night's 6 p.m. college football season opener between New Mexico State and Sacramento State:
• Mystery team: Sacramento State is a tough group to get a handle on. They’re breaking in a new starting offensive backfield, and have a first-year coordinator (Paul Peterson came on board this past offseason from Southern Utah). The Football Championship Subdivision program won at Oregon State last season — a certifiable shocker in Week 1 — but finished the year with a 4-7 record. Do the Hornets have enough weapons offensively to make an impact? A mystery team for the Aggies heading into Week 1.
• Shutdown ’D: OK, so the Aggies brought in a new defensive coordinator in David Elson, and Walker figures to have a bigger hand in gameplanning that side of the ball in 2012. Lets see the results Week 1 against a Hornets team starting a brand-new offensive backfield. The Aggies' strength figures to be their defensive front-seven, while they’re breaking in four starters in the secondary. How that defensive backfield covers the deep ball, and tackles as a whole (last year’s back-four was adept at bringing down the ballcarrier) will be areas to look for in the season opener.
• Offensive consistency: Can the team be effective in a downhill rushing attack? NMSU says it wants to run the ball more in 2012, and now’s its chance. Also, will quarterback Andrew Manley be able to stand tall in the pocket? All eyes will be on the offensive line’s ability to open holes in the running game and protect their signal caller. Somewhere in the ballpark of 350 to 400 yards of total offense would signify an efficient Week 1 performance for the Aggie offense.
• How does Manley look?: Sophomore quarterback Andrew Manley will see his first action in nearly a year, after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee during an early-season loss to UTEP last season. We know what Manley’s capable of when he’s protected — simply put, the kid can throw the deep ball and can be a difference maker. But how will he look when flushed out of the pocket, or when he takes his first big hit?
• A convincing performance: Do the Aggies have to dominate this game? That’s a strong word, and tough question to answer. But they do need to put together a solid performance. This is a team that’s rarely victorious in blowout fashion (their largest margin of victory under head coach DeWayne Walker was 14 points last year against New Mexico). Just putting together a thorough performance and winning in healthy fashion could bode well going forward. With that being said, simply winning remains the most important goal.
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