Aggie Football Nears Annual Spring Game

By: Derek Gonzales

The New Mexico State football team will conclude their 2017 edition of spring practice with the Spring Game Saturday at 1 p.m. After finishing last season 3-9 for the second consecutive year, next year’s team will look to become bowl eligible in its last year as a member of the Sun Belt Conference. Here are some headlines and the latest news regarding the team.

Tyler Rogers granted medical redshirt

NMSU will have the services of quarterback Tyler Rogers after the Sun Belt granted the Peoria, Ariz. native a medical redshirt for, making him eligible for the 2017 season. The redshirt stems from the season-ending injury he sustained in 2015 against New Mexico. Since the injury occurred before he played in 30 percent of the team’s games, he was granted the waiver. Returning as a senior, Rogers will be at the top of the team’s depth chart, as he played well in stretches, throwing 16 touchdowns last season. Head Coach Doug Martin has been trying to get backup quarterback Conner Cramer on the field in other roles, so Rogers will be getting a majority if not all the first-team reps going into fall camp in August.

Chase Holbrook returns home

The best statistical quarterback to ever wear an Aggie uniform has returned to the program he once led. Holbrook played for the Aggies from 2006-08 and broke nearly every record in the books, including touchdowns thrown (85), total offense (4,541), career yardage (11,921), and career attempts (1,575). His play under former head coach Hal Mumme made the Aggies and the Air-Raid offense must-see TV during those three seasons. Holbrook now returns to NMSU nearly 10 years later as a coach after spending time at Washington State as an Offensive Quality Control Coordinator. He will be coaching tight ends.

2017 opponents and dates are announced

Not only is the Sun Belt Conference turning its back on NMSU after next season, but they piled it on with a brutal conference schedule for the Aggies this season. Six teams made a bowl game from the SBC last season, and all six are on next year’s slate. Here’s the schedule with last season’s record for those teams.

Sept. 2 at Arizona State (5-7)

Sept. 9 at New Mexico (9-4)

Sept. 16 vs Troy (10-3)

Sept. 23 vs. UTEP (5-7)

Sept. 30 at Arkansas (7-6)

Oct. 7 at Appalachian State (10-3)

Oct. 14 at Georgia Southern (5-7)

Oct. 28 vs. Arkansas State (8-5)

Nov. 4 at Texas State (2-10)

Nov. 18 at Louisiana-Lafayette (6-7)

Nov. 25 vs. Idaho (9-4)

Dec. 2 vs. South Alabama (6-7)

Starting off the season with consecutive road games is the last thing the team needed. Having two rivals and eight conference games takes away the opportunity for NMSU to schedule an FCS opponent, and it hurts a team that needs to jump out to a good start. If they could somehow split those first two games, it could boost the morale going into the home opener. Troy drubbed NMSU each of the last two years, including a 45-7 beat down the last time they visited Aggie Memorial. If the Aggies can pull out two wins in their first eight games, it’s possible for the team to win three out of four to close the year. A bowl bid should be the goal and it is realistic, but the team will have to stay in road games and hopefully squeak one out.

NMSU Football Finishes Off Disappointing Year

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.

Tough Scheduling

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.

Offense Underperformed

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.

 

 

NMSU Football Enters Bye Week Riding Three-Game Losing Streak

By: Derek Gonzales

October tends to be the month that makes or breaks the season for college football programs. This year, New Mexico State went into the month 1-3, but with a win against Louisiana-Lafayette on the first day of October, hopes of ending their 56-year bowl drought began to grow. Four weeks later, those hopes have been all but dashed. The team is leaps and bounds better than a year ago, so what has happened to put them at 2-6 with four games left to play?

NMSU cannot play well with expectations

Doug Martin touched on it with the Las Cruces Sun-News after a 32-point loss at Idaho. “Losing is easy. It is winning when something is expected of you. That is what is hard. Our players are afraid of carrying the load of winning week after week,” Martin said. They have proved incapable of handling expectations more than a couple times this season. Against Troy, coming off an impressive 42-point outburst against Kentucky that opened eyes, the team followed it up with a 52-6 loss at Troy. After beating the Ragin’ Cajuns 37-31, the team improved to 2-3 and was featured in Sports Illustrated’s bowl projections, the first time NMSU has ever been included. Against an FCS-bound Idaho team, the defense was non-existent, allowing Matt Linehan to throw a career-best 476 yards en route to a 55-23 win. Going into 2017, there will be no excuses. They will need to be able to perform with expectations if they intend on going to a bowl game.

Special Teams has been awful

It has been a problem all year, and against Georgia Southern, it cost the Aggies what would have been a huge win against a top-tier Sun Belt team. Sophomore kicker Parker Davidson has missed at least one extra point or field goal in every Aggie game except one (Kentucky). Against GSU, he left four points in the board with a missed field goal and missed extra point, and NMSU lost 22-19. The kickoff return game has not posed a threat all season, and receiver Greg Hogan fumbled a kickoff against GSU that led to points for the Eagles. It is a recruiting issue as coach Martin has said, and until it stops being a reason the Aggies lose, it is going to continue to hurt the Aggies in most games.

Is there still hope?

Last year, Sun Belt member Georgia State began the season 2-6. The team reeled off four straight wins to close the year and went on to the 2015 Cure Bowl. Having a bye week allows the team to mentally and physically reset before the final four-game stretch of the season. NMSU will head to Arkansas State for a November 12 showdown, and the Red Wolves are 2-4 on the year. They will have nine days to prepare for the Aggies, but NMSU will have two weeks to prepare for them. ASU has disappointed this year, and a loss before the NMSU game might suck the life out of the team. The next week, the Aggies will come back to Las Cruces to play a Texas State team that is in the first year of a rebuild under new head coach Everett Withers. They are 2-5 on the year and still have to play one-loss Troy and Appalachian State. Speaking of the Mountaineers, they will come to Las Cruces November 26, and are the best team in the Sun Belt. If the Aggies have some momentum and are still playing for a bowl bid, this game could be interesting. The Aggies have proved that they can play with anybody in the Sun Belt at home. Closing the season at South Alabama will be no easy task, as USA has knocked off Mississippi State and 24th-ranked San Diego State, but the same team heads into November with a losing record in conference play. Four straight wins seems like a stretch, but if the team can win two more games to improve on last season’s three-win total, it will give the program much needed momentum heading into their last year in the Sun Belt Conference in 2017.

NMSU football takes on Ranked Texas A&M

By: Austin Gest

The New Mexico State Aggie football team will travel to #6 Texas A&M on Saturday night at 5:30 p.m. on ESPNU. Here is the preview to NMSU’s stiffest test of the season.

Texas A&M has surprised some folks

After starting the season unranked, A&M is heading into their eighth game of the season. Texas A&M will be coming off of their most important game of the season, having played top-ranked Alabama the week before. This is the third time that Texas A&M (6-0) has climbed to number six in the nation under coach Kevin Sumlin, who took the helm in College Station five years ago. Showing off his exciting style of play and flashy skills to the college football world, Johnny Manziel opened the door for several top recruits to come to Texas A&M in the past few years and as a result, they have been able to compete with the traditional SEC powers.

What to watch out for from Texas A&M:

Texas A&M thrives offensively by using an explosive rushing attack that is contributed to by several moving parts, and against competition such as UCLA, Arkansas, Auburn, and Tennessee, the offense is averaging just under 275 rushing yards per game. Starting quarterback Trevor Knight is a versatile threat. The former Oklahoma Sooner has thrown for 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns, while adding 500 yards on the ground. Starting running back Trayveon Williams has been enjoying his best season rushing for over 700 yards thus far. It is not only the offense that New Mexico State will have their hands full with. Texas A&M owns the 22nd-ranked defense in the nation, so the NMSU offense will have its hand full inside Kyle Field Saturday night.

How New Mexico State can stay competitive:

Looking into the history of New Mexico State’s football program, you would not expect them to have two wins this early in the season and they have won both games at home. As mentioned, this is another road game for NMSU, who have lost all of their road games by 16 points or more. The best player on the team, running back Larry Rose III has been essentially a non-factor in the games he has played in besides the win against Louisiana-Lafayette, in which he accumulated 161 total yards and a touchdown. For New Mexico State to have any chance of hanging around with one of the best teams in the nation, they must give Rose III a ton of touches, and Tyler Rogers needs to find success like the kind he has at home on the road. Turnovers will play a huge factor in this game if New Mexico State can come out on top. Their two wins have come in games where they forced two turnovers and if Rodney Butler and the defense can muster four or five turnovers, good field positions, and defensive scores, they will keep the game close. On the other side of the ball, Rogers will need to be better protected than he has been in the past two games, as NMSU has surrendered 10 quarterback sacks so far this season.

NMSU should walk into Kyle Field with a very straight-forward game-plan, avoid injuries, and leave College Station with all of the team’s key players healthy as they will head to Sun Belt rival Arkansas State for their next game.

Aggies look to improve to 3-0 at home against Georgia Southern

By: Derek Gonzales

It has been a rare occurrence to see the New Mexico State football team play meaningful football in October, but this year’s team is in the midst of doing just that this season. After two thrilling home wins against New Mexico and Louisiana-Lafayette, NMSU will look to earn its first 3-0 home start since 2002 against Georgia Southern Saturday October 22 at 6 p.m.

Know the Foe 

Georgia Southern will come into Aggie Memorial Stadium under the guidance of first-year head coach Tyson Summers. Summers took over this offseason for Willie Fritz, who led the Eagles to a 17-7 record in his two seasons, including an 8-0 conference record in 2014, all while leading the transition from FCS to FBS. He accepted the head coaching job at Tulane this past offseason. They are 3-3 on the year, and bring a three-game losing streak into Las Cruces, all of which have been on the road.

What Georgia Southern does well 

Georgia Southern presents a problem that NMSU has historically struggled with. Their offense is built around running the football. The Eagles run the triple option out of spread formations, similar to what New Mexico does. GSU is led by senior running back Matt Breida. Breida was a first-team Sun Belt conference running back the past two years, but is only fourth on the team in rushing this season, averaging just 55.8 yards per game. Quarterbacks Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw have split time behind center, with both having thrown 40 passes on the year and Upshaw only having eight more rushing yards than Ellison on the year. The team is averaging 31.6 points per game, is giving up only 21.2 per contest.

How GSU will attack NMSU 

NMSU will need to play a complete 60 minutes against a program that has grown into being a top-3 Sun Belt power. GSU will try to keep the high-powered Aggie offense off the field by running the ball on early downs and trying to get into third-and-short situations. Their average time of possession is 35:03, and coupled with a 45.8 percent third-down conversion rate, the Eagles will look to wear the NMSU defense out while keeping Larry Rose III and company on the sidelines.

Things NMSU needs to do well to win 

In a game that appears to be evenly matched on paper, this game will come down to whoever does the little things right. NMSU will not be able to get away with kicking woes, pre-snap penalties, or turnovers as they did against the Ragin’ Cajuns. The Aggies will move on the

ball on any team in the conference, but scoring touchdowns in the red zone will be crucial. Not only does it put more points on the board, but it will give the defense a second wind it will need against a run-heavy GSU offense. The Aggies also need to get off to a quick start, as they did in their last home game. Making GSU play from behind will force them to throw the ball, which is not what they are comfortable doing. The Aggie defense will need to play gap-assignment football well, and should do their best to take away the dive option, forcing GSU to take their option plays to the sidelines, where safeties Jaden Wright and Jacob Nwangwa will be to clean up. If the Eagles are successful with the dive, their offense will hum along and it will be a long night for the home team.

The Aggies appear on the cusp of making their 2016 season a special one, and a win Saturday night against a talented Georgia Southern team would put NMSU one step closer towards ending the nation’s longest bowl drought.

The light at the end of the hallway: Homegrown Xavier Hall’s last games as an Aggie

By: Derek Gonzales

XAVIER HALL.JPGXavier Hall is one of the 14 seniors on the New Mexico State football team that is in the midst of his final season in an Aggie uniform. The 2013 recruiting class will be the first recruiting that was brought in by head coach Doug Martin that Martin will see graduate. For Hall, this season has been kind of a full-circle experience, beginning with a win September 10 against New Mexico.

