(The following piece appeared in Sunday's Las Cruces Sun-News. For our online edition, as well as another weekend story on head coach DeWayne Walker's future at the program, click here.)
There are a number of descriptions for this year’s New Mexico State football season: An unmitigated disaster; one of severe disappointment; one of severe depression. All would suffice.
Talk going into the year was of possible postseason play and a bowl berth. What followed was a 1-11 campaign that saw the Aggies win their first game and remain uncompetitive in every other.
How did it happen, and why? A look back at the Aggies 2012 football season:
How it unfolded
What was overlooked by those who declared NMSU’s 2012 year as one of promise: The loss of key players on both sides of the ball — quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive secondary to name a few key position groupings.
Also, the departure of four assistant coaches, none more glaring than offensive coordinator Doug Martin, a good addition to the Aggies staff last year who got an immediate promotion to Boston College during the offseason (ironically, BC’s head coach Frank Spaziani was relieved of his duties last week, making Martin a possible free agent once again).
In came Jerry McManus, and the Aggie offense never truly got off the ground. Aside from Austin Franklin (who had an impressive year at wide receiver), weapons in the passing game — talented targets such as Kemonte Bateman and Trevor Walls — didn’t hit full potential in terms of production. A run-based offense was, for the most part, grounded (even if mid-year starter Germi Morrison ran tough to provide a bright spot).
The quarterback unit was a microcosm of the year. Starter Andrew Manley never showed real progress — the ability to check down or throw in the short to intermediate passing zones — while sophomore backup Travaughn Colwell played some yet seldom threw (13 pass attempts compared to 31 rushes). Junior college transfer Andrew McDonald came to town only to never see the field (excluding three passes late in a blowout loss at Ohio). Odd, considering he came in as a possible competitor, only to never get a shot at a position of struggle.
Defensively, no need to pretend things were much better. There were lowlights — giving up 20 first-quarter points to UTEP, a defunct gameplan against New Mexico’s option attack — and some positive moments — 28 total points surrendered against high-powered Louisiana Tech and an improved secondary over the season’s duration.
But the final results speak for themselves: 39 points per game surrendered along with 476 yards. Just 11 sacks and nine turnovers forced during the year.
What needs to be done
The first question that must be addressed: Is head coach DeWayne Walker returning to NMSU for his fifth year at the school? The reality is that Walker’s experience here has been a difficult one, while his 10-40 career record is an eyesore and also tough to judge on its own merits.
There have been things surrounding Walker’s tenure that have been positive: The belief that he runs a good program while having good people — players and coaches — a part of it; the team, outside of a week or two during this past season, played hard; attitude and preparation still seemed to be a part of its weekly routine.
What wasn't in place was a passable offense, which has been the case three of the past four years. When there was one, the Aggies finished 4-9 in 2011, could have easily gone 6-7 and there were rays of hope in improvement (which is really all most Aggie fans want at this point anyway). When one hasn't been present, the outfit has struggled simply being competitive.
The point is this: If Walker comes back next year, he needs a good offensive coordinator, because that side of the ball simply isn't his forte. In this era of college football, teams aren’t winning many games 7-6, 14-10 and 17-13. The Aggies aren't, anyway (instead, they're losing by scores closer to 50-14).
Walker talked this year about — really, throughout the past three years he’s addressed — the need for more resources within the program. This has been honest commentary from a frustrated coach. At the end of the day, there also seems to be validity to these statements (Aggie competitors Utah State and San Jose State didn't get better simply because of a resurgence in coaching. These schools have invested money into their programs in recent years, and big-time results have followed).
Walker’s pointed to two areas in which he wants to see an uptick: His team's strength and conditioning program and in recruiting. No doubt important areas of emphasis, but may we add a third?
Get funds for assistant coaches, and hire an offensive coordinator for $150,000 to $200,000 (more the going rate, and well above what the Aggies are paying now). This will mark the fifth coordinator the school's had in five years (a mind-blowing number, which goes directly back to its on-field struggles) but could also attract a proven coach who might stick around for longer than eight months.
Get the unit up to at least an adequate level. We're not suggesting the Aggie defense was remotely close to such a clip in 2012, but maybe with an offense that could move the chains and have some variation in its game, NMSU’s defense could perform at a slightly higher level as well. In turn, you'd have a more adequate team, something the 2012 Aggies were not.
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