Thursday, August 22, 2013
NMSU football: 5 keys to upcoming season
With New Mexico State’s college football season less than two weeks away, we take a look at five keys entering the new year:
• Survive and advance: Lets just say it - the Aggies are over-scheduled for the 2013 season. With that, keeping the team’s health and confidence intact through the year will be a top priority for the coaching staff and players. There’s some winnable games on the independent docket - Abilene Christian, Idaho, UTEP and Florida Atlantic, to name a few. But the team will need to be ready for such competition once it rolls around, and needs to capitalize if it wants to avoid another one- or two-win season. Not getting beat down physically and mentally by elite competition will be a chief challenge, and key, throughout the 2013 campaign.
• Aggie defense: Spring and fall practices saw the Aggie offense have considerable success running the ball on the NMSU defense. While it does signal an improved attack in 2013, it’s also worth asking: if the Aggies are having trouble containing the run during practice, how will it stop the University of Texas in Week 1? In the secondary, while an experienced group does return, the unit will not be coached by DeWayne Walker and Mike Rutenberg anymore, who now both tutor defensive backs for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. The entire Aggie defense will be tested throughout the season, and it at least needs to be a respectable unit that can keep the team in games.
• Aggie offense: NMSU is implementing a new offensive scheme as well, albeit one that appears to be improved from recent years. The quarterback-option run game is a focal point, and with that the rushing attack and offensive line has looked better during spring and August practices. Such a performance will need to transfer over into the season, however. If the quarterbacks fit the scheme well, and the Aggies can generate a more balanced offense with a productive ground game, the team might be able to win some time-of-possession battles, which would provide a nice boost. That and, of course, NMSU can’t afford to turn to football over to the opposition.
• Special teams: The Aggies at least seem adequate in the kicking game. Punter Cayle Chapman-Brown was a good player for NMSU in 2012, and the team plans on having Maxwell Johnson as place kicker and Brock Boca handling kickoff duties. Who’ll handle punt returns? That’s an entirely different question, although the Aggies need to find someone to fill the role. Last year the team averaged just 1.2 yards per return, which ranked No. 119 our of 120 FBS teams. As said numerous times, the Aggies need to be better in the special team’s department if they want to field a better team. One thing to watch: head coach Doug Martin will be coordinating such units in 2013, so hopefully an uptick in production will follow.
• The 2014 season: In many respects, this upcoming campaign is as much about the future as it is the present. After playing an independent schedule in 2013, the Aggies will move into the Sun Belt Conference as a football-only member in 2014, a more suitable fit for the program to begin with. The hope is that in the Sun Belt, NMSU will have a shot at a .500 season (even if that particular conference is considerably improved from years past as well). That means this year could be used as much as a spring board than anything else. If the Aggies can pocket a handful of wins and be competitive in some other contests (tall orders nonetheless), it would provide considerable momentum heading into their new league. That, and perhaps the upcoming year will give the program a chance to get young players on the field against quality competition (the coaching staff has already talked about getting true freshman quarterback King Davis III some playing time, and such a sentiment could increase as the 2013 season moves along). In short, as much as the Aggies are playing for today, they’re also playing for tomorrow.
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