Saturday, November 23, 2013

PODCAST: Aggie volleyball in WAC Tournament, Aggie football at FAU and Aggie hoops at UTEP

Sitting down with Sam Wasson of to breakdown the week that was Aggie sports. Listen in here.

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.”

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Monday, November 18, 2013

With increase in production, Franklin could see more double teams down stretch of season

(Austin Franklin's been a handful for opposing defenses during the second half of 2013/Photo by Robin Zielinski)

The New Mexico State Aggie offense has picked it up in recent weeks.

Such a performance has coincided with an uptick in production from wide receiver Austin Franklin, who's really come on after missing the first four games of the 2013 season due to academic ineligibility. After catching eight passes for 141 yards and a touchdown in his first three contests of the year, Franklin's hit his stride over his three most-recent outings: 34 catches, 407 yards and four touchdowns during that period.

In the last two most games - particularly it seemed during the first half against both Louisiana-Lafayette and Boston College - Franklin saw his share of single coverage, and found a way to cash in. Think back to his second-quarter score against Boston College when, with the ball in the red zone, quarterback Andrew McDonald found Franklin inside the 10-yard line along the left side. The wide receiver, one-on-one with the cornerback, essentially walked into the end zone for a touchdown, slicing the Aggie deficit to 13-10.

"I don't know. I guess they just don't think I'm a good enough player," Franklin said recently, when asked about getting single coverage from opposing secondaries. "To me, I love when they do it. I'm going to win. One on one, I'm going to win."

With that, don't expect teams to continue testing Franklin much more in this regard. He's a physical player, and once he gets the ball in his hands he's adept at turning up-field and getting yards after the catch.

"He's as good as anybody with the ball in his hands," NMSU head coach Doug Martin said. "That's why coach (Gregg) Brandon put him in the backfield as the wildcat quarterback and that type of stuff. Try to get him the ball in a variety of ways. He's exciting when he has the ball."

When asked if he expected more defensive attention to come Franklin's way, Martin said, "Everybody's already started that. Lafayette, when we went down there, were already keyed in on him. Everybody talks about that. Again, that's the battle. Can you keep moving him around in different places to disguise what you're doing."

Offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon and wide receiver's coach R. Todd Littlejohn said Franklin's presence has opened up the offense for other players. Littlejohn spoke specifically about a third-quarter play last week, explaining Boston College rolled it's coverage Franklin's direction, and McDonald was able to hit a wide open Jerrel Brown for a 16-yard touchdown down the middle.

When Brandon was asked specifically last week about Franklin seeing more double teams down the stretch, the offensive coordinator said, "There might be a chance for that. I would have to study the future opponents to just see within their schemes, if they have the ability to do that. Austin's certainly a player that, his numbers have gotten people's attention. Whether or not that (causes defenses to) double team him, try to take him away, I don't know. It will be interesting to see how people respond."

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Monday, November 11, 2013

Aggies play Boston College tough, fall short against ACC program

The New Mexico State football team has played well the past two weeks of the season, with the latest improved performance coming against Boston College this past Saturday at Aggie Memorial Stadium.

Yes, NMSU lost 48-34. But was it nice to see an entertaining game where the team was competitive on their homefield? Absolutely it was.

A wild contest ensued, one that saw the Aggies trail just 20-17 at halftime and the score tied 34-34 in the final quarter.

Yet with that, it was a game that could also be broken down by three plays that went against NMSU: a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown from Myles Willis to make the score 34-27 Boston College; an 80-yard touchdown run from running back Andre Williams, which proved to be the go-ahead score at 41-34; and then the last TD of the day, a Williams 47-yard run for the final margin.

And with that, the Aggies biggest issue this season was exposed again: giving up big plays, particularly in the run game and occasionally on special teams.

NMSU's problems in run defense have been documented - the team ranks last in the FBS this area (312.9 yards per game), total defense (555.0 yards per game) and scoring defense (giving up 46.4 points per game). In this case, going against Williams was a bad recipe - the senior currently leads the nation in rushing (1,471 yards, 163.4 per game) - and he rumbled for 295 yards on 30 carries.

