Gators’ opponent preview: New Mexico State

The Jim McElwain era opens on Saturday against an opponent that looks overmatched on paper.


Last season, the Aggies ended the year on a 10-game losing streak that included a 63-7 loss at LSU. New Mexico State was 95th in scoring offense (24.5 points), 52nd in rushing offense (179.3 yards) and 55th in passing offense (241.6 yards).

Doug Martin serves as the head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He wants to go fast, and his team will push the tempo between plays to try catching the defense off guard.


Tyler Rogers is the returning starter at quarterback for New Mexico State. Last season, Rogers led the country with 23 interceptions. He threw for 2,779 yards and 19 touchdowns but turnovers limited what the Aggies could do on offense. Rogers added 69 rushes for a net gain of 200 yards, scoring twice on the ground. Heading into his junior season, Rogers has a long way to go after turning the ball over way too much as a sophomore.

The only other player on the New Mexico State roster to throw a pass is Andrew Allen, who is listed as a quarterback/receiver on the official roster. He threw 16 passes last season but didn’t make a reception.


The most impressive offensive numbers for the Aggies last season came from a freshman. Larry Rose III ran for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns last season despite missing two games and heads into his sophomore year with the starting job guaranteed. Rose averaged 110.2 rushing yards per game and 17.2 receiving yards per game after totaling 23 catches in 10 games. He was fourth in the Sun Belt with 1,274 all-purpose yards and the first New Mexico State player to rush for 1,000 yards since 2011.

Xavier Hall was the only other player to have more than 69 carries on the season. However, he averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and totaled 342 yards in 2014. The only opponent comparable from last year to what New Mexico State will see on Saturday came at LSU, but Rose didn’t play in that game. Hall totaled 13 carries for 33 yards.

If the Aggies are going to have success on the ground against Florida, it will have to be Rose carrying the load.


Teldrick Morgan is the top target here, earning Second Team All-Sun Belt Conference last year with 75 catches -- twice as many as all but one of his teammates -- for 903 yards and seven touchdowns. Morgan, listed at 6-0, 195 pounds, is the starting H-back on this year’s depth chart released by New Mexico State. Against LSU last season, Morgan had five catches for 44 yards.

Joshua Bowen was second on the team with 41 catches, and he’s listed second on the depth chart at H-back behind Morgan. Jordan Bergstrom is the starting X receiver after redshirting last season. Tyrain Taylor is the starting Z receiver after transferring from Ellsworth Community College.


The topic of conversation from Jim McElwain and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins this week has been about a New Mexico State offensive line that returns four starters, plugs a junior college player in at center and only allowed nine sacks last season. However, that’s only part of the story. While allowing nine sacks in 12 games is impressive, you also have to consider the type of offense the Aggies run. Rogers is expected to get the ball out of his hands in a hurry. All quarterbacks are taught that, but the New Mexico State offense is designed to get the ball out quickly and into the hands of the playmakers.

That obviously lessens the time a defensive lineman has to get to the quarterback, and the sack numbers will always be low in a system like this. Add in a middle-of-the-pack rushing offense last season, and this doesn’t look like anything close to an elite offensive line the Gators will face on Saturday.

The five starters average 312 pounds and have a total of 58 starts at New Mexico State, but half of those career starts are by right tackle Andy Cunningham.


Clayton Granch will open the season as the starting tight end after transferring from Long Beach City College. He had 29 catches, 557 yards and five touchdowns last season before coming to New Mexico State.

However, Martin and the NMSU offense didn’t use a tight end much last season. Despite having four on the roster, Andrew Dean led all of the team’s tight ends with four catches.


The Aggies were average on offense last year. Defense was another story. They were 121nd out of 128 teams in scoring defense (39.1 points), 128th in rushing defense (308.8 yards) and sixth in pass defense (174.5 yards).

Take that pass defense number with a grain of salt. Teams didn’t need to throw the ball to beat New Mexico State last year, and when they got up and saw the Aggies couldn’t keep up offensively, there was no need for a New Mexico State opponent to throw the ball.


With a four-down front, the Aggies return just 10 starts on the defensive line and eight of those come from end Stody Bradley, who made eight starts as a true freshman last fall. Stephen Meredith starts at the other end position, and the fifth-year senior has been heavily involved with the defense for three of the last four years, redshirting because of an injury in 2012.

Both starting defensive tackles -- Jacob Benegas and Josh Gibbs -- weigh 290 pounds. Gibbs started two games last season and Benegas hasn’t played yet.


The linebackers are the most proven players on the New Mexico State, but they struggled stopping the run last season. Rodney Butler, who has a career 158 tackles in the last two years, is the starting WILL linebacker while Dalton Herrington, who is the team’s leading returning tackler, is the backup after a standout freshman year where he totaled 85 tackles in 11 starts.

Middle linebacker Robert Wagner has played in 13 games over the last two years. SAM linebacker Terrill Hanks is a true freshman who will play his first collegiate game on Saturday.


Lewis Hill will start at one cornerback position and was sixth on the team in tackles last year. He had one interception, four pass breakups and five deflections. The other cornerback is a question. It will be either true freshman DeMarcus Owens or redshirt senior Winston Rose, who led the team with five interceptions last season. The rest of the New Mexico State defense had only six interceptions on the year.


Jaden Wright will start at strong safety, and it will be the first start of the sophomore’s college career. He made 34 tackles and one interception last season. Kawe Johnson will start at free safety after starting nine games there last season. He has the second most tackles of any returning player on the roster and led last year’s team with three forced fumbles.

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