Saturday, November 23, 2013

To win down stretch, Aggies must play well in all phases

Can the New Mexico State Aggies win a game or two to wrap up the 2013 college football season? It’s certainly not out of the question.

The team travels to Florida Atlantic this Saturday for a 1 p.m. game against the Owls. They then host Idaho to close the year on Nov. 30 at Aggie Memorial Stadium.

Looking at the immediate future, a win over FAU would in fact be an upset. The Owls are 22-point favorites, and aren’t a bad football team. FAU sits at 4-6 (two wins away from being bowl eligible) and have competed against some quality teams. Two of Florida Atlantic’s losses came to Miami (34-6) and Auburn (45-10). The Owls played Rice tough, losing 18-14 on the road in Houston (NMSU fell to the Owls earlier this season 45-19).

Granted, the Aggies are playing better of late, at least offensively. The team’s scored 34, 35 and 34 points in consecutive weeks, and have looked like an entirely different unit in the process.

But the real key if the Aggies want to find success in the win column to close out 2013? That would be improved play in two areas that have struggled mightily this season: defense and special teams.

Defensively, we’ve understood the Aggies deficiencies since the beginning of the season. That would be stopping the run, as the team’s given up 312 yards per game rushing this season and, in turn, 46 points per contest. It’s just very hard to win with those types of numbers. The Aggies could score 30 to 40 points all they want, and it wouldn’t matter if the defense can’t keep the opposing team off the scoreboard. At least getting some key stops in the fourth quarter, come crunch time, would be a plus. If they do that in the final two weeks, the Aggies might have a shot at victory.

In terms of special teams, the kicking game’s been fine. Brock Baca’s been adequate on kickoffs, and the team has a strong punter in Cayle Chapman-Brown. Placekicker Maxwell Johnson’s done the job on field goals.

But the coverage units have been an issue this season. This is an area the Aggies can’t afford to lose and, frankly at this stage of the program’s development, must win in order to to pull off a couple upsets here and there on the schedule. There’s been too many breakdowns and big plays given up in this department, as well as some touchdowns surrendered.

Yes, the Aggies can beat the Owls and/or the Vandals. That is, if the offense continues producing at its recent level, while the defense and special teams pick up their level of play to close out the season. Until then, it’s tough to win when two-thirds of a team is struggling.

“That’s the only we can win,” head coach Doug Martin said. “We’re not good enough in any area just to win on offense or on defense. We’ve got to play well in all three phases. If we do that, we’ve got a chance in both those games.”

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