“We have been building up to this point since Coach Martin has been here. This is our turning point. If there is going to be one, it’s going to be tonight,” Hall said post-game. Hall had been 0-7 against NMSU’s two rivals, and submitted arguably his best performance of his career to help the Aggies win the game in his last chance to get a rivalry win. He carried the ball 11 times for 61 yards, including a first-down gain after NMSU turned the Lobos over on downs to clinch the win.

In Hall’s sixth career game back in 2013, the Aggies headed to Albuquerque for their annual game with the Lobos. UNM beat NMSU in one of the biggest blowout’s in the history of the rivalry, 66-17. So to have to pay four years’ worth of dues to win a rivalry, and to play in integral part in the outcome meant a lot to Hall.

“We have grown in strides, just from my freshman year here. It was so frustrating to be apart of things and seeing the way that (certain) guys played (and) prepared for the game,” the 2013 Las Cruces High graduate said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of pride. We kind of just went out there and played the game. Now, it’s different. There’s a tenacity about us. We want to do some things that we have never done here before. Guys just want it. This is a whole different feeling from my freshman year to my senior year now.

Hall was one of the top running-backs in New Mexico his senior year, rushing for 2,080 yards and 32 touchdowns under former Aggie quarterback Jim Miller at Las Cruces High, and culminated his prep career with a state championship. Even with the success, New Mexico State was his only division-one scholarship offer. It was just fitting that it came from the school that he grew up around.

“It meant a lot. My entire life I have wanted to play football. I have been wanting to play since I was five years old, and ever since that point, I knew I wanted to be a division-one athlete. I got looked at from other schools. Schools in the area, schools really far away, but New Mexico State was the only school that offered me a scholarship. It meant a lot to me because that’s all I’ve ever wanted, but to get it from my hometown school, it truly meant a lot.

Hall wasted no time making the most of his opportunity, starting the last four games of his freshman year, including a 14-carry, 95-yard performance against Boston College. As a sophomore, Hall played in ten games, rushing for 342 yards on the season with five touchdowns. The following year, Hall provided Coach Martin and the offense a reliable, experienced running back that excelled in pass protection, as well as being a great change-of-pace back for Larry Rose III.

As the Aggies are halfway through the season, Hall hopes that the Aggies can break the 56-year bowl drought, and the Aggies do still have a chance. Against Kentucky, Hall went for 94 yards on 18 carries as NMSU put 42 points on the board against an SEC defense. With four home games left, it’s starting to sink in that the days as an Aggie football player and dwindling down.

“I get a lot of support. I know people I’ve grown up with, calling my name and yelling ‘Let’s go X.’ I want to be apart of the winning program that starts it all. Once we start our own thing, everything else will fall into place,” Hall said. “To represent NMSU and the city of Las Cruces, I just want to do as best I can so we can take this program to the next step.”

NMSU’s football budget and how success drives attendance

By: Derek Gonzales

Now that the 2016-17 academic school year is well into its groove and the Aggies are in the middle of their season, it is time to look at the football budget and see just how much money and resources are being put into head coach Doug Martin’s program.

In a June 2016 article written by Jason Groves of the Las Cruces Sun-News, it was pointed out that the New Mexico State football had the school’s largest budget at $4.3 million, but was responsible for 34 percent of the ticket revenue shortfall (roughly $85,000). Though the lack of on-the-field success is most likely to blame, it doesn’t do the program favors when AggieVision carries more live home games than ever. It is much more convenient for the average fan to sit at home and watch NMSU play, rather than actually go to the game, and it being felt at the box office.

New Mexico State averaged 17,486 fans into Aggie Memorial Stadium, which has a capacity of 30,343. The program was actually ranked ninth in largest attendance increase from the previous year, with an increase in average attendance of 5,217. This is a bit of a misnomer because the first home game of the season against Georgia State was the “Stuff the Stadium” promotion. That game’s attendance was 27,201, which is second all-time for a New Mexico State home game not played against New Mexico or UTEP. Tickets for this event were sold at a discounted price. NMSU lost the game 34-32.

The following week against rival UTEP, attendance began its downward trend. It could be argued that if the team had beaten Georgia State in front of the large crowd, the paying fan would’ve loved to have seen the Aggies go for two straight, but they didn’t win. Attendance for that game was 17,210, with about 6,000 of those in attendance being UTEP fans. NMSU blew a 14-point lead with four minutes left in regulation en route to a 50-47 overtime loss.

“Football Bowl Subdivision teams have to meet minimum attendance requirements (average 15,000 people in actual or paid attendance per home game), which must be met once in a rolling two-year period. NCAA Football Championship Subdivision teams do not need to meet minimum attendance requirements.”

This is a rule that applies to New Mexico State football, and the program has been walking a fine line with it since after 2002 when the average attendance for Tony Samuel’s 7-5 Aggies was 22,162 that year. So when the average attendance going into the final home game of 2015 was 15,569, NMSU needed help to create breathing room with the 15,000 per game threshold. Learfield Sports stepped in and due to a contractual agreement with the University, bought enough tickets to make the paid attendance for the last Aggie home football game 25,147. It is estimated that there were not more than 8,000 in actual attendance inside the stadium to watch the Aggies face Arkansas State that afternoon.

Attendance problems are being seen at schools all across the nation. With people being able to stream games to their phones and watch them on television, the need to go to a game has decreased. New Mexico State’s football program has the potential to solve its attendance program better and faster than other universities. Other schools are seeing a drop in attendance, though the team continues to win games. UCLA (13 percent), Florida State (11 percent), LSU (8 percent), and Iowa (6 percent) all saw declines in attendance from 2014 to 2015.

Iowa started their season 12-0, UCLA had freshman phenom Josh Rosen starting under center, Florida State brought in another top-five recruiting class, and LSU had Leonard Fournette. The point is, these are winning programs that are seeing this decline. Fan bases can start to take winning for granted. If New Mexico State football can begin to win games, the attendance problem will solve itself. The community just wants to see a winner. As referenced earlier, when the program went 7-5 (5-0 at home), the attendance shot up. It appears that the program is trending up, but nothing will solve an athletic budget problem like winning.

stadium-2

Why the Aggies are still in position to go bowling

Opinionated Editorial

By: Derek Gonzales

We are four weeks into the college football season and there is still hope in Las Cruces for a bowl game. Yeah, it’s been awhile since we’ve turned to the calendar to October with the Aggies still having a shot, but believe it or not, NMSU is in as good as a position to turn to the corner as they’ve given themselves in recent memory. Here’s how the Aggies could be on their way to ending their 56-year bowl drought.

Beating UNM without Rose

Can you imagine LSU without Leonard Fournette, or Stanford without Christian McCaffrey? What about Florida State without Dalvin Cook? Those teams would be in a world of trouble without their all-world running backs, but the Aggies more than weathered the storm without AP All-American Larry Rose III. NMSU could not afford to begin the season 0-2, and somehow beat the better of their two rivals with a 32-31 win over New Mexico. UNM went 7-6 a year ago and returned most starters this season, so the importance of the win cannot be understated. As UNM coach Bob Davie said, “Our team has nothing to be ashamed about. That team [NMSU] is going to win some games this season.” Through three games, the team’s leading rusher is senior Xavier Hall with 163 yards, but Tyler Rogers leads with team with 63 carries. With Rose back, the same offense that hung 42 points on an SEC defense without their All-American will gain his services back. Watch out.

The schedule isn’t as daunting as we thought

With the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns coming into town for homecoming Saturday, it is another chance for the team to pick up a conference win against a traditional Sun Belt power that they were able to beat on the road last season. The Aggies, with Rose, should be able to beat ULL at home. With a bye week before playing FCS-bound Idaho, the Aggies will be rested and confident and should beat a Vandal team that will not have more than two wins on the season at that point. At worst, NMSU will be 3-3 at that point. With Georgia Southern coming in the following week, it will be a tough game for NMSU. But with the team stopping a triple option offense early in the season [UNM], the Aggies will be prepared and if they struggle defensively, this team can win a shootout against any team in the Sun Belt, and will beat the Eagles, pushing the team to 4-3. A money game against Texas A&M on October 29 will act as a bye week for coach Martin and Co., as he should hold out key guys and go into the game with the goal being to not get anybody injured. Arkansas State will be the first game of the last quarter of the season, and the Aggies will lose a game on the road against a team that will be fighting for the conference crown. At 4-5, the Aggies will come home for two straight, needing to win two of three to be bowl eligible. They will beat Texas State; another team they beat a year ago. Rose has said that he tries to have his best game against Texas State, and with the threat of Rogers being able to throw the deep ball efficiently, the offense will continue to light up Sun Belt defenses. Appalachian State will roll into Las Cruces and will spoil senior day unfortunately. The Mountaineers are the best team in the conference, and the task will be too tough for NMSU to overcome. For the last game of the regular season, the team heads to Mobile, Alabama for a matchup with South Alabama. South Alabama is only averaging 17.6 points-per-game through three games, so the Aggies will throw everything they have at the Jaguars, and will find a way to win the game with their offense. 6-6 record and bowl bound.

Special teams are a strength of the team

In 50/50 games, the deciding factor almost always comes down to special teams. The Aggies have five 50/50 games [Troy, ULL, GSU, Tex. St., USA], but the reason I am confident in them winning most of these is because of how well freshman punter Peyton Theisler and sophomore kicker Parker Davidson have played. NMSU doesn’t beat UNM without Theisler’s amazing play to chase a bad snap into the end zone and manage to punt it off before the defense blocked it or recovered the loose ball. It saved the Aggies two points, and the Aggies ended up winning by one. Thus far, Theisler is averaging an outstanding 46.6 yards per punt. Davidson has been a perfect 5-for-5 on field goals, including a 4-of-4 performance against UNM that earned him the Sun Belt Special Teamer of the Week award. If these two can keep making winning plays, the Aggies will find themselves winning close games they didn’t win in Martin’s first three years.

So you heard it here first. The New Mexico State football team WILL go to a bowl game this year. Start saving money for the road trip to whichever city hosts the Aggies in their first bowl game since 1960.

Derek Gonzales can be reached at: trusports@nmsu.edu

Follow TRU Sports on Twitter at: @TruSports_

Aggies Break Through, Defeat Lobos

By Derek Gonzales

Make a Play.

That’s been the mantra for New Mexico State football since head coach Doug Martin took over in 2013. After growing pains and heartbreaking losses, Martin may have finally gotten the program to break through with a 32-31 win over the University of New Mexico in front of 17,852 fans inside Aggie Memorial Stadium.

UNM (1-1) came into the game fresh off a week one win against South Dakota, and retuned the majority of team’s starters from last year’s seven-win squad.

The Lobos came into the game as 12-point favorites, and without AP All-American Larry Rose III in the backfield, it was expected that the Lobos would roll out of Las Cruces with their fifth consecutive win against the Aggies, but Martin and the Aggies had other plans.

UNM got off to a quick start with an 8-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off with a Teriyon Gipson 12-yard touchdown run. With UNM running the triple option, it appeared that NMSU would be in for a long night after they struggled to stop the run and conceited 289 yards to UTEP the week before.

NMSU (1-1) got the ball back and responded. Junior quarterback Tyler Rogers, who was knocked out the game against the Lobos last year, led the Aggies down the field. Rogers went 3-for-6 for 34 yards while converting a fourth-and-two on an option keeper at the UNM 46-yard-line to keep the drive alive before Parker Davidson made a 45-yard field goal to bring the score to 7-3.

On the second possession for UNM, Lobo quarterback Austin Apodaca converted a third-down conversion with a 17-yard completion to Dameon Gamblin to keep the drive alive. A roughing-the-passer penalty on the next play set the Lobos up at the NMSU 23-yard-line, and Apodaca faked the inside dive, got outside the collapsing Aggie defense and dove for the pylon for a 23-yard touchdown, extending the lead to 14-3 UNM.

nmsu

Photos Courtesy: David Mares

            For every punch UNM threw at the Aggies, it seemed like NMSU had an answer all night. The Aggies drove the ball 52 yards after the second Lobo touchdown, but more importantly, gave the defense a breather with the 11-play drive that ended with a Davidson 41-yard field goal. UNM is most effective when they are controlling the time of possession with their running game, keeping their defense off the field, and steadily moving the chains, and NMSU did not allow them to do that.

“They [NMSU] did a great job. They definitely weren’t going to give up the play,” said UNM head coach Bob Davie. “They sat there and made us work for everything we got. We couldn’t get explosive, so we had to grind it out.”

Right before the half, the Aggie offense headed onto the field with only 21 seconds left, and the Lobos had the momentum after taking the air out of the stadium with a methodical 13-play, 51-yard drive that resulted in a Jason Sanders field goal to make it 17-9.

Rogers immediately put the pressure on UNM by completing a 49-yard strike down the seam to Royce Caldwell to put the Aggies at the UNM 20. Rogers then failed to connect with Jaleel Scott, but a pass interference call moved the Aggies up the UNM 5. The Rogers-Scott tandem would connect on the next play for the Aggie touchdown, but a missed extra point by Davidson would make the halftime score 17-15.

“They were excited and they scored at the half, it kind of got the momentum going,” said coach Martin. “That was a major shift, when they came into the locker room, you didn’t have to tell them a whole lot. They were excited in that locker room and they believed they were going to come out and win this football game.”

The second half was a see-saw affair that included NMSU doing things that they haven’t done in the past to win games. The special teams unit was outstanding. Davidson went 4-for-4 kicking field goals, and freshman punter Peyton Theisler saved the Aggies when after a bad snap, he chased the ball into the end zone and somehow managed to still punt the ball off with Lobo defenders closing in on him. It saved the Aggies two points.

UNM was able to take advantage of a short field at the beginning of the third quarter and took a 24-15 lead. It started to look like the Davidson missed extra point at the end of the first half would come back to haunt the Aggies.

Midway through the 3rd quarter, NMSU began a drive at their own 37. After a Xavier Hall rush for no gain, the second down play caused a defensive pass interference, moving the Aggies into opponents’ territory. 13 plays later, Hall punched it in the end zone. Hall, the Las Cruces High graduate, won his first rivalry game in his last chance as a senior.

“This is our turning point. If there is going to be one, it’s going to be tonight,” said Hall, who led the Aggies in rushing with 61 yards on 11 carries.

Martin was on the same page with Hall in thinking that this could be a program-altering win.

“When we come back for [Louisiana] Lafayette [October 1], that stadium has to have the same energy it had tonight. If we can, this will be the game that we look back and we’ll say ‘that was the one that turned the program around.’”

After a Terrill Hanks interception of Apodaca that gave the Aggies momentum and the ball at the UNM 27 with 8:37 left in the game, Rogers and the Aggie offense began a drive that could not only take the lead, but could put NMSU in a position to knock off their in-state rival for the first time since running backs coach and former Aggie quarterback Matt Christian led the Aggies to a 42-28 win in Albuquerque in 2011.
An illegal block pushed the Aggies back to a second-and-17 when Rogers dumped off a pass to Hall, who made a few defenders miss and gained 14 yards. Hall then got the carry on third-and-three and got the first down. With third-and-two at the UNM 8, Rogers threw a fade to the back right pylon for Greg Hogan, who wrestled off the UNM corner and caught the ball to give the Aggies the first lead of the season at 32-31 with 5:46 left.

rogers
Photos Courtesy: David Mares

New Mexico was driving down the field for a potential game-winning field goal when Apodaca was sacked on a second-and-ten by Jassavia Reese and Derek Watson.

On third-and-15, the pass from Apodaca was nearly intercepted, and on fourth
down, the Aggies stopped UNM three yards short of the sticks, clinching an Aggie win.

“That’s what a rival game is supposed to be, down to the wire,” said coach Martin. “I’m really proud of our team. They just wouldn’t give up. It was a great team win for our fans and for the students of the university.”

 

Aggies Struggle without Rose, Lose Season Opener to Miners

By Derek Gonzales

The New Mexico State Aggie football team opened up their 2016 season with a 38-22 loss to the UTEP Miners Saturday evening at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

NMSU (0-1) came into the game with question marks at key positions. Junior quarterback Tyler Rogers did start after there were questions surrounding his status, and struggled for the Aggies, going just 17-of-41 with 206 yards passing with a rushing touchdown and no interceptions. AP All-American third-teamer Larry Rose III was inactive while he’s still recovering from a sports hernia injury, and last year’s leading tackler, Derek Ibekwe, was also inactive with a sports hernia.

UTEP (1-0) won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, which showed UTEP head coach Sean Kugler’s confidence in his defense, especially without Rose in the Aggie backfield. It may have set the tone for the evening, as the Aggies struggled offensively for most of the night, culminating with just 345 yards of total offense against the Miner defense.

image001           “We were not clicking tonight in the first half. We got things going in the second half, took care of the ball really well, and didn’t have any turnovers so that’s a positive,” said head coach Doug Martin, who fell to 0-4 in his career against UTEP. “Defensively, we played pretty good the first half but we just didn’t help our defense offensively.”

After an NMSU three-and-out on their second drive of the game, UTEP’s Aaron Jones broke off a 37-yard run on the first play of the drive to put the Miners ahead 7-0. Jones, an El Paso native, had a career night, rushing the ball 31 times for 266 yards, which was the third-most single game rushing yards in UTEP history.

“He [Jones] is a great [running] back, and he is going to be an NFL player. It’s hard to get him down,” said Martin.

NMSU was able to move the ball on the next possession, and were able to put together a 74-yard drive that resulted in a first-and-goal at the UTEP 1-yard line. Rogers ran for 28 yards on the drive, but the Aggies were unable to punch it in in the three opportunities they had on the goal line, and settled for an 18-yard field goal from sophomore Parker Davidson to cut the Miner lead to 7-3.

When the first quarter concluded, Rogers was just 3-of-11 for 45 yards, and the Aggies had been penalized four times, one of which kept a UTEP drive alive and culminated in points. Rogers did display great decision-making, and he was able to make plays on his feet to keep drives alive.

“He [Rogers] certainly had a lot of distractions and that was self-inflicted. He has to take care of himself better and smarter, but hopefully he will learn from that,” said Martin of Rogers’ legal situation that gained a lot of attention. “He has learned a valuable lesson and he has been very responsible and accepted his responsibilities and hopefully gets better moving forward.”

UTEP had the ball when the second quarter began, and were in the process of taking the Aggies on a long drive. On the drive, UTEP converted three consecutive third-down attempts before finally running out of luck on a third-and-goal, settling on a Jay Maddox 23-yard field goal to put the Miners up 10-3. The drive was 14-plays, 66 yards and it really was the beginning of the Miners being able to enforce their smash-mouth style of football that has been the culprit of the Sean Kugler era at UTEP.

In the second quarter, NMSU had the ball for only 3:45 of the quarter, and UTEP gave the Aggies a heavy dosage of Jones and the running game. UTEP reeled off 17 points and NMSU just had 24 total yards in the second quarter as the teams headed off into the locker room with the Miners leading 24-3.

In the third quarter, UTEP punter Alan Luna pinned NMSU on their own one-yard-line for the second time in the game midway through the period. Rogers was able to lead the Aggies on a 12-play drive, 99-yard drive that was capped off with a Rogers four-yard touchdown run to close the gap to 24-10. Rogers led the Aggies in rushing, gaining 63 yards on nine carries.

The Aggie defense was unable to get a timely stop once the offense started clicking, but the unit still looked much improved and more aggressive with new defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani leading them. The 13 tackles-for-loss were an improvement for a team had 56 tackles-for-loss all of last season.

NMSU did have a chance in the fourth quarter with possession to possibly cut the lead to eight, but the drive stalled out at the UTEP 30-yard line and the Miners took over on downs and ran out the clock. Still, the Aggies were competitive on the road without their star running back, and will look to build on the positives going forward.

“Our kids played hard, they’re going to do that now, and they will get better,” said Martin. “We are going to win football games if we continue to take care of the ball like we did tonight and continue to play with that toughness. We will be okay.”