Monday, October 29, 2012
Recapping the Aggies surprise performance vs. No. 24 Louisiana Tech
The best way to describe New Mexico State's football performance against Louisiana Tech on Saturday? From a defensive standpoint, it was astounding.
For NMSU to give up just 28 points? Against a team averaging 56 points per game on the season; against a team that scored under 50 points just once all year (when it tallied 44 against Virginia); against a team that dropped 57 points on Texas A&M and rang up another 70 and over 800 yards of offense against Idaho? Simply put, the Aggie defense looked like a brand-new unit Saturday evening.
Think about NMSU's early-season contests against the likes of Ohio, UTEP and New Mexico. Games where the unit looked poor in spurts or, frankly, all together in its entirety. On Saturday against Louisiana Tech the secondary covered well while sniffing out the Bulldogs screen-passing game. The defensive front-seven battled against the run and the Aggies tackled much more effectively. Going into the game, many (including this blog) thought a 60- or 70-point outing from Louisiana Tech was more than possible. But a season-low 28-point output? With the way the 2012 season's gone this was a moral victory and, when considering the opponent, the best game NMSU's played this season.
Unfortunately, if the defense has gotten better since it's early-season showing and played well enough to win against the No. 24-ranked team in the country, the offense hasn't made nearly the same strides, if any at all.
On a night when the team was expected to move the chains more effectively and score in the range of four touchdowns — a fair expectation against a defense that surrendered 36 points per game prior Saturday's 6 p.m. kickoff — 14 points (all coming in the fourth quarter with NMSU already trailing 28-0) fell well short of the needed goal for victory.
Not that this is a new development. The Aggies have had underwhelming offenses throughout recent years (last year's Doug Martin stopover being the exception) and Saturday's performance has been the norm this season as well. Frankly, we've been resigned it.
Look no further than the curious handling of the quarterback position, particularly backup Travaughn Colwell: When he's in the game, the sophomore will run the ball out of the shotgun-wildcat formation. For an opposing defense, little guess work is involved, and the pickings look relatively easy. Then, he's put under center on a fourth-and-short play during the third quarter, only to fumble the snap from center. It's one of the few times — perhaps only time — Colwell's been put in such a position this season. Poor timing for such a move.
The use of the tight end continues to puzzle. Trevor Walls makes two nice grabs early, then is seemingly ignored the rest of the game. What ever happened to playing to one of the team's strengths?
And overall the unit continues to shooting itself in the foot — this is the main issue, as NMSU was relatively effective moving the ball Saturday. The first half saw some untimely drops and holding penalties, the second half witnessed three killer turnovers, in some cases with NMSU driving and establishing some momentum. It's been a theme throughout the season.
There were some offensive bright spots: Aside from his third-quarter interception, quarterback Andrew Manley played better. That, and running back Germi Morrison's been reliable, continuing to run hard and catch the football (16 carries, 92 yards; four receptions, 51 yards). Him and the offensive line (which has also played better since the bye week) seem to have generated some threat of a rushing attack.
When considering the above-mentioned factors, Saturday's game was counter-intuitive to many pre-game predictions. Again, the general expectation was for Louisiana Tech to score near its season average, perhaps higher. That, and after moving the ball better last week — despite finishing with just seven points against Utah State — NMSU's offense figured to have a level of success against the Bulldogs. Scores of 7-0 at halftime and the 28-14 final went directly against that pre-determined script.
If the Aggies continue their improvement, they should finish the season pushing a team or two and could grab another win.
One look at this game, and it's not far-fetched to reason Louisiana Tech could be slightly overrated. That, or they just weren't entirely on their game Saturday night.
For starters, they are a fun offense to watch in rhythm and their season statistics are unreal. And it would be naive to think three missed field goals in the first half from Matt Nelson didn't have some negative effect on them and could have boosted the Aggies morale as well.
But, as written on this blog before, Utah State could very well be the more well-rounded club going into the two teams Nov. 17 showdown in Ruston, La., that will most likely determine the WAC championship.
The Aggies go to Auburn this weekend with one of the surprise statistics of the season: Both teams holding identical 1-7 records.
The Tigers are minus-10 in turnover margin this season (same as the Aggies) and start nine freshman and sophomore players on the depth chart, eight juniors and just six seniors.
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