In truth, the Aggies had some moments defensively against Boston College: they forced a turnover with the score tied 34-34, and came up with the occasional big stop. But it's also been an all-or-nothing unit for much of the year, and such was the case Saturday.

BC - which has had a good season to this point, playing in a strong Atlantic Coast Conference - is a grind-it-out group. Even Williams is more of a pounder and grinder than gamebreaker. But they banged away at the the Aggies on the ground and eventually broke off some long ones (35 carries, 320 yards on the day).

In terms of special teams, the Aggie kicking game was solid: Maxwell Johnson went 2-for-2 on field-goal attempts (making from 43 and 32 yards); kicker Cayle Chapman-Brown was superb (a 51.9 yards per punt average, four punts downed inside the 20-yard line); and Brock Baca had four touchbacks on seven kickoffs.

But head coach Doug Martin said Baca made an error on the TD return by kicking it down the middle of the field, adding the kick-coverage unit doesn't have enough speed to adequately cover.

This season the Aggies have given up two kickoff-return touchdowns (while surrendering 24.52 yards per return) and also a punt-return touchdown. Saturday's return came after Johnson's 32-yard field goal tied the score 27-27.


With that, the Aggie offense has performed about as well as one could have hoped at this point of the season.

Lets put it this way: going into the past two games, if someone said the unit would have scored 35 and 34 points against Louisiana-Lafayette and Boston College, would that have been fathomable? After all, those are two good football teams with good defenses, and the Aggie offense topped the 30-point threshold once prior this season (in their 34-29 win over Abilene Christian).

Yet this is a team that's received good coaching on that side of the ball, and the recent success can be attributed, at least in part, to the apparent connection developed between quarterback Andrew McDonald and wide receiver Austin Franklin.

McDonald has put together back-to-back strong performances: against Lafayette (24 of 34, 327 yards, three touchdowns, one interception) and BC (41 of 55, 384 yards, three touchdowns, one interception). In this his senior season, McDonald's found success down the stretch drive.

Franklin's addition to the offense was crucial at midseason, and offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon is finding ways to get him the football (against BC, the wide-receiver bubble screens to Franklin was a bread-and-butter play for the Aggies). As Franklin's gotten into a groove and the offensive personnel continues to build continuity and familiarity, here's been the junior wide receiver's numbers: vs. Abilene Christian (11 catches, 122 yards, two touchdowns); vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (13 catches, 140 yards, two touchdowns); and vs. Boston College (10 catches, 145 yards, two touchdowns).

While the offense's performance is coming on, the wide receivers as a whole continue to play well and look like a well-coached group. Eight different players made receptions on Saturday, while such contributors ran well after the catch and blocked well in the screen-passing game.

The offensive line continues to perform well and to its level this season.

And while there's been injuries in the backfield - running back Brandon Betancourt is out for the season with a torn ligament in his left foot, while senior Germi Morrison has missed the past two weeks with an injured shoulder - freshman Xavier Hall's been a pleasant surprise. While he isn't the biggest of players, Hall's ran well the past two weeks, carrying the ball 14 times for 95 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles. He also caught four balls for 32 yards in the passing game on Saturday.

The coaching staff is getting the most out of the group at this point of the season, and the results and statistics speak for themselves.


Can the Aggies beat Florida Atlantic and/or Idaho to close out their season (the team has a bye before traveling to FAU next weekend).

Why not? Florida Atlantic isn't exactly a model of stability at the moment, although that game will be on the road in Boca Raton. We'll see.

Idaho does in fact come to Las Cruces, although the Vandals offense has shown some life.

The Aggies are going to have to continue to play better and, if they do, a win or two down the stretch would appear very possible.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Friday, November 8, 2013

What to watch for when Bulldawgs take on Trojans

The Las Cruces Bulldawgs and Mayfield Trojans meet again this Friday in the annual rivalry football game played at Aggie Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m.

Per usual, the contest will be big in the standings - each team stands at 3-0 in District 3-5A play, meaning the showdown is for the league championship - and big in the community, with a large crowd anticipated once again. As kickoff approaches, here's a look at key elements to watch for as city rivals square off.

