Run defense: News flash - Minnesota’s going to try and run the ball tonight. It’s simply the Gophers identity, and when you consider they’re on the road against a team that upset them two years ago in Minneapolis, there’s no need to deviate from such a gameplan. The Aggies, on the other hand, were susceptible to the big play last week against Texas. And while the Gophers don’t have the team speed to that of the Longhorns, they have an experienced offensive line from the Big Ten, along with tough-running quarterback Phillip Nelson. Time of possession will be a key stat in this one, if for no other reason than it will tell us just how successful Minnesota is at executing such a gameplan. With that, holding up against the Gophers rushing attack will be the Aggies’ No. 1 key going into the contest.
Protect ball, finish drives: NMSU figures to move the ball with some success tonight against the Gophers. Last week the Aggie offense had it’s moments against Texas, and expect the team to attack in similar fashion against Minnesota - in the short-to-intermediate passing zones, utilizing quarterback Andrew McDonald and a collection of wide receivers. One thing the Aggies can’t do is turn the ball over (they had three such mishaps last week against Texas, all coming with the team moving the ball). If NMSU holds onto the football, and punches it into the end zone when opportunities present themselves, the team should at least be competitive.
Establishing a rushing attack: The Aggies didn’t get their ground game going against the Longhorns, and to a degree it was expected. Still, they need to achieve balance and get running back Germi Morrison going out of the offensive backfield. Again, time of possession is a stat the Aggies need to win tonight, and no better way to do it than getting their ground game up to speed.
Special teams: Minnesota did plenty of damage last week in this area, scoring separate touchdowns on a kick return and then a blocked field goal during their 51-23 win over UNLV. Aggie special teams played well enough Week 1 against Texas (head coach Doug Martin is coordinating that unit in 2013). This will be an area both teams will look to capitalize on going into the evening, and a spot the Aggies can’t afford to give away points.
Play smart, play to win: During his weekly press conference, NMSU head coach Doug Martin said there were no more moral victories for the Aggie program. Bold words, and perhaps true. Yet if that’s the case, the Aggies need to play a fine football game tonight - again, the defense must step up, the offense must finish drives, and the team will need to be consistent across the board in all phases. Last week the team tried an onside kick to start the second half, and perhaps another trick play or two will be in the offing against the Gophers. Minnesota is a better team than it was two years ago - that goes without being said, as the Gophers played in a bowl game in 2012. While an NMSU win here will be a tall order, it would also do wonders for the Aggie program, particularly heading into their home rivalry contest next week against UTEP.
Prediction: Minnesota 38, NMSU 24
IF YOU GO
Who: Minnesota (1-0) at New Mexico State (0-1)
What: College football game, Week 2
Where: Aggie Memorial Stadium, Las Cruces
When: Saturday, 6:05 p.m.
TV: AggieVision, Comcast channel 4
Radio: KGRT-FM 104; Vista-FM 98.7 (Spanish)
Spread: NMSU +16
Weather: Mostly sunny, high in the low 90s