Sunday, October 14, 2012
Recapping and forecasting the Aggies 2012 football season to this point and beyond
The New Mexico State Aggies are 1-5, and currently enjoying their bye week during the college football season.
What can the team work on during its time off? Better yet, what do they not need to work on?
Punter Cayle Chapman-Brown has been a standout for NMSU in 2012. At the wide receiver position, Austin Franklin and Kemonte Bateman have been playmakers for the team. Other than that, the season's been a disappointment on a handful of number of levels.
And no, it's not necessarily about wins and losses at this point. The Aggies schedule gets considerably harder from here on out (games against WAC foes Utah State, Louisiana Tech and San Jose State will be tough; a big-money road game at Auburn and a home contest against a very solid BYU team also figure to be chief challenges). No, it's about making team improvements going forward.
A look at what the Aggies could do — or attempt to do — going into the season's second half.
Offensive line: This is a unit that lost three starters from a season ago (center Mike Grady, guard Sioeli Fakalata and tackle Aundre McGaskey) and its position coach (Jason Lenzmeier went to the University of New Mexico this past offseason).
That, and the running game hasn't been nearly as variant as last year, when the team had Matt Christian and Kenny Turner operating the speed option (such mobile pieces in the backfield and the ability to run misdirection helped the offensive line find its footing).
Simply put, without the above factors in service this year's offensive front has struggled.
The Aggies can't run the ball in 2012 (185 carries for 514 yards, a 2.8 yards per carry average) which has made them unbalanced; in turn, they have struggled protecting for drop-back quarterback Andrew Manley. False start penalties have also been in abundance this season, which just finished its sixth week.
What can be done to correct these issues? Good question.
The team is committed to Manley as its starter and, with that, the offensive scheme doesn't figure to change much: a deep-ball passing game and a north-south rushing attack should be the norm.
Head coach DeWayne Walker indicated there could be some personnel moves up front to try and jump-start things. That could work. But we'll continue to ask the question: Will New Mexico State ever have a dominant enough offensive line to block in a straight-ahead, between-the-tackles rushing offense? Opening up the offense and being creative in the running game might be the better alternative instead of trying to jam a square peg into a round hole.
Quarterbacks: Again, the team remains committed to Manley and that's their prerogative. In truth, the quarterback hasn't gotten enough help in the form of a running game (as mentioned above), pass protection and perhaps overall tutelage at the position. He's also a young player and still needs work in terms of reading defenses and pocket mobility.
With that, could the Aggies incorporate sophomore Travaughn Colwell more? One would think.
He's a player that could be featured on different levels of the offense — as a dual-threat quarterback, as a runner that can get outside the pocket and as an overall athlete with a quarterback's pedigree. Put in a package and give him a chance to showcase his running ability some more. He hasn't been bad in that particular role thus far.
For those clamoring for junior college transfer Andrew McDonald to get some snaps in the season's second half, don't hold your breath. Considering he hasn't played to this point despite the offense's struggles, it wouldn't seem likely he'll get a look down the stretch. An odd move for a 1-5 team that, frankly, should be turning over any stone possible for production.
Finding leadership and identity: Last year this team had some gritty locker-room leaders. We talked about the losses on the offensive line. Also at quarterback and running back (Christian and Turner), wide receiver (Taveon Rogers, Todd Lee) and defensively in the secondary (Donyae Coleman, Ben Bradley, Courtney Viney and Jonte Green). Aside from being good football players, this personnel also gave the Aggies a sense of identity, personality and purpose. Can this year's team develop that late in the season? It seems to have been lacking thus far.
Defensive adjustments: Last week the defense played better against a bad Idaho team. Still, it was an improvement — the unit played well enough for the Aggies to win.
A brand-new unit starting in the defensive backfield has had it's growing pains although safety Davis Cazares leads the WAC with 9.3 tackles per game.
Up front the Aggies blitzed more against the Vandals and it's something that's welcomed. Particularly with junior college transfer Trashaun Nixon, who's shown a knack for it.
Things don't figure to get any easier in the second half of the year when the Aggies play some high-powered offenses down the stretch.
By the numbers
10: Team turnovers for the Aggies over the past three games.
1.1: Average yards per punt return for NMSU — The Aggies have returned eight punts for nine yards this season. They've also had punt-return fumbles back-to-back weeks which killed any momentum generated in separate losses.
4: Assistant coaches that left NMSU during the offseason — both offensive and defensive coordinators, both line coaches. A key, key factor in NMSU's down 2012 season.
17: New starters across the board on the 2012 Aggie football team.
3: Field goal attempts for the Aggies through six games of the season, with Tyler Stampler making two of them.
1: Wins this season not just for the Aggies, but also for their Week 10 opponent Auburn. The Tigers, of the powerhouse Southeastern Conference, hold a 1-5 mark on the year. They host NMSU on Nov. 3.
14: Combined wins for the three top WAC schools remaining on the Aggies schedule. In turn, that trio (Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and Utah State) has combined for just four losses.
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