1. Running the ball: This goes for both teams. For LCHS, it's simply their identity, a team that's won state championships with such a mantra and is averaging over 300 yards per game on the ground in 2013. As for the Trojans, they have some running backs of their own, and QB Kavika Johnson is a gifted ball carrier. A good rushing attack would allow Mayfield to control the ball, while opening up play-action passing and hopefully keeping the game a low-scoring one.

2. Turnovers: Statistics figure the Trojans need to finish plus-two to plus-three in turnover margin in Friday's game. It's simple logic, considering Mayfield is the proverbial underdog on paper, meaning takeaways and ball protection figure to play key roles. Ditto for the Bulldawgs, at least if they want to increase their advantage. The nature of this contest typically suggests turnovers are, have and always will play a major factor. Friday night shouldn't be different in this regard.

3. Kameron Miller vs. Trojans secondary: The Bulldawgs sophomore quarterback has shown good progress this year, although the team doesn't necessarily ask him to win games either. With his supporting cast, Miller simply needs to be solid most nights. Friday's contest, however, is against a Trojans team that's struggled in pass defense this season. Will the Bulldawgs be able to hit some big plays through the air? And will Mayfield be able to pressure the young signal caller?

4. Who blinks first?: The Bulldawgs haven't played in many, if any close games this year, outscoring the opposition by an average of 46-7. Will they be over-confident? And how will they respond to adversity if and when it hits? For Mayfield, it's about competing and trying to lay the first blow. Hard facts entering Friday's contest: LCHS has won five of six meetings between these two rivals. Whichever team's more focused and disciplined in this one likely wins.

5. Why the game is played: Again, Las Cruces High is the figured favorite entering Friday's game. LCHS is 9-0 on the season (Mayfield sits at 8-1), is ranked No. 1 in the state (Mayfield is No. 4) and has been trouncing the opposition this year. Nothing can be discounted in this game, however. The Trojans need to win key categories to spring an upset, though: establishing a running game, forcing turnovers and the trick-play element all figure as such.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Aggies compete, fall short against Louisiana-Lafayette

The first half of Saturday's New Mexico State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette game was nothing short of astounding.

The Aggies entered the game as nearly 30-point underdogs, only to score on their first four possessions of the game to take a 28-7 lead, and an eventual 28-14 advantage into halftime. In short, they looked like an entirely different team.

NMSU would in fact eventually fall 49-35 to a superior opponent, but it was also clearly the best game the team's played this season.

Lafayette is a very good team - NMSU head coach Doug Martin said throughout the week the Ragin' Cajuns will likely win the Sun Belt Conference championship - and the Aggies competed with them and played tough.

Offensively, the Aggies did about as much as they could. Quarterback Andrew McDonald played very well (24 of 34 passing, 327 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for a TD); the team, despite being without injured running backs Brandon Betancourt and Germi Morrison, was able to generate a rushing attack. NMSU ran Travaughn Colwell out of the wildcat formation, as well as standout wide receiver Austin Franklin. In total, the team ran for 120 yards on 42 carries. And, Franklin continued to show his skills as the team's true gamebreaker offensively (12 catches, 140 yards and two touchdowns). The 35 points scored were a season high, and the most the Aggies have put up since August of 2012.

Still, the team hasn't seemed to win a second half all season and Saturday was no different. The Ragin' Cajuns outscored NMSU 35-7 in the final two quarters of play, as surely they woke up following the early deficit. This year, the Aggies have been outscored 212-64 during the third and fourth quarters of games, including contests against Texas (42-0), Louisiana-Lafayette (35-0), San Diego State (21-0), New Mexico (24-3), UCLA (28-13), UTEP (21-7) and Rice (17-7).

The team also remains last in the FBS in scoring defense (46.2 points per game), total defense (555 yards per game) and rush defense (312 yards per game). While NMSU needs help in all three phases, this is clearly an area that needs to get rectified first and foremost.

It won't get any easier for the Aggies this Saturday, who host a much-improved Boston College team. The Eagles stand at 4-4 on the year, and are coming off a big 34-27 home win this past weekend over Virginia Tech.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg