Saturday, August 31, 2013

ANALYSIS: Setting expectations for the Aggies, heading into their season opener at Texas

Like any college football game, the New Mexico State Aggies and Texas Longhorns will both take the field Saturday with the intensions of winning.

There's no other way to approach it, from a coaching and/or playing standpoint.

But there's also no need for delusions. The Aggies are playing a great football team - the No. 15-ranked club in the preseason polls - and are 42-point underdogs. Texas head coach Mack Brown is entering his 16th year in charge of the Longhorns, and it's a big season for the program, which returns an abundance of starters on both sides of the ball.

In other words, this could be the toughest test for the Aggies throughout their 2013 independent schedule.

But that doesn't mean there aren't storylines to watch entering the game, and that the Aggies don't have a chance to play well.

For now, we'll take a look at what's in store for the team this weekend, as it gets ready to embark on the 2013 season:

Find their identity: Lets get it out of the way - we want to see the Aggies play hard and compete. First-year head coach Doug Martin spoke throughout fall training camp about how he wants his team to take the field in 2013. That is, an up-tempo approach - Martin said his team will rarely if ever huddle offensively - that plays fast and physical; and a defense that can force more turnovers. Other things that can be gauged in Week 1: How do the Aggies play as a team and stick together? What's their attitude and swagger to start a brand-new season? And how will they look as they unveil new offensive and defensive schemes to start the new year?

New offense, new defense: Last year the Aggie offense went nowhere fast, and simply seeing a more disciplined, balanced outfit that can muster a couple scores tonight would be a step in the right direction. As Martin said, expect the team to play an up-tempo style, with a varied offense that will utilize the quarterback-option run game. Andrew McDonald will start at quarterback, but expect true freshman King Davis III to get in early and cut his teeth against a top-ranked team. Defensively, the Aggies would like to create more turnovers this season. They'll run a 3-4 defense that will bring the blitz more frequently, while playing more zone coverages in the defensive secondary. One area of concern entering tonight's contest is rush defense, with Texas returning starters across it's offensive line as well as it's three top running backs from a season ago (sophomore Johnathan Gray, junior Malcolm Brown and junior Joe Bergeron). Look for Longhorns to try and establish the run game early and often.

Play within themselves: If Texas flat-out beats New Mexico State, then fine. What the Aggies can't do is beat themselves in the form of turnovers, untimely penalties, poor special teams play and an abundance of big plays surrendered on defense. Good execution and smart, common-sense football would be a good place to start in this one. After that, let the chips fall where they may on the scoreboard.

Get home healthy: Football players and coaching staffs would never take the field with this mentality, nor should they. But as followers of the program, the first six weeks for Aggie football will be critical while playing the independent schedule. Opponents during that time are two big-money games at Texas (Saturday) and UCLA (Sept. 21); home games against a BCS program Minnesota (Sept. 7) and a quality mid-major team San Diego State (Sept. 28); and annual rivalry games against UTEP (at home, Sept. 14) and New Mexico (in Albuquerque, Oct. 5). If the Aggies can remain relatively intact from health and mental standpoints, some winnable games dot the second-half of the schedule (Abilene Christian, Boston College, Florida Atlantic and Idaho, to name the majority). That's a big 'if' however. Such a journey starts tonight, and if NMSU can get home feeling healthy it could be considered a victory in itself.

Who: New Mexico State at Texas
What: College football season opener
Where: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Radio: KGRT-FM 104; Vista-FM 98.7 (Spanish)
Spread: Aggies +42

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