Sunday, September 16, 2012
Racapping NMSU's loss at UTEP
New Mexico State's 41-28 loss at UTEP was disappointing, just for the fact of how the Aggies came out and played in the first half.
We knew UTEP was the better team and they proved it. We also knew they would come out FIRED UP for the game and NMSU would need to handle that early barrage to be competitive. And the Aggies didn't handle it well. Simply put, everything that couldn't happen for the Aggies in hopes of a win, did happen.
NMSU was poor in all phases of the game in the opening two quarters — their only good looking performer was punter Cayle Chapman-Brown. Not what you want.
UTEP scored on its first four possessions of the football game. The Aggies didn't tackle well defensively and UTEP gained big yards on the ground early. On some Miners runs there wasn't an Aggie in sight and big gains followed.
Concerned about the Miners rushing attack, NMSU brought a safety closer to the line of scrimmage and, in turn, moved their cornerbacks off the line in pass coverage. Here's why: NMSU wanted to prevent the Miners big-play ability and counter-act the team's speed at wide receiver. But such a tactic also conceded 10 yards in coverage and UTEP took advantage of the first-half gameplan. While the Miners dinked and dunked their way to first downs, NMSU was slow to adjust.
Easily the most frustrating play came with the ball at the Aggie 32-yard line, when officials threw flags as the Miners snapped the ball. NMSU's defensive backs either assumed it was a false start on UTEP or thought they heard a whistle during the sequence, and stopped playing. Quarterback Nick Lamaison obliged by throwing to a wide open Jordan Leslie in the end zone for a touchdown as UTEP went ahead 20-0. No real excuse for the play right there.
It was simply too easy for the Miners throughout the first quarter and, with NMSU down 20-0, it's just too big a blow for many teams to recover from.
And lets not act like the offense was exempt from the debacle.
UTEP changed nothing from a season ago when defending NMSU and their gameplan worked again. They blitzed quarterback Andrew Manley and forced the Aggies to take advantage, which they couldn't.
Manley was hurried and hounded — never a good thing — and looked rushed and uncomfortable. He was inaccurate at times and his statistics (290 passing yards, three touchdowns) were deceiving. Of course he threw some nice balls, but he also had a number of passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.
The Aggies need to revamp some things offensively because right now they appear too easy to defend. They throw the deep pass well, that's it. To execute, Manley needs elite protection and the line can struggle. Their short-to-intermediate passing game still needs work. One tight end caught a pass last night — the first reception from the unit this year — when Perris Scoggins made a 25-yard reception on a well-executed play. They actually did try the running-back screen-passing game, although could also incorporate the draw-run more often.
The team did run the ball better in the second half. At times they went to a two-running back formation with Manley in shotgun and using H-back David Quiroga as a blocker. They had 13 carries for 64 yards in the third quarter with the game still somewhat competitive. Perhaps something to build off going into next weekend's home game against New Mexico.
To the Aggies credit they came out and played better in the third quarter.
First off, down 27-7 at halftime was somewhat of an accomplishment. Again, NMSU was trailing 20-0 after the first quarter and the deficit at intermission felt closer to five touchdowns than just under three.
The line of thinking at half: The Aggies played very poorly yet were down just 20. A couple third-quarter scores, hold UTEP to zero points, and enter the fourth quarter within striking distance.
NMSU came out of the locker room and I liked what I saw: the team did stretching and calisthenics before the third quarter began. In a sense, it looked as if they wanted a fresh mindset entering the period, and also a change of pace in an attempt to correct their third-quarter struggles from the first two games of the year.
An early touchdown to start the third followed, with the Aggies driving 61 yards on seven plays, culminated by Tiger Powell's 1-yard TD run to make the score 27-14.
If the Aggies get a stop following the sequence, get the ball back and put another scoring drive together they would be in business.
But it didn't happen. They would give up a long kick return to midfield and then Lamaison hit Leslie for a 34-yard gain to the Aggie 20. The play was originally ruled incomplete on the sideline, then was overturned. UTEP would eventually score a touchdown on the possession and that was just about it. Two big plays in the football game.
How important is next weekend's Aggie football game against New Mexico? Huge. Another way to look at it: as NMSU's season.
The Aggies host the Lobos, then play host Texas-San Antonio before visiting Idaho. It's not far-fetched to say the Aggies need to win all three of these games to keep bowl hopes alive before the schedule's second half gets considerably tougher. If they lose to UNM? Don't even go there.
An early look at the game says the Aggies should hold an advantage on the Lobos pass defense. As stated before, Manley can throw the deep ball and the Aggie wide receivers should have an edge on the UNM defensive backs.
But make no mistake, New Mexico will enter with the same mindset as NMSU: that this is a game their team needs to have on their win record.
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