By: Derek Gonzales
Season Started Off on the Wrong Foot
There was a ton of anticipation heading into the UTEP game on September 3 after NMSU was in charge of last year’s game before blowing a 14-point head in the final four minutes of the game and losing in overtime. The week before the game, Tyler Rogers was arrested on a misdemeanor battery charge (which was later dropped), but the cloud hanging over him might have distracted him and the team going into week one. Graduate-transfer Tyler Matthews quit the team the day Rogers’ situation came out to the public, citing how “he did not agree how things had been handled inside the program.” 24 hours later, news broke that AP All-American Larry Rose III and linebacker Derek Ibekwe would both miss the game due to sports hernia injuries. The team lost a competitive 38-22 game, but it is fair to wonder how the outcome would change if Rose and Ibekwe had been able to play.
This 2016 slate of opponents were the toughest NMSU has faced since the 2013 Independent season. Martin said that he would prefer to open the season against an FCS school, like New Mexico did with their season opener against South Dakota. After UTEP beat NMSU, they struggled to a 4-8 record. If NMSU had been able to schedule a game against an FCS school week one, and went ahead and beat UNM, that would have put the team at 2-0. Of course, there is the issue that NMSU has two rivals, neither of which are in their conference. Both games take up slots that would most likely being filled with an FCS opponent otherwise, while two money games are a necessity to boost the budget. Sun Belt wise, to play every school in the conference at least twice during their four-year contractual agreement with the conference, off the schedule went Georgia State (3-8 thus far) and UL Monroe (4-7) and on came Appalachian State (9-3) and South Alabama (6-6). This made the schedule a lot tougher for the Aggies, who could potentially have played nine bowls teams this season. Next year, the Aggies will switch home-and-away with each team they faced in conference play this year, and the non-conference opponents will be UTEP (at home), UNM (on road), a season-opener against in Tempe Arizona State, and a road game against the Arkansas Razorbacks. That slate will do next year’s team no favors.
Injuries to the offensive line and down the stretch hampered an offense that came into 2016 believing it could average 30 points a game. Rose was not himself after the injury until the Louisiana-Lafayette win, but the offense has a unit did not meet expectations for a majority of the year. After a fantastic performance against Kentucky where the Aggies hung 42 points on an SEC defense, the team gained the services of Rose against Troy, but only scored six points in the 46-point loss. After scoring 37 points against ULL, the team had two weeks to prepare for an Idaho team that they beat the year before, went to Moscow still playing for something and lost 55-23. The defense could have been better at times, but defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani put an improved product on the field defensively. The 50-plus point games were due to an offense incapable of sustaining drives and turning the ball over. To go from 28.6 points per game in 2015 to 24.5 this season, even though they returned most key players it tough. The injury bug bit the team, and as Martin’s recruiting classes take shape, injuries hopefully will not be as hampering to the team as they go forward.
Most do not realize how tough it is for Martin and his staff to recruit quality athletes to Las Cruces with the budget restrictions and history that New Mexico State has on the field. 3-9 should leave folks disappointed, but the return of 19 starters and another full recruiting class keeps Aggie football trending upwards, for now.