Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Quotes from NMSU weekly football press conference

Here’s what head coach Doug Martin and two select players had to say during the Aggies weekly press conference at the NMSU football facility:

Head coach Doug Martin
On facing Louisiana-Lafayette this week?
This week we’ve got a huge challenge at Lafayette. This is the best team in the Sun Belt Conference that we’re going to play. I think there’s a lot of parity in the Sun Belt, except for this team. I think they’re head and shoulders above everybody else, talent-wise. I think what they’ve done facility-wise and what they’re putting into their program, they’ve certainly made a great commitment. And it shows on the field. They’re an excellent, excellent football team. So, we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”

You’re going to be without some people this week?
“Brandon Betancourt, actually. will be for the rest of the season. He’s having surgery today. He has a torn ligament in his foot that will have to be repaired. That’s a loss. He’s really played well and has been very consistent for us.
“Germi Morrison was beat up, was able to come back into the game last week. He’ll be a day-to-day issue, trying to get him healthy for Saturday. He certainly showed a lot of toughness and played hard on Saturday.
“Davis Cazares, don’t know if we’ll have him back. See how he does this week. But I know he still has quite a bit of pain in his foot.”

If Germi gets hurt some more, is it Travaughn (Colwell)?
“You got any eligibility?
“What we have is, Tra Colwell has to work at both places. Backup quarterback in case King can’t go - we’re still waiting to get his issues resolved, which may or may not be - and then we need Tra also to be at the running back position. We have Xavier Hall who came in and played well for us Saturday when he came in. Him and Tra would be the only scholarship running backs, right now, if you want to classify Tra as a running back. We have Marquette Washington, who’s a true-freshman running back who we’re redshirting. We don’t want to burn that redshirt at this late time in the year. We’ll go with Xavier Hall and Tra Colwell and hopefully Germi will be able to go.”

Senior cornerback Cameron Fuller
On his performance last week against Abilene Christian
“I got my first career interception, so that’s real big. I was real excited about that. I was able to make a couple other plays, late in the game. Our coach put us in position and what not, calling certain plays. I was just able to help our team win.”

Is this the best game you played since you got here?
“Yeah. I got an interception....Like I said, just trying to do whatever I can to help win.”

What does the winning do for the guys? What does it do for them mentally?
“It’s definitely a great feeling. We never gave up on ourselves and each other and all that. I feel like that’s why we were able to, at the end of the day, overcome it and kick down a wall and win a game. But it definitely reassured us that we are capable....Compete and go out there and actually finish a game and win. It’s definitely a good boost for our team.”

A morale boost?
“Definitely. You could just see it in the guys around the locker room. Day-to-day, class-to-class, in our faces, our attitudes. We definitely feeling good about the win.”

What are people talking about on campus?
“It’s a good feeling. I have a lot of people in class that come up to me, congratulating me and stuff. Ever since I’ve been here - I’m a JC guy - I’ve been here for two years and I haven’t won a game. This is my second game since the first game of last season. It’s just a real good feeling. To come in and people are patting you on the back and congratulating you. It’s something that we want to keep going.”

And the hunger for the next one? What’s that like?
“It’s that much stronger. We got a little taste of what it’s like to win. We want to come back, that game is over with now. We’re focused on Louisiana this week. We definitely want to take that win and use it as a stepping stone.”

How much of a stepping stone is it to possibly beating Louisiana-Lafayette on the road?
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge. Louisiana is a good team, a good football team. They’ve done a lot this year so far. Watching film on them so far, they’re definitely going to give us a challenge. I just feel like if we go out there and compete, give it our best shot, anything is possible. That’s the general feeling in the locker room. We’re playing for us at this point of the season.”

Sophomore offensive lineman Andy Cunningham
What are you playing this week?
“They have me at tackle.”

And where’s Dada (Richards)?
“They’re working him into the interior now.”

Is Dada ready to go this week?
“Yeah. He played pretty well last week.”

Talk about making that switch from guard to tackle?
“I feel like I’ve done pretty well. The only real difference between playing guard and tackle is, moving out you’re playing against lighter guys. Against Rice and against Abilene, they’re defensive ends average maybe 240, 250. Compared to playing on the inside where, you have the bigger defensive linemen. But, nothing really changed.”

Aren’t you working against more athletic people when you’re out there?
“For the most part, yeah. But, being in the tackle stance and, just switching up my stance, gives me the advantage in the pass protection. When their defense goes and does the run, they’re not as wide. I haven’t really played any wide defensive ends yet. They’ve mainly been tight in their alignment.”

What does it mean for the offensive line when a running back has a game like Germi Morrison had this past week?
“We were ecstatic. When we get a running back up that high in yards, just having him bust through the holes that we make on the offense. We were very proud of that. I don’t know the actual statistic of the rushing yards. But we knew they were pretty high. I think they were around 240, or something. When (offensive line coach Bart Miller) told us that, that was a feather we could put in our hat.”

What’s your attitude going into this next game?
“My attitude’s great. I’m looking forward to it. We’re going out on the road. It’s been a while since we’ve been out on the road. We’re going out there, we’re coming off of this win, even though it was down to the last nine seconds of that game. But, coming out with that win, it’s been a real mood changer for us in the locker room. So, we’re getting into our books, studying film, their formations, their personnel. All that. We’re just gameplanning to the best of our ability.”

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Five keys to Aggies vs. Abilene Christian

We preview tonight's NMSU vs. Abilene Christian football game with our five keys:

Aggie defense: We've been saying it all year and this week is certainly no different. The Aggies need to be able to stop the run first and foremost - they haven't done so throughout the season - if they want to avoid this upset. NMSU should be able to score some points on ACU, although if the Wildcats can score the ball at a frequent rate, it will make this contest a competitive one.

Turnovers: Abilene Christian has been astounding this season in the turnover margin (the team's forced 25 takeaways and have given up the ball just seven times total). Aggie head coach Doug Martin has been harping on turnover margin throughout the 2013 season, and it's never rung more true than entering tonight's contest. For the record, NMSU sits at minus-six in turnover margin (eight interceptions, nine lost fumbles) on the season.

Offensive production: Martin said running back Germi Morrison will return to the lineup after suffering a concussion Oct. 4 against New Mexico. Then again, the head coach told multiple media outlets this week that freshman quarterback King Davis III did in fact suffer a concussion last weekend against Rice, and his status for tonight's game is in question. Either way, scoring four-to-five touchdowns could very well be a realistic goal for an Aggie offense searching to top the 21-point mark for the first time this season.

Fast start, quick finish: The one thing that can't be quantified entering this game is the mental state of both clubs. For the Aggies, the question revolves around the team's confidence following an 0-7 start that saw the program overmatched most weeks at the outset of its independent schedule. Abilene Christian, on the other hand, will be ready to play - a game the Wildcats likely feel they can win, and their first contest against an FBS opponent since 1980 (a 41-0 defeat at Hawaii). In NMSU's case, jumping on the Wildcats early and putting the game away before the fourth quarter would be the ideal scenario. If for no other reason, it wouldn't allow thoughts of an upset to set in, and possibly linger.

The lines of scrimmage: You can say this just about any game, although it might have extra emphasis going into tonight. In truth, we don't know how these teams match up, simply because there's nothing close to a common opponent on the respective schedules. NMSU has to control Abilene Christian's offensive and defensive lines - pressuring the quarterback and containing the run, while protecting their signal caller and establishing a ground of of their own - to assure itself of victory.

Aggies need a win, and need to get it Saturday

If the New Mexico State Aggies were to play in a football game where on paper they should win, this would be the one.

Or, perhaps more accurately, this has to be the one.

While the term 'must-win game' is an over-used cliche, tonight's contest against Abilene Christian is certainly one the Aggies can't afford to lose.

Not after an 0-7 start to the 2013 season; compounded by an 18-game losing streak (which is tied with Southern Mississippi for the nation's longest); and not against a former Division II program making the transition to the Football Championship Subdivision, on homecoming Saturday.

What would the critics say - those who believe the Aggies would be better served themselves in a lower football division - if the team can't pull out a victory tonight? Clearly they would gather further ammunition, and such barks would grow louder.

But such a storyline is also removed from those voices. The university, still, doesn't seem close to dropping football from it's current level.

In truth, the Aggies just need the win, because they need a win.

This is a team that hasn't tasted victory since last August, in the their 2012 season-opener against Sacramento State. That's a long time to go without such a feeling - for players, for fans, for coaches.

On paper, one would figure the Aggies should be favored by two touchdowns. It's not a knock on Abilene Christian, just a fact: NMSU plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision, while ACU - at the moment - is a low-end Football Championship Subdivision program. While the Aggies have played power teams such as UCLA, Texas, Minnesota, Rice and San Diego State (in most cases, insurmountable opponents this season), Abilene Christian has wins against the likes of Concordia, McMurry, New Mexico Highlands, Houston Baptist and Incarnate Word.

Then again, such a point spread wouldn't factor in the mental component and preparation leading up to such a game. For the Aggies, that would be battling fragile confidence, while Abilene Christian will take the field ready to play, against an FBS team they'll believe they can compete with, or possibly beat.

It's certainly an intriguing angle for what would ordinarily be a game few would recognize. A dogfight wouldn't surprise many.

But is it a must-win game for the home team?

If the Aggies want to snap their current losing streak, than yes. And if they want to avoid a winless 2013 season, than it very well could be as well.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Quotes from NMSU's weekly football press conference

Here’s what head coach Doug Martin and select players had to say during the Aggies weekly press conference at the NMSU football facility:

Doug Martin
On last week’s game against Rice and looking ahead to Abilene Christian this Saturday
“Our same Achilles heels are biting us. We’re not stopping the run on defense and that makes things really tough on you when teams can run the ball that effectively. Whether that’s a talent issue, scheme issue, whatever that is, that’s our worst problem on defense right now. And we’ve got to find a way to get that fixed if we’re going to win some games down the stretch. And especially this week.
“The other part offensively, our main problem is the consistency of the quarterback play. I’ve said all along, you can watch any mid-major program, especially, across the country, the ones that are winning have really good quarterback play. Those (players) make plays and make the guys around them better. We just haven’t been able to get that this year. We’re doing the best we (can) with what we have here right now. Obviously, we’ve got to recruit and get some guys in here that can compete for that job and make us better on that side of the ball. Until we get those things cleared up - run defense on the defensive side and the quarterback position - it’s going to be a struggle.
“I told our team, you better be ready to play some football. I know the impression about I-AA and all that stuff, these guys play winning football. They’re, like, plus-16 in the turnover margin, which is extrordinary. The quarterback’s thrown 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions. I think their defense has caused 23 turnovers for the season, which is remarkeable. They’ve got players. They’ve got guys that can play here. It will be a tough task for us to get this win. We better bring our big-boy pads.”

On winning first game of season and snapping 18-game losing streak
“I think that’s big for the players. I wasn’t here last year so I didn’t go through all of that. But it certainly would help the coaches sleep better, I’m sure. And would make the players feel a lot better. I think they carry that around probably more than I do right now. I’m just so involved in the process of putting the program together, that I just kind of stay right there. I don’t worry about what’s happened in the past and all that type of stuff. But I think it would be big for our team. And our guys are working hard, they’re competing, they’re doing all the right things. It’d be nice to see them get rewarded for that. They need to get a taste of winning so they can understand what that feels like and hopefully get a hunger for it to want it again.”

How does this game compare as a winnable game to your season so far?
“I think a lot of games have been winnable for us if we don’t beat ourselves. Like we did (against) UTEP and San Diego State and we had winnable games there. This one is right along those type of games. But, again, we’re going to have to play really well. We’ve got to win the turnover margin or we will not win this football game. I know that for a fact. And the rest of it’s about guys making plays. We’re playing a good football team.”

Does the confidence level change when the opponent is not Texas or UCLA?
“You’d probably ask the players that. I’m not sure. It doesn’t change with me as a coach. I understand, they’ve got scholarships too. And we do not have a full 85 scholarships right now. We’re at 76, and I think I-AA has 64 so there’s not a lot of difference in the amount of scholarships that both of us have going into this game. That’s one of our recruiting profiles that we’ve got to change. There’s not a lot of difference in my mind.”

What would a win do for confidence?
“Winning certainly helps your confidence. But I tell our players all the time, when you’re prepared you’re confident. It doesn’t just come from winning. I think it would certainly help us to learn how to win football games. We’ve got to learn that you’ve got to raise your level of play on game day. We do things in practice really well, and then all of a sudden we get to a game and we drop a punt, we drop a snap on an extra point. That stuff never happens in practice, it only happens in a game. Which means either guys can’t handle the pressure of playing in a game or they’re not prepared mentally, emotionally to play a game. Those are things that losing teams do that you have to transition it into winning. And you either do that by changing your roster or the guys that are here change their mentality.”

How do you feel about your offensive line’s performance?
“I think we’ve been pretty good in the offensive line. We had a couple of games where I didn’t think we played as well as we could. The Rice game, I didn’t think we played as well as we could. We didn’t protect the passer as well. We ran the ball pretty effectively. We did some good things there. And we have guys who are playing really well. Abe Holland had his first start and I really liked what I saw from him. He played physical, he took their best defensive lineman and put him on his back a couple times. He made some mistakes. It was the first game he started. But, you know, another New Mexico kid that’s stepped in here and played really well for us.”

Could you expand on some other guys you believe played well?
“I think Ume’s played pretty well for most of the year. Again, I think Abe Holland’s played well, Cunningham’s played pretty well for us. Dada was playing well till he got the ankle rolled and didn’t play this past week. Overall, we’ve been pretty good there.”

With Laudermill and Cazares, how did they heal up? And, of course, King. How are they all?
“It’s a little bit of a mash unit right now. Cazares, we got a good report back. His X-Rays were nagative so he doesn’t have anything broken or anything like that. He probably has a pretty good bone bruise in his ankle. Those are painful. He’s one of the toughest kids I’ve been around in 28 years of coaching. If he can play, he’ll play. But that’s going to be kind of a day-to-day deal, see how he can do. Of course, at his position, you’ve got to be able to move and change direction and all those types of things. If anybody can do it, it’d be him. I wish I had about 40 of him. We’d be winning a lot of football games. And that’s what we’re out after, to get guys like him.
“King is a day-to-day issue. He won’t practice today. We’ll see how he does as the week goes on. Laudermill had a neck stinger type of thing. His MRI’s came back positive, it didn’t have any permanent damage any of those types of things. Again, he’ll probably be a day-to-day decision.”

Did King suffer a concussion or having concussion symptoms?
“We’re not giving out those information, specifics of that. He’ll be evaluated day-to-day.”

With their scholarships, can they split those up?
“Some I-AA programs do that. They can give you just tuition, or just books, or whatever it is, and split the scholarship up. You can’t do that at the I-A level...I coached at that level and I know how all that works and everything. The thing I would say is this: Any time you play a team from Texas, you better load it up. Because they’ve got players. They are all from the state of Texas. And their is outstanding high school football, and there’s a lot more scholarship football players in Texas than there are schools. A lot of these guys that are playing for them could play anywhere in the Sun Belt or the Mountain West or any other conference. I watched the film. There’s a couple of those guys I’d love to recruit. They’ve got a good football team.”

Valerian Ume-Ezeoke, offensive lineman
Your performance last week against Rice?
“I played pretty well. When you’re not winning in the win column, then I didn’t do enough. I would say I didn’t do enough. Because, if I did enough, if everybody did enough, we’d have a win in the win column.”

How do they look defensively, in relation to the teams the Aggies have played. Primarily the people you’d be working against, the defensive line?
“I’m not going to downgrade them. They’re a smaller group of defensive linemen and defensive front. But they’re very gap-sound, disciplined and they know how to get to the ball. They’re players and they’re on scholarship too. They’re going to come out and try to play their hearts out.”

What do you think a win would mean for the program?
“It would be huge. We’ve been having a drought ever since last year. Just getting that win would be a great thing to the players, the coaching staff who’s really deserving....Just getting that win would be really, really nice.”

Is the team lacking confidence right now at all?
“No, you can come out and watch practice every week, we come out and practice our heart out. We just know that it only takes one. Once that win comes, it’s going to start rolling. We just come out and try to play our heart out, practice our heart out every time. We know it’s going to come.”

How much better has the offensive line played this year compared to last year?
“Last year we totaled about 42 sacks. And this year, the O-line has only given up nine. Which is a huge difference since last year. We averaged about 120 yards last game, rushing. I feel like we’re a better offensive line this year. We’re better disciplined, we’re more disciplined. We’re more physical....I feel like the O-line play this year’s a lot better.”

How much has the scheme helped improve the unit’s performance?
“You’re not as predictable, you don’t know if the quarterback’s going to have the ball or the running back’s going to have the ball. Just being unpredictable. The spread offense, also, we can throw the ball and we can run the ball. (It) definitely helps the O-line because, nobody knows what we’re going to do. That’s a big difference.”

Adam Shapiro
When you look at the schedule, how would you characterize this as a winnable game compared to what you’ve had on your schedule?
“You could obviously say that some of the teams that we’ve played this year are on a difference caliber than Abilene. At the same time, they’re still a good team and we’ve played a lot of good teams this year. Just got to go out there and take it like as one of the other games that we’ve had and keep playing.”

Does the streak that you’ve gone through mean anything in a negative way, where the team gets down? Or is it truly one game at a time?
“I think everyone’s just trying to take it one game at a time. I don’t know if anybody’s thinking about the loss streak or anything like that.”

Saturday, October 19, 2013

5 keys to Aggies vs. Owls

We take a look at tonight's New Mexico State vs. Rice football game, beginning at 6 p.m. at Aggie Memorial Stadium:

Coming off a bye: This is one thing the Aggies have going for them against a heavily favored Rice team. Having two weeks to prepare is a big plus, and it will be interesting to see if the Aggies implement any new wrinkles into their gameplan. Some defensive adjustments have been made — safety George Callender has been moved to outside linebacker, while Trashaun Nixon has slid to middle linebacker — in an effort to get more speed on the field. Head coach Doug Martin also talked about opening up competition at every position and having possible movement on the depth chart during the off week. Perhaps some further personnel changes will unfold, and new players could get an opportunity to step up.

The 0-6 Aggies: NMSU is still looking for its first win of the 2013 season and is riding a 17-game losing streak. While the team will have its hands full against Rice (the Owls hold a 4-2 record and have the look of a quality club) NMSU does welcome in Abilene Christian next week. Will the skid end soon? One or two wins would make a difference for everyone involved. If the team beat, say, UTEP in Week 3 of this season, for instance, the mood could be much different at this point of the season.

Control the ball: Perhaps the best chance the Aggies have at competing tonight is by having a ball-controlled offense, and in turn using the clock to their advantage. Establishing an effective running game and throwing to the short-to-intermediate zones in the passing attack would allow the Aggies to at least have a chance in the time-of-possession battle. Success in this area would keep the Owls’ offense — and, in turn, the Aggie defense — on the sidelines.

Run defense: This has been a major weakness for the Aggies and it’s tough seeing it being that much better tonight. Rice enters the game with the 40th-ranked rushing offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision (200-yards-per game) and has a balanced offense (a variation of running plays and the ability to throw the ball as well). The Aggie defense has played well in spurts, although the numbers don’t lie: last in the NCAA in rush defense (340 yards per game) and scoring defense (48 points per contest).

Unknown for Aggies: Who will play the majority of the game at quarterback for the Aggies? Will Travaughn Colwell see playing time for essentially the first time of 2013 (this time possibly at running back)? Will wide receiver Austin Franklin have his first breakout performance since returning from academic ineligibility two games ago? Will the Aggie defense have any success against the run? And can the team compete against the Owls? Plenty of questions face the Aggies following their off week.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Sunday, October 13, 2013

ANALYSIS: After rough start, Aggie football looks to regroup for second half of 2013

(Wide receiver Adam Shapiro is part of a core group of native New Mexicans who've made positive contributions to the 2013 Aggie football team/Photo by Robin Zielinski)

There wasn't much positive to take from the first half of New Mexico State's 2013 college football season, except maybe the fact that it's over.

The Aggies sit at 0-6 on the year, and are coming off a 66-17 defeat at rival New Mexico last weekend. A bye this weekend at least gives the team a chance to rest, regroup and collect itself for the second half of the season.

The schedule does get more manageable from here on out, and perhaps consistent development and progress will come from the team over the final six games of 2013.

With that, here's some takeaways and observations one can make moving forward, as NMSU enters the second half of it's 2013 football schedule:

Development of a young quarterback
Head coach Doug Martin said the Aggies opened competition - and possible playing time - across the board during the team's recent bye week, including at the quarterback position.

With that being said, expect freshman King Davis III to continue seeing increased playing time in the second half of the season.

Davis hasn't taken live snaps since being knocked out of a Week 4 game at UCLA. He got his first career start against the Bruins, only to take some big hits throughout, and suffered a concussion after taking a big lick in the third quarter.
Martin said Davis was held out the past two weeks because of the concussion. The freshman also had his left middle finger bandaged prior to Aggie practice this past Thursday (the wrap was on Davis' non-throwing hand).

But Martin has maintained the freshman is fully recovered from injury, and will compete for playing time accordingly.

"That depends on him. How well he plays in practice and how well he plays in games," Martin said when asked about Davis' role moving forward. "And that's true for every position. It's all about competition."

The reality of NMSU's current position also suggests this: the Aggies have spoken throughout the first half of the 2013 season about finding high-end quarterback play - to this point, it hasn't appeared they believe they've gotten such performance from that position. Davis is a freshman with great athleticism and running ability, although he still needs to prove himself in other areas of the game - specifically, his passing.

"He can get out of trouble in the pocket. He's good on his feet. A good athlete," said offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon. "Now, can he complete enough passes? To me, right now, that remains to be seen."

While the second half of the Aggies schedule is more manageable, it can also provide the coaching staff a chance to see the freshman under center, allow him to develop, and give them a chance to evaluate the position.

"It's a big priority," Brandon said. "He's shown flashes of being a capable quarterback for us. It's unfortunate that he got dinged and he couldn't continue that development. But the bye week's been good for him, getting a lot of reps that way. We'll see where it goes."

Progress of local players
Perhaps the biggest bright spot for the Aggies this season has been the performance of New Mexico-based players on the roster.

Running back Brandon Betancourt has been consistent - the Mayfield High School alum is currently the team's leading rusher (74 carries, 303 yards and two touchdowns). Wide receiver Joshua Bowen (Manzano High School) leads the Aggies in key categories (26 catches, 253 yards and two touchdowns) while fellow receiver Adam Shapiro (Rio Rancho High School) has found a niche as well (15 catches, 205 yards and a touchdown).

Linebacker Clint Barnard (Melrose High School) has also started throughout the year, while defensive tackle Matt Ramondo (Mayfield) has seen his role increase. Kickoff man Brock Baca (Mayfield) has taken the field the past two weeks and has gotten the ball to the end zone.

"All the New Mexico kids we've got have played well," Martin said. "They're making great contributions."

Such players are also underclassmen and will return to the Aggies next season, meaning their continued development as part of the team's core can be monitored.

"I feel like we've all done pretty good," Shapiro said of the New Mexico contingent. "But at the end of the day, it's all about winning. And we still need to do more and step up more. ... We can all improve."

Special teams
This area has largely been a disappointment, particularly the team's coverage units.

In truth, NMSU's kicking game has improved. Punter Cayle Chapman-Brown has performed better of late and averaged over 50 yards on six punts last week at New Mexico (his play has picked up since a down performance at UCLA three weeks ago). Baca, for his part, has gotten the ball to the end zone on kickoffs since returning to the lineup.

In the return game, the Aggies haven't shown much explosiveness, yet have to avoid beating themselves first and foremost (such as fumbling the opening kickoff against UTEP during Week 3 of the season).

Kick coverage could be the main area where improvement is key, however. Whether it be surrendering a punt-return touchdown against Minnesota, a kickoff-return touchdown against New Mexico or a near kickoff-return touchdown against UCLA, there's been breakdowns.

"We've got to be creative with how we kick, because we've got a lack of team speed right now covering," Martin said. "We've got to be creative with how we're kicking the ball and giving us the best chance to succeed. And we've got to go recruit."
When asked what kicking adjustments can be made, Martin said, "You can squib kick on kickoffs, you can sky kick it. Punting, you can directional punt. There's a lot of different things you can do to help."

Consistency, playmakers
The Aggies have played well in spurts during almost every game this season (minus last week's contest at UNM). And while the team has won its share of plays this year, it hasn't made enough big plays overall.

Whether it be playing good first quarters or first halves, the Aggies need to find a way to translate that to an entire game.
Martin has said the team needs its playmakers to step up and for the offense to put more points on the board (the team's averaging 15.8-points-per game).

The Aggies did bring back junior wide receiver Austin Franklin after the standout missed the first four games of 2013 because of academic ineligibility. That, and Martin said the team would try to move Travaughn Colwell, a quarterback who was switched to wide receiver prior to the season, to running back during the bye week.

Colwell, a fine athlete in his own right, has played sparingly if at all this season, in part because of an injured shoulder suffered during August practices.

"We're trying to find a place to play the kid. He has good running skills. He's one we've got to find a spot for," Brandon said. "The last few days he's been playing running back. And we'll see where it goes."

While the team has pointed at its offensive production as a hinderance, defense could be the bigger issue. NMSU ranks dead-last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rush defense (340-yards-per game) and scoring defense (surrendering 48.8-points-per game). Last week they were exposed against the Lobos, who rushed for 540 yards on their way to 66 points.

"Everyone had a specific assignment that they had to execute. If not, the running back could slip through a crack. And it was tough to cover," linebacker Bryan Bonilla said following the contest. "We're not going to face every offense with the same scheme UNM had. At the end of the day, we have to execute what we're supposed to do. And take care of our assignments."

A glimmer of hope
How will the Aggies finish off the 2013 season? It would be nice if they hold things together, stay motivated and make some improvements down the stretch.

While the team sits at 0-6, the tough part of the 2013 independent schedule is over - the Aggies opened play against three BCS-level opponents - and perhaps some wins will be in the offing (frankly, a couple victories seem essential). Beating the likes of Abilene Christian (an FCS opponent) and Idaho (an FBS foe who's in a similar spot as the Aggies) would at least mean the team survived the year. Anything more than that could be considered a big step forward.

"I think that's big for our football players. They've worked hard and they've paid the price and they're sacrificing," Martin said. "If they're willing to keep working and they're willing to keep playing hard and keep giving it everything they've got, than they can make that happen. That's big for them. You know, we're going to build a good program here in the future because we're going to go recruit well and do all the things we've got to do to get that done. But it would be nice for these guys to experience some winning."

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Friday, October 11, 2013

PODCAST: Discussing Aggie football going into the team's bye week

We sit down with to talk about NMSU's football loss to UNM and the season moving forward entering this weekend's bye. We also touch on Aggie volleyball continuing its winning ways in WAC play, as well as Aggie soccer looking to get kick-started against its league counterparts.

Click here to listen.

VIDEO: Teddy and Brook Show (10/10)

LCSN sports duo talks Aggie football going into bye week, high school football teams going into district:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In building program, Aggies will start at QB

(Head coach Doug Martin talks to freshman quarterback King Davis III on the sidelines this past Saturday at UNM/Photo by Robin Zielinski)

If one thing has been made apparent at the midway point of New Mexico State’s 2013 college football season, it's that one of the team's top priorities - or perhaps its No. 1 priority - is finding top-notch quarterback play.

Head coach Doug Martin has made it a point of emphasis throughout the year, talking about the quarterback position specifically - along with other skill positions at times - during media interviews.

Simply by inference and observation: under Martin and offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon, the Aggies want a high-level player at the position, one where the offense essentially revolves around their presence. Do they need a superstar? That’s not entirely clear, although certainly a dual-threat athlete who raises the play of those around him would seem ideal.

For these reasons, expect freshman King Davis III to play more frequently following the team’s bye week and moving into the second half of the season.

The team moved Davis into the starting lineup two weeks ago against UCLA. It was a high-end challenge for the freshman - the Bruins were clearly the best team the Aggies have faced this season, and Davis took some big hits in the contest, one of which knocked him out of the game with a concussion. He hasn’t taken a snap during live-game action since.

But Martin said Davis is now back at full strength and will compete for playing time.

Reality also suggests the Aggies need to get Davis on the field during the season’s second half to evaluate if he can in fact be the quarterback the program desires. Certainly from an athleticism standpoint, he brings a lot to the table.

With that, in fairness to the quarterback position as a whole, there is more required than just placing a skilled player under center and letting them take over.

A solid offensive line is necessary, along with a running back that can consistently churn out strong production. Of course, a solid core of wide receivers - something the Aggies have been able to attract over the years - is necessary.

This year, people have brought up Matt Christian, who was a great, tough quarterback for the Aggies during his senior season in 2011, when Martin was offensive coordinator at the school.

And, while that is true, Christian also had a strong supporting cast around him: a respectable offensive line, a gamebreaker at running back (Kenny Turner was in a league of his own) and a strong group of wide receivers (Taveon Rogers was in a similar class, flanked by senior Todd Lee, the underrated Kemonte Bateman and a young standout in Austin Franklin).

“Our skill at the skill position offensively is not producing points,” Martin said of the Aggies 2013 production thus far. “The perfect example is when we went to New Mexico the year I was here as offensive coordinator in 2011. Matt Christian made plays, Kenny Turner made plays, Todd Lee made plays, Taveon Rogers made plays. Those guys were playmakers. And that’s what we’re not seeing right now.”

With that being said, it appears the Aggies will begin building by finding such a quarterback. That push will likely include during the season's second half, and in their recruiting efforts.

“The need part of things, obviously the quarterback position is crucial,” Martin said. “If you look across the country, mid-major programs that win, especially, win because they have great quarterback play. After this season, we will only have one quarterback here on scholarship. And then that’s a recruiting hole that we’ve got to fill. We definitely have to hit that area really hard.”

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Monday, October 7, 2013

Aggies ran out of Albuquerque by rival UNM

(Kasey Carrier and the New Mexico Lobos ran through the Aggie defense on Saturday evening, accumulating a total of 541 rushing yards/Photo by Robin Zielinski)

Saturday night's Aggie loss - a 66-17 dismantling at the University of New Mexico - was an embarrassing performance.

Simply put, the team played poorly on offense, terribly on defense, and continued the special teams breakdowns that have existed this season. In short, nothing went right for NMSU in Albuquerque.

On paper it was a bad matchup for the visitors. The Lobos came into the contest with a very effective - and unorthodox - rushing attack, ranked third in the nation with 324-yards-per game on the ground. The Aggies, in turn, were dead-last in the FBS in rush defense (giving up 300-yards-per game on the ground) and it showed. UNM wracked up an astounding 541 yards via the ground game on Saturday night, and the 66 points was a Lobo record in the Rio Grande rivalry.

It should be noted, such an output isn't necessarily out of the ordinary for the Lobos this season.

After all, the week before saw New Mexico rush for 497 yards on 59 carries against UNLV; and earlier this season, the team tallied 395 rushing yards on 57 carries against UTEP. So UNM running wild on an Aggie team that's had trouble stopping the run since spring and fall practices was, frankly, a fairly predictable scenario.

The difference is that, while the Lobos should continue scoring points in the Mountain West Conference, their defense can be had. UNLV, for instance, may have had trouble defending the UNM ground game, but the Rebels managed to put up 56 points in the contest (and won by 14).

And, while expecting the Aggies to score that many points was simply unrealistic - the team hasn't topped 21 in a single game this season - their 17-point showing wasn't nearly enough, and was a disappointment. For NMSU to have any shot in Saturday's game, putting up at least 30 points seemed necessary. And the reality was, after falling behind 21-0 in the first quarter, any hope at a comeback was essentially lost: the Lobos weren't going to be stopped (UNM scored on its first six possessions of the contest) meaning the Aggies would be in catchup mode, likely, the entire night.

Of course NMSU would eventually score, when a 13-play, 75-yard drive ended with an Adam Shapiro 4-yard run, slicing the deficit to 21-7. There was some hope.

But it was dashed when Carlos Wiggins returned the ensuing kickoff 100-plus yards for a UNM touchdown - a massive gap formed in the middle of the NMSU coverage unit as Wiggins took off, unthreatened, the other way.

From that point forward, the game was essentially over, with the Lobos taking a 42-14 lead into halftime and the Aggies never truly being in the contest.


Where does NMSU go from here?

For starters, the team needs to get a win or two this season. After their bye this weekend the Aggies have six games remaining on their 2013 schedule, and the best chances at victory - at least on paper - would seem to be home games against Abilene Christian (Oct. 26) and Idaho (Nov. 30). Other contests include home games against Rice (Oct. 19) and Boston College (Nov. 9), along with road affairs at Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 2) and Florida Atlantic (Nov. 23).

One can also expect more from freshman quarterback King Davis III in the second half of the season.

The team inserted Davis as its starting quarterback two weeks ago at UCLA, only to see him take a number of big hits, one of which caused a concussion.

NMSU head coach Doug Martin said he held Davis out this past weekend because of that injury (when asked if anything else was bothering Davis besides the concussion, Martin said no). In any event, the coaching staff clearly wants to see what the true freshman can do and has made it clear they haven't been thrilled with the club's offensive production to this point of the season.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Saturday, October 5, 2013

ANALYSIS: Run defense, offense's scoring prowess will dictate Aggies success at UNM

The 105th I-25 rivalry football game between New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico will be played Saturday, in Albuquerque, between two teams that could use such a victory.

Neither club has been particularly good to this point of the 2013 season - the Aggies enter the contest with an 0-5 record while the Lobos hold a 1-3 mark - while UNM is favored by nearly 11 points as kickoff approaches.

Both programs have talked this year about the in-state rivalry’s importance, however, and for the Aggies it would be their first win under first-year head coach Doug Martin.

Here, we take a look at the key elements going into Saturday’s contest for state supremacy:

The Lobo run game: This is obviously a major storyline, as UNM has a prolific rushing attack (the team ranks No. 3 in the nation with 1,298 yards on the ground while scoring 14 rushing touchdowns). The Aggies, in turn, are dead last in the FBS (No. 123) in rush defense (surrendering nearly 300 yards per game).

UNM runs a variation of the triple option: The Lobos will often line up with quarterback Cole Gautche in semi-shotgun, which can also come with him flanked by three backs. The team will play power football, utilizing the zone-read to run the ball up the middle, between the tackles. Gautche will also take the ball to the outside as well - with the pitch runner in tow - in an effort to break off a big run on the perimeter.

The Lobos offensive line, coached by former Aggie assistant Jason Lenzmeier, is a strength.

In short, such a gameplan will test the Aggies discipline on defense throughout the evening.

A handful of players highlight the Lobo stat sheet, headlined by leading rusher Kasey Carrier (93 carries, 559 yards and five touchdowns). The team will also utilize running back Crusoe Gongbay (21 carries, 200 yards, one touchdown) and wide receiver Carlos Wiggins (five carries, 133 yards, two touchdowns).

Gautche is a big player (6-foot-4, 223 pounds) who can be tough to bring down (44 carries, 276 yards and five touchdowns) and the team can also bring in backup quarterback Clayton Mitchem (24 carries, 38 yards and two touchdowns) to aid in the rushing effort.

Another element of the Lobo attack: they’ll keep their eye on the Aggie safeties, and their proximity to the line of scrimmage. If they feel the NMSU defensive backs are too close for comfort, a play-action pass will likely be ran, with a deep ball to follow.

Stopping the Lobos rushing attack all together is a likely impossibility - they’ve had big efforts against UTEP (57 carries, 395 yards) and UNLV (59 carries, 497 yards) and a respectable showing against BCS program Pitt (52 carries, 213 yards). The team averages 31 points per contest, while scoring 42 points on two separate occasions this season.

Slowing it down, however, is a must if the Aggies want a chance at victory. At the very least, NMSU has to make UNM earn what it gets - short gains and a ball-control offense would be preferred rather than watching the Lobos rip off a handful of long runs, something they’re capable of.

Aggies offensive production: Martin said in order for the Aggies to win Saturday, a high-scoring attack must be in the offing.

The reasoning is simple: while UNM has a unique offense, the Lobos certainly shouldn’t be considered a team that’s capable of playing in catchup mode. And, if the Aggies can play from ahead, and perhaps get up by multiple scores, UNM might be forced out of its run-heavy comfort zone.

The Aggie offense also must get first downs and sustain drives of its own. Last week against San Diego State - a 26-16 loss - the Aggies got off to a hot start, although the offense fizzled, and the defense was on the field far too long.

Who starts - or better yet, who plays the majority of the game - at quarterback will also be an area of intrigue. While senior Andrew McDonald has proven to be a consistent passer (70-percent completion percentage, 910 yards, six touchdown passes to two interceptions), freshman King Davis III’s lone start of the season against UCLA saw NMSU run for a season-high 187 yards (with Davis III accounting for 51 of those yards). Davis suffered a concussion against the Bruins, however, and just returned to practice this past week.

Offensive gameplan: Last week saw the Aggies attack San Diego State through the air early. NMSU completed 15 of 20 first-half passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns, while building a 16-0 lead.

Sure enough, the offense lost its zip in the second-half. The team tried establishing a running game to no avail (40 carries on 27 yards) and the passing attack lost it’s effectiveness.

Regardless, the Aggies need to be the aggressors from the start Saturday, and carry that through the game’s entirety.

On paper, the team just might be able to make plays through its passing game once again. UNM ranks No. 120 in the nation in pass efficiency defense (920 yards surrendered, nine touchdowns given up and just two interceptions recorded) and the Aggies welcomed back standout receiver Austin Franklin last week after the junior missed the first four games of 2013 due to academic ineligibility. NMSU has since elevated Franklin atop the depth chart, and certainly a couple big plays Saturday - and perhaps a touchdown or two - would seem necessary against the favored Lobos.

Finishing: Through five games of the 2013 season, the Aggies have yet to play at a high level for a game’s entirety. Such a fact goes for both sides of the ball, and special teams.

The team is riding a 16-game losing streak, and the last time it defeated an FBS team was in November, 2011 (a 48-45 win over Fresno State).

Tonight’s contest is a winnable one (NMSU has won three of four meetings against UNM). With that being said, the Aggies must play a complete game - all four quarters - and capitalize at every opportunity that’s presented.

Who: New Mexico State (0-5) at New Mexico (1-3)
What: College football, Week 6
Where: University Stadium in Albuquerque
When: Saturday, 5 p.m.
Radio: KGRT-FM 104; Vista-FM 98.7 (Spanish)
TV: ROOT Sports on DirecTV channel 683; DISH Network channel 414
Spread: NMSU plus-11
Weather: Clear, temperatures in the 50s

Friday, October 4, 2013

Aggie notes: Cazares turns it up ; Aggies look for consistent ground game; the Lobo O-line

(Davis Cazares points to the crowd during the Aggies game at UCLA on Sept. 21/Associated Press photo)

New Mexico State safety Davis Cazares has been on top of his game in recent weeks: two weeks ago against UCLA, Cazares recorded 12 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery; then, last Saturday against San Diego State, he made 14 tackles on the evening.

While Cazares made some good plays in coverage against UCLA, he’s been known as a run defender and he certainly hasn’t disappointed in this area. Listed as a safety, Cazares (who stands at 6-foot, 203 pounds) can resemble the play of a linebacker at times. Last week against San Diego State, he said, the Aggies played him more in the box because of the Aztecs power-rushing approach.

“I think I was in the box quite a bit,” Cazares said, reflecting on the game. “San Diego State is a heavy run offense. And just the way they were lining up got me in the box quite a bit. And then we just did different things to try and get guys closer to the line.”

It will be interesting to see how the Aggies deploy Cazares this weekend against the University of New Mexico's run-heavy approach.


The Aggies struggled to get a running game going last week against San Diego State (recording 40 yards on 27 carries).

Two weeks ago against UCLA, NMSU was much more effective in its rushing attack (187 yards on 47 carries), which was the Aggies best output of the 2013 season.

The Aggies have had a difficult schedule thus far, which could very well contribute to the team’s inconsistencies on the ground. This year the team has 533 yards on 166 carries (3.2-yards-per attempt) total. During spring and fall practices, however, the Aggies showed an ability to run the ball.

It should be pointed out the Aggies had their best rushing effort with freshman King Davis III - a very good runner - starting at quarterback. With that, senior QB Andrew McDonald is an adequate runner and a consistent passer.

When asked about establishing a rushing attack, particularly with McDonald under center, offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon said, “We’ve got to be more physical up front. We’ve got to be more assignment-sharp. Our technique, footwork has got to continue to improve and get better. I know (offensive line) coach (Bart) Miller is really stressing that with them, constantly. And then, you talk about having a playmaker; we need a playmaker at running back. When, you can’t block them all, and the ball’s handed off, and you get back to the line of scrimmage and there’s a safety sitting there, you either got to juke him, or run him over. That’s football. You see it every Saturday. Guys hand the ball to the backs, they don’t block everybody, but the guy makes a guy miss, now it’s a 6-, 7-, 8-yard gain, or a bigger gain. That’s what we lack right now.”


Speaking of rushing attacks, much has been made of New Mexico’s ability to run the ball (the Lobos rank No. 3 nationally by averaging 324.5-yards-per game).

Of course, they have a unique system and some good players carrying the ball (such as senior Kasey Carrier).

But don’t sleep on the unit’s offensive line, which is coached by former Aggie assistant Jason Lenzmeier.

Said Aggie defensive coordinator Davis Elson of the Lobos scheme, “A lot of option elements are in there. But also, just a power, inside running game and that’s where I think they’re really good. Their offensive linemen do a really good job of knocking people off the ball.”